fried green tomatoes with fresh tomato salsa

Summer is barely past us and I”m already thinking about what veggies and flowers I want to grow next year! It’s part of my winter ritual to browse online and through catalogs, finding something new and different to grow. I love growing stuff. And eating stuff.

A big part of being a great cook and eating well is knowing how to create a myriad of dishes using fresh fruits and vegetables. Grow or shop fresh, learn to cook and prepare veggies to perfection and celebrate the beauty of the bounty from the earth. Challenge yourself to work with the real thing and not the store-bought version.


For me, one of the highlights of my late-summer harvest is tomatoes. In case you missed my recent post on fresh tomato sauce, I love creating an amazing and delicious pasta sauce with the best tomatoes of the season. It’s packed full of garlic, shallots and herbs and it freezes perfectly, for you to enjoy many months into the snowy weather.

Another highlight of the end-of-tomato season is this:


fried green tomatoes with fresh tomato salsa

Fresh tomato salsa
  • 2 ripe tomatoes, diced
  • 1/4 cup diced red onion
  • 1/2 jalapeno, diced
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 lime, for juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

In a small bowl, combine all ingredients and stir. Set aside until ready to serve.

Fried green tomatoes:
  • Tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups flour (your choice, I like whole wheat)
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3/4 cup sunflower or olive oil (these are moderate heat oils because I don’t high-heat fry my fried green tomatoes)

Slice tomatoes into 3/4 inch slices, discarding (please compost!) tops.

Arrange your breading station: Place 1 cup of the flour on a plate. Beat 2 large eggs in a shallow bowl or dish. Place remaining 1/2 cup of flour and all of cornmeal on another plate.

Dredge a slice of tomato in flour, coating both sides and shaking off any excess. Dip floured slice in beaten egg, flipping and swishing until coated, letting excess drip off. Finally, dip slice into cornmeal/flour mix and coat well on both sides. Place battered slice on a platter and repeat with remaining slices. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Refrigerate for 1 hour.


Heat oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. (My big cast iron skillet works perfectly for these). Oil should be hot but not too hot – a pinch of the flour mixture dropped in should sizzle but not immediately sputter and smoke.

Working in batches so as not to overcrowd the pan, place slices, salt and pepper side down, in oil, leaving space in between them. Salt and pepper the tops and fry for about 5-7 minutes or until bottoms are golden brown. Flip tomato slices and fry on the other side for another 5-7 minutes, again until golden brown. Transfer to a warm plate lined with paper towels. Repeat until all slices are cooked.

Serve fried green tomatoes topped with the fresh salsa.

As a meal, serves 2 with fresh greens, such as arugula (my favorite!) or mesclun. Serves 4 as a side.


This recipe is a true celebration of the end-of-season harvest; the burst of tart green tomatoes topped with red, ripe tomatoes. The lime juice and fresh cilantro in the salsa contrast the crunchy fried tomatoes perfectly.


I love cooking with fresh ingredients and love is a wonderful thing.

Celebrate fresh, in-season ingredients while you have them and experiment with different flavors as much as you can. Remember to never be afraid to play with your food.


trinidad scorpion salsa

We grew Trinidad Scorpion Peppers this year and they were pretty prolific, much more so than necessary, considering there are only so many of the second-hottest-peppers in the world you can eat

I grew Ghost Peppers a few years ago and can tell you the Scorpion plants are much smaller and faster-growing. As far as peppers go, the Scorpions have a slightly smoky flavor, whereas the Ghost  Peppers are much fruitier.

I made some Ghost Chili Salsa that year and it remains one of my most popular recipes. So what does one do to follow up an almost-famous recipe? Make an even hotter one.




trinidad scorpion salsa canning recipe

  • 5 cups blanched, peeled and chopped tomatoes
  • 1 jalapeno, chopped
  • 2 cups chopped bell pepper (I used a mix of red and green)
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 2 scorpion peppers, chopped

Makes 3 quarts

Sterilize canning jars, lids and bands; keep hot until ready to pack salsa.

In a large pan, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat so that the salsa is still simmering and continue to simmer for 15 minutes.

Pack hot salsa into sterile jars leaving 1/4 inch of headspace, wipe rims clean and seal with sterile lids and bands. Process in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes, making sure water is at a full boil before adding jars of salsa. Also, be sure that water covers the jars by at least an inch.

When processing time is up, carefully remove jars and place on counter. Leave undisturbed for at least 24 hours.


Just like my Ghost Chili salsa, this stuff is crazy hot, although this is honestly hotter. Great flavor and fun to give as gifts.

Another fun idea to do with Scorpion Peppers is to make my homemade hot sauce with them. Both the salsa and the hot sauce are great ways to preserve your peppers and they’re both delicious.


let’s talk about sauce, baby

Let’s talk about homemade tomato sauce. Somehow, in this world of amplified food awareness, it’s become this complicated, convoluted dish and it really doesn’t have to be.

