lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

hot cherry peppers stuffed with prosciutto and provolone

In case you didn’t know it, I’m huge on Pinterest! Okay, well, my Pickled Hot Cherry Peppers recipe is huge, anyway. One of the things I miss most about living in Connecticut is being able to find both fresh and pickled cherry peppers at the store. Stuffing pickled cherry peppers with provolone and prosciutto is popular out east, but the ones I’ve come across here in Northern Illinois are all made with raw peppers, which is not very appetizing at all.

Not being able to find these beauties forced me to start growing, pickling and stuffing them myself. This isn’t really a bad thing, as it’s made me pretty damn popular at the holidays. It may sound like an odd combination but trust me that they’re delicious.

If you’re lucky enough to be able to buy  cherry peppers at your local store or market, I have just the appetizer for you! The pickling part is super easy, even when canning and processing them to put up. All you need is fresh cherry peppers white vinegar and to can hot cherry peppers lola rugula

Pickling the peppers:

You don’t have to can these, though. You can pickle them and put them in the fridge, as long as you have the space. When I don’t process these for preserving, I call it “quick pickling”.

Prepare the peppers by washing them and cutting the stems off. Using the tip of a sharp knife, make a small slice into the pepper at the top of it, around the stem area. I like to do this to assure the hot juice is released from inside the peppers. Now you’re ready to pickle them.

  • 6 cups white vinegar
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 1/2 pounds hot cherry peppers (red or green both work!) washed. Using a sharp knife tip, make a small slit in the top (stem end) of each pepper

In al large saucepan, bring the vinegar and water to a boil. Add peppers, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Let cool and transfer peppers to a glass jar or container and then cover completely with vinegar/water brine. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Here’s an extreme stuffed red cherry pepper close-up shot:


Stuffing the peppers:

Be sure to reserve the pickling juice for storing and serving. To prepare the peppers for stuffing, use a sharp knife to cut the top off of the peppers. Then, using a small spoon, scoop out the seeds and discard them.

For the stuffing, take a chunk of provolone and cut it into cubes  The actual size of the cubes may need to vary, depending on the size of the peppers. Cut strips of prosciutto in half lengthwise, Wrap a cube of provolone with a piece of prosciutto and stuff the wrapped cube into a hollowed-out pepper. Set the stuffed pepper into a shallow dish and repeat until all of the peppers you have are stuffed.

Using the reserved pickling juice, fill the dish of peppers until the level is about half way up the peppers. Cover dish and refrigerate until ready to serve, preferably within a few hours.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of experiencing these, you’re missing out. It may sound like a strange combination  but the heat of the peppers, the tang of the vinegar, the smooth creaminess of the provolone and the salty earthiness of the prosciutto is a fabulous collaboration. I typically make these at the holidays and for get-togethers and they are always, always the first thing to disappear.


lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

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.

lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

spicy dilly beans

Green bean overload happens every year in my garden, so it’s a good thing they freeze well. Another great way to preserve them is to pickle them in a spicy brine. Bloody Mary. Red Beer. Hot Tomato. Michelada. Bloody Caesar…if you like your vodka or beer with a bit of tomato juice and a touch of heat, these spicy dilly beans are calling your name. But even if you’re not enjoying an adult beverage, these are good in salads, antipasto platters and straight out of the jar.

You can ramp up the heat with these a number of ways, depending on what you have on hand when you process them. I made this batch 1/2 with crushed dried pepper flakes and 1/2 with hot jalapenos from the garden. Be creative here – fresh and dried peppers both work. The level of heat is also in your hands, so make these your own.

Although this is a recipe for canned dilly beans, you don’t have to process these to enjoy them. Just simmer them for about 10 minutes in the brine, let cool, pop into a covered jar or glass container and refrigerate them. Because of the vinegar, these will keep in the fridge for a few months, no processing required.

This makes about 6 pint jars.


spicy dilly beans recipe


  • 4 1/2 cups water
  • 4 1/2 cups white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup pickling salt

Per pint jar:

  • 2 large cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1 large fresh dill head
  • 1/4 teaspoon dill seed
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes OR sliced fresh jalapeno
  • 1/8 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • About 2 cups fresh green beans, cleaned and trimmed (enough to pack the jar)

Sterilize jars, lids and bands for 10 minutes. Leave in hot water until ready to use.

In a large pan, add water, vinegar and pickling salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes.

In each sterilized jar, place 2 cloves crushed garlic, dill head, dill seed, hot peppers and peppercorns. Pack with green beans.

Pour hot brine over green beans, filling jar to 1/4 inch of rim. Wipe rim clean and seal with lid and band. Repeat for each jar.

Place packed and sealed jars into a boiling hot water bath, making sure water level is at least 1 inch above jars. Cover, reduce to low boil (but make sure water continues to boil) and process for 10 minutes. Carefully remove jars from water and let sit, undisturbed, until cool.

Store for at least 4 weeks before enjoying, to let the flavors really come together.

Any jars that don’t seal can be stored in the fridge.

I can seriously eat a jar of these by myself, that’s how much I love them. And feel free to switch this up with apple cider vinegar – it’s just as delicious, with a little different tang.

These little beauties also make great gifts, so something to keep in mind as your garden is winding down.


lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

corn relish salsa

It’s that time of year again! (I mean canning time, of course) First on the canning schedule this year was corn salsa (or corn relish, if you prefer). Skelly’s Farm Market, a local farm stand, is selling the sweetest, juiciest sweet corn right now and I just had to preserve some of it. I’ve not canned corn salsa in a few years, so we were long overdue for a new batch.

Luckily, I was able to track down my old recipe in my pile o’ recipes, full of scribbles and notes and such. This is, obviously, a canning recipe, but feel free to cut it in half and make some for the fridge. It’s great as a salsa or relish and the possibilities for it are almost endless.

You can also customize this as you like, though if you are canning it, try and stick close to the measurements. If, for example, you don’t want yours very spicy, substitute some celery, or bell peppers or more corn for the hot peppers.

lola-rugula-hot-corn-salsa-relish-canning-recipehot corn salsa relish canning recipe

Makes 6 pints

  •  18 ears sweet corn, shucked and cleaned, cut off the cob (8 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons butter (do not use a butter substitute)
  • 1 onion, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 2 large jalapenos, finely chopped
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large red bell pepper, diced (1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 large orange bell pepper, diced (1 1/2 cups)
  • 3 stalks celery, sliced (3/4 cup)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 cups cider and/or white vinegar

Have your jars, lids and bands sterilized and ready to go.

In a large pan, melt butter until bubbly. Add onion, jalapeno and garlic. Saute for about 5 minutes, until onion is translucent. Add bell peppers, celery, sea salt and pepper. Saute another 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add vinegar and bring corn mixture to a boil. Remove from heat and pack corn salsa into sterilized canning jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space.

Wipe rims of jars, place seals and bands on jars, and process in a hot water bath for 15 minutes.

Remove jars from bath and let sit, undisturbed, for 24 hours. If any seals have not sealed correctly, place in refrigerator, otherwise, place sealed jars in cool dark place to store.


I’m sure I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again. The biggest time-suck with canning is making sure everything is sterilized and ready to go. Once everything’s ready, it’s really a pretty quick process. These should seal almost immediately upon removing from the hot water bath; mine take 5 minutes at the most.

This is one of the best ways to preserve fresh sweet corn and it makes a lovely gift, since it’s not something you can usually find on your grocer’s shelves.

Again, we like ours pretty hot, so I tend to add a lot of jalapeno. Feel free to mix it up with a different hot pepper or just substitute sweet bells for the hot ones.

I hope you’re all enjoying your summer so far!

lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

chunky tomato salsa

We’ve been blessed with a continued spell of warm weather here in Northern Illinois, but this trend is bound to take a turn soon. My tomato plants are still producing (as are my peppers, eggplants and beans), but the cool nights are definitely stunting their growth. In the meantime, I’ve got my usual plethora of tomatoes, so, along with skinning and freezing some for sauce in the winter, I also make canned salsa with some of them.

lola rugula chunky salsa canning recipe

I start by skinning all of my tomatoes by rinsing them well, scoring an “x” into the bottom of them with a knife, plunging them into a pan of boiling water (you only need a few inches of water in the pan), covering them and letting them boil for about 2 minutes, and then scooping them out with a slotted spoon and plunging them into an ice bath.

Once they’ve cooled, I place them in a colander to drain and then peel the skins off and throw the skinned tomatoes back into a pan, crushing them a bit with my hand first.

Yes, this is messy work. I then simmer the tomatoes, uncovered, for about an hour. Why? To reduce the liquid in them, so my salsa isn’t completely watery and runny. Now let’s make some salsa.

lola rugula chunky salsa canning recipe 4

chunky tomato salsa canning recipe

Makes 6 pints

  • 10 cups tomatoes (skinned and simmered of their excess juices, see note above)
  • 3 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 4 large cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 6 cups yellow, red and/or green bell peppers, largely diced
  • 4 cups vidalia onion, largely diced
  • 1-2 jalapenos, chopped (adjust to your liking)
  • 1 scotch bonnet pepper, finely chopped (optional)
  • 1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
  • 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Place all of the ingredients in a large pan and slowly bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Fill hot, sterilized jars with salsa to 1/4 inch from the rim. Wipe rims and seal with sterilized lids and bands. Process in a hot water bath for 15 minutes. Carefully remove from pan and let sit until all the lids have sealed. Cool completely and then store. Best if left for 4 weeks before using, to let the flavors really come together.

I added a scotch bonnet pepper to this because I grew them this year, we’re crazy about heat and maybe just a little crazy. Of course, you could use a habanero, instead, or omit the really hot pepper all together.

Always be sure you’re following safe canning practices when home canning your recipes. Sterilize all of your jars, lids and bands immediately before canning and be very careful with the hot jars and boiling water.

Home canning is easy if you have the correct equipment. I love canning pint jars instead of quart jars because the smaller canner is much faster to come to a boil. I hope you try this and enjoy it as much as we do. It makes a wonderful appetizer at the holidays and also a nice game-day treat during football season.