I like to make this sauce in the fall when I have an abundance of tomatoes from my garden. Actually, I make tomato sauce with fresh tomatoes two ways. One is the uncooked tomato sauce version, which is easy, tasty and drool-worthy. Oh, and did I mention it’s a godsend on a hot summer night?

This second recipe is a cooked version, packed with garlic, onion and herbs and cooked for just about 3 hours or so, which I’ve found to be the sweet spot of melding and condensing flavors, while still letting that fresh tomato flavor shine through. This version I typically make in huge batches and freeze dinner-size portions of it, so that I can enjoy my garden tomatoes year-round.

I present to you homemade tomato sauce made with fresh garden tomatoes:lola-rugula-pasta-sauce-made-with-fresh-tomatoes-reciipe-3

Beautiful, right?

If you really want to make this a meal to remember, make your own homemade pasta to serve it with.


But back to my original point: let’s talk about sauce, baby.

homemade tomato sauce made with fresh tomatoes

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium shallots, minced
  • 1/4 medium white onion, finely chopped
  • 5-6 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 7 lbs. blanched, peeled and seeded tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add shallots, onions and garlic and cook until onion becomes translucent and soft about 5 minutes. Stir in crushed red pepper flakes and cook about 2 minutes more. Be careful not to burn the garlic, as it will become bitter if you do.

Add tomatoes, salt and herbs and stir well.  Bring to a low boil, reduce heat and simmer only partially covered for 3 hours.

Serve over fresh hot pasta with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Simple tomato sauce, made with fresh tomatoes. Easy, right?

I’ve been asked why I seed my tomatoes and I’ll tell you, I’ve made this sauce both ways; with seeded tomatoes and without. I find that removing the tomato seeds for this sauce is essential; the seeds tend to make the sauce bitter. Removing the seeds after blanching the tomatoes may take a little more time and effort but in the end, it’s worth it. I put my chinois to work for this job, but a fine mesh strainer works just as well. Here’s the cool chinois I was gifted from my parents:


It’s a sweet little old-fashioned kitchen tool that works like a charm. Anyway, back to the sauce…


Most of you know I love to give you variations on some of my dishes so here you go:

  • Add meat if you really want to – just brown it, drain the grease and then start from the beginning of this recipe.
  • Better yet, make my panko and feta meatballs.
  • If you have good-quality anchovies on hand, try smashing one or two of them up and adding it to this sauce. (omit the teaspoon of kosher salt if you do thiss and then add a little if needed)
  • If you have to add a little sugar, go ahead and do so; some people like their sauce a little sweet and you should make this recipe your own.
  • I don’t typically add black pepper to this when cooking it but love a bit of it freshly ground on top, right before serving.
  • I get pretty generous with my fresh basil sometimes…the taste of it just reminds me of summer. The amount in the recipe above is conservative – feel free to add more if you want to.
  • I love garlic, so I add quite a bit of it. Feel free to decrease the amount to your taste.
  • Want to make fresh pasta sauce with canned tomatoes? Go right ahead! This recipe converts to four 28 ounce cans of tomatoes.
  • What type of tomatoes to use for fresh sauce? I’ve used different varieties of tomatoes over the years and Roma style tomatoes still work best – they have the most meat and fewest seeds, along with a richer flavor than other types. The sauce in the photos you see above were not made with Romas and I assure you it was super delicious anyway.

Hopefully, my easy recipe inspires you to make some homemade fresh tomato sauce of your own.



stuffed portobello mushrooms with italian sausage and quinoa

Most of my cooking is inspired by what’s fresh and available, either from my garden or at the store and this recipe is a perfect example of that.

Portobello mushrooms, as popular as they’ve become, are not always readily available where I live.  Often, when I do find them, they’re not always as nice as they should be, so I was pleasantly surprised, on a recent trip to the store (thank you, Aldi), to find some plump, fresh beauties.

I already knew I had some Italian sausage in my freezer that I could use for stuffing them, along with some sweet peppers, garlic, scallions and shallots from my garden. Then, on the evening I was putting them together, I thought some cooked quinoa would ramp up the flavor and (bonus) add to their nutritional profile.


Anytime I stuff mushrooms, I also like to gently remove the mushroom stems, finely chop them and add them to my stuffing – they help keep the stuffing moist, in addition to amping up the mushroom flavor.

portobello mushrooms stuffed with sausage and quinoa

  • Olive oil, for brushing mushrooms and sauteing sausage
  • 6 large portobello mushroom caps, wiped clean, stems removed and set aside
  • 1 lb. Italian sausage
  • 1/2 tablespoon red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 cup sweet peppers (red, green, yellow, orange), finely chopped
  • 2 scallions, finely sliced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa (1/2 cup quinoa and 1 cup water, bring to boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes or until water is absorbed)
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup freshly-grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for topping

Prepare the mushrooms by gently removing their stems (save them for the stuffing), rinsing and wiping them dry and brushing the outer cap with olive oil. Place on a baking sheet and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350

Heat a skillet and add a tablespoon of olive oil. When oil is hot, add Italian sausage and, when pink begins to disappear, add pepper flakes, garlic, shallots and peppers.

Cook until peppers start to soften, then stir in parsley and sliced scallions. Cook for 5 minutes more and remove from heat.

Stir in quinoa, panko and 1/2 cup Parmesan, then gently pack stuffing into mushroom caps. Top stuffed mushrooms with a little extra grated Parmesan.

Bake at 350 for about 20-25 minutes, or until mushrooms are barely cooked through. Remove from oven, let cool for 5 minutes (otherwise they’re lava hot) and serve.


There is a ton of flavor and goodness packed into these and they reheat beautifully.

The stuffing does stay a little loose so, if you prefer it tightly-packed, I suggest adding a beaten egg to the stuffing, before cooking, to help bind everything together.

Also, there’s no reason you can’t make these a vegetarian dish by omitting the sausage and doubling the quinoa. You can also replace the quinoa with cooked rice or lentils or beans or…use your imagination and don’t be afraid to play with your food.


easy applesauce

When you have a whole bunch of apples staring you in the face, sometimes it’s difficult to know what to do with them all. This year, I decided to make a big batch of homemade apple pie filling and freeze it for the holidays. This was a perfect solution for using a good portion of them but I still had some apples leftover. What to do? My mom, of course, had the answer.  Applesauce.

Here’s a shot of the beautiful apples we were given:lola-rugula-homemade-microwave-applesauce-recipe

Now, I know you want to know what kind of apples these are, but I honestly don’t know. I can tell you that they’re really huge and a little tart and gifted to us from a friend who has a tree. That’s all I’ve got. Oh, wait…and they’re delicious.

Now, I know there are a lot of recipes out there for applesauce and almost as many ways to make it: canned applesauce, slow cooker applesauce, stovetop applesauce…but really, the fastest and easiest way to make applesauce is in your microwave. Like, literally less than 10 minutes.

There really isn’t a recipe for microwave applesauce. Well, not an exact recipe anyway. It’s really just a general’re going to have to play with your food and discover your perfect applesauce. Here’s a list of the ingredients you’ll need:

  • Apples

How are you doing so far?

Oh, sure, you can add some sugar and cinnamon and nutmeg and whatever else floats your applesauce boat but all you really need is apples.

Wash, peel, core,  and dice your apples and place them in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover and cook on high for 4 minutes. Stir apples, cover again and cook for 2 more minutes. Stir.

Now, the rest depends on how small you cut your apples and how strong your microwave is. It can also depend on the type of apple, simply because some have more water content and more sugar content than others.

I just continue to cook mine on high, pausing every 45-60 seconds to mash and stir. Once it begins to resemble applesauce, I (very carefully – this stuff is lava) taste test to see if any sugar, etc. is needed. If your applesauce is too chunky for your tastes, you may want to add a little water to help smooth out the consistency.

Cook until you’ve achieved applesauce…usually less than 10 minutes.

Ta da!


Nice work…you’ve achieved applesauce! (easy, quick, homemade, microwave applesauce)

You are now free to get on with the rest of your life.


apple pie filling for the freezer

Apple overload? If you live just about anywhere in the U.S. right now, you’re well aware that it’s apple season. We’ve been very blessed because, for the 2nd year in a row, a friend has gifted us with a huge bag of great, big, beautiful homegrown apples; no trip to the local orchard needed.

I honestly don’t even know what kind of apples they are (help me out here, friends) but I DO know they’re apples and I DO know they’re very delicious. Behold, a few of my apples:


Beautiful, right?

I’ve got a busy weekend ahead of me and I’m sure you can do without me waxing poetic about apples, so I’ll make this short and sweet. Last year I made apple butter with this gift o’ apples, but since we really don’t eat a lot of toast, no more apple butter. This year I decided, “You know what would be great? It’d be great to make a big batch of homemade apple pie filling and have it for the holidays”.

Boom. Done.


apple pie filling for the freezer

  • 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (2-3 lemons)
  • 6.5 – 7 lbs. apples (approximately 7 large apples)
  • 2 cups pure cane sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 3 teaspoons cinnamon (preferably Ceylon)

Squeeze lemon juice into a large stockpot, Wash, peel, core and slice apples and place in stockpot, tossing with lemon juice as you go; this helps prevent the apples from discoloring.

Sprinkle apples with sugar, salt, flour and nutmeg and mix well. Let mixture sit for 30 minutes or so, until the apples start to sweat their juice out.

Place on medium heat, stirring often, just until mixture starts to thicken and apples start to soften slightly, about 8-10 minutes. You don’t need or want the apples to cook all the way – if they do, they’ll be mush by the time they make it to the “cooked apple pie” stage.

Remove from heat, stir in cinnamon (the best part!) and let cool. Divide into 2 1/2 cup portions and pack into freezer-safe containers or bags and freeze. This recipe makes about 4 portions.

This recipe makes about 4 portions.

You now have something delicious to do with a whole bunch of apples and you’re also one step closer to being a rock star at the holidays. Go you.

Of course, if you’re not an apple pie lover, this mixture also works great for apple crisp, apple crumble, apple tart… you get the idea.

Happy autumn, everyone!