Eat well and enjoy!

lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

homemade grape juice and jelly

homemade grape jelly recipe lola rugula

If you follow me on Facebook, you know that I was in jelly making mode a couple of weeks ago. Anyone who says that homemade grape jam or jelly is easy to make either A) has never actually had to harvest those grapes and then pick through all of them for just the beautiful, ripe ones or B) has actually done A, still thinks it’s easy and is just certifiably insane. If, however, someone has handed you or you have just purchased a bunch of beautiful, ripe concord grapes, this is pretty easy.

That being said, whether you have the fortitude (read: crazy) to start from harvest as I do, or have recently become the recipient of a ton of concord grapes, here’s how to make your own homemade grape juice and grape jelly. I’d  like to note: this is how to make grape juice and/or jelly without skinning the damned grapes beforehand.


Whoever is skinning all those grapes has either  A) has never actually had to harvest those grapes and then pick through all of them for just the beautiful, ripe ones or B) has done so and is certifiably insane, with a lot of free time on their hands at the asylum.

We only have 4 grape vines and I thank God for this. It took me over an hour to just to harvest all the grapes, thrashing through the grape vines and fighting off mosquitoes and such, in the early morning hours. Then it took me at least another hour to pick through my 6 bags of grapes to find only the healthiest and ripest ones. There’s over 2 hours of my life right there that I’ll never get back. My husband thinks I’m nuts. I just happen to really love homemade grape jelly. You decide. When all was picked and picked-through, I ended up with just over 20 pounds of grapes. Okay, maybe I’m a little nuts.

Let’s start with how to make homemade grape juice:

  • Fill a large stock pot about 1/2 way full with clean concord grapes. Using a potato masher, mash up the grapes a bit, to release their juice. Add some more grapes, if need be, and mash again. Don’t fill your pot more than 3/4 full, as it will just be cumbersome once you get to the “I have to drain these” point. Cover pan.
  • Turn on burner to medium and bring grapes to a boil
  • Reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes, mashing the grapes around every 10 minutes or so. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan when mashing, to make sure there aren’t grapes sticking to the bottom of the pan.

You’ll start with a pretty clear juice in the pan but, as the grapes begin to simmer, pop and separate, you’ll see the juice start to darken and your kitchen will begin to smell like grape juice.

You are doing awesome! Reward yourself with a glass of red wine which is, poetically, also made from grapes.

Once 30 minutes is up, let the grapes cool for a bit and then strain the juice through a colander into another large pan or bowl. Discard grapes (I put ours in our compost pile). You’re now left with a murky, purple juice.

To achieve a beautiful, clear juice, I strain mine again through a fine-mesh colander. Then, using a cheesecloth-lined colander set atop a large pan, I strain it again overnight in the refrigerator. This takes a while, so just plan on letting it sit overnight. Pushing the juice through the cheesecloth won’t give you a clear juice, so just be patient and let it sit.

The next day, discard the sediment-filled cheesecloth and enjoy looking at your beautiful, homemade grape juice.

Congratulate yourself with a glass of wine.

If you’d like to make homemade grape jelly without pectin from your beautiful, homemade grape juice, here’s the recipe:

homemade grape jelly without pectin recipe lola rugula

homemade grape jelly without pectin recipe

*Before beginning, place a small freezer-safe plate in the freezer. You’ll use this plate to test whether your jelly will set up or not.

Have canner with water filled, hot and ready to go, with jars, lids and bands sterilized.

Makes 6 half-pint jars

  • 6 cups grape juice
  • 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 4 cups sugar

Add grape juice and lemon juice to stock pot and heat to a simmer over medium heat. Add sugar, stirring well until completely dissolved, about 5 minutes.

Bring mixture to a rolling boil,, reduce back to a simmer and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring ever few minutes.

Bring back to a roiling boil, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Shut off heat, remove plate from freezer and place a good tablespoon or two of jelly on the plate. Place back in freezer for about 2 minutes.

Remove plate and test jelly. The jelly should have formed a bit of film on top. If you tip the plate sideways, the jelly should move slowly and appear gel-like, as opposed to runny. If jelly is still runny, wipe the plate and return it to the freezer. Bring jelly mixture back to a rolling boil, stirring constantly for another minute or two and repeat the freezer test until jelly sets.

Remove pan from heat and, using a ladle and jar filler, fill sterilized jelly jars to 1/4 inch below rim. Place lids and bands in place and process in canner for 10 minutes.

Remove from canner and let sit until all lids have sealed and jelly has cooled. Allow 12-24 hours for jelly to completely set. If, for some reason, jelly has not set, you can start over from the boiling jelly point or you can just say never mind and enjoy your grape juice.

Hopefully though, you’ve just made grape jelly! Have a glass of wine to celebrate.

homemade grape jelly recipe lola rugulaHopefully I didn’t miss any steps but feel free to let me know if I did. Sometimes, what seems clear to me is as clear as mud to someone else.

Next year, I’m finally going to try my hand at making homemade rhubarb preserves with the rhubarb plants my parents gave me.