lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

linguine with shrimp, fresh tomatoes and basil

Hallelujah, spring is upon us!  Even though it’s hardly been a brutal winter here in Northern Illinois, I’m still excited for longer and warmer days. This weekend was a much-needed stay at home treat for me, as there’ve been many personal issues that have had me more stressed than usual. lately. I’m a big believer in taking time for yourself. Physical and mental rejuvenation is vital, not only for your own sense of well-being but for also having the strength and peace-of-mind to take care of those you love. Today was that day for me. My feel-good dish of the day was fresh pasta with garlicky shrimp and fresh tomatoes and basil.

lola rugula pasta with shrimp recipe

This recipe was mostly just inspired by 3 things:

  1. I was really craving shrimp
  2. I was really craving something healthy and fresh-tasting
  3. I had some Roma tomatoes that I really needed to use

Looking for a quick and easy weeknight (or even weekend, in my case) dinner with pasta and shrimp? This definitely fits the bill.

lola rugula linguine with shrimp and tomatoes

pasta with shrimp, garlic, fresh tomatoes and basil recipe

  • 9 oz. fresh linguine (I keep Buitoni pasta in the freezer when I don’t have homemade on hand)
  • 4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (divided – you’ll use 2 Tbsp. for the shrimp and 2 Tbsp. for the sauce)
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped (divided – you’ll use half for the shrimp and half for the sauce)
  • 1 lb. raw jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 4 small sweet yellow sweet peppers, cut in half lengthwise, then thinly sliced
  • 5 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 4 scallions, sliced
  • 1 generous cup loosely-packed fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced. Retain a few fresh slices for serving, if desired.
  • Salt and pepper

Cook pasta according to package directions and drain, reserving 1/2 cup pasta water for sauce.

In the meantime, in a large skillet, over medium-high heat, heat half (2 tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil. Add half of your chopped garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds. Add shrimp and cook, stirring often, for about 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

Add remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil to the pan and heat. Add remaining garlic and yellow peppers and cook about 3 minutes, stirring often. Add scallions and cook, continuing to stir, about 2 minutes. Add diced tomatoes and their juices, and stir well. Cook for about 7 minutes, until tomatoes start to release all of their juices. Pour over reserved shrimp.

Add 1/2 cup reserved pasta water to sauce pan and scrape well, loosening bits from the pan. Continue to cook until liquid is reduced by half, about 3-4 minutes.

Add drained pasta to pan and stir.

Add plate of shrimp and tomato sauce to pasta and toss well.

Add fresh basil, stir and remove from heat.

Serve immediately, with reserved basil.

Easy, right? This dish satisfied me today on many levels, with the fresh tomatoes and basil bringing in thoughts of spring when I needed it most.

Pasta is so versatile – you can toss it with a bit of olive oil and so many, many things. Carbs get a bad rap sometimes but when you pack your pasta dish full of veggies and protein, you really can’t lose. Toss in some fresh herbs and you really do have a beautiful, flavorful dish that everyone will love.

Happy spring everyone!

lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

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. with their juices. I don’t pre-chop mine, I just crush them as I add them to the saucepan.
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (you may want to add more but wait until the sauce is cooked and reduced before adding.
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano or 3 tablespoons fresh, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, or 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh, chopped

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, stirring occasionally.  Ideally, the sauce should reduce by between 1/4 and 1/3. If you get to where there’s only an hour of cooking time left and don’t feel it’s reducing fast enough, remove the lid completely and make sure it remains at a healthy simmer. When cooked, remove bay leaf and discard.

Serve over fresh hot pasta with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

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

If you’re making this to freeze, be sure to let it cool, refrigerate overnight and then freeze.

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 a little 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.  To use this, I let my blanched and peeled tomatoes cool and then put my chinois over a bowl. Holding a tomato over the chinois, I quickly run my thumb up under the seed pods and scrape them out into the chinois. Then, I put the seeded tomato into a  bowl and repeat with the next tomato, continuing until all tomatoes are done. Using the wood pestle, I run it around the chinois to release anyleftover juice into the bowl. The juice gets added back to the tomatoes and the seeds get discarded. Don’t make yourself crazy trying to get every last seed – you just want to get rid of the bulk of them 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 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.


lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

salmon and cucumber bites

I am buried in a myriad of projects right now and am rushing to complete them as the days grow shorter. I know it’s not technically autumn yet, but once Labor Day has passed us by and NFL games are officially part of my Sunday routine again, I have to admit defeat and call another summer over. I get a bit depressed this time of year because I truly, truly despise the snow and cold. Mostly what I hate though are the short days, when it’s dark when I wake up and dark again before I leave work.

Tending to the last of my vegetable garden is always a bit sad, too, as the wilted squash plant is pulled, the tomato, eggplant, bean, and pepper plants begin their decline and the last of the fennel and kohlrabi are pulled from the earth. Cucumber plants are wilting too, after a bountiful summer which seemed overwhelming at times. Dill, which I planted (intentionally) a few years ago, now shows up every year, much to my husband’s dismay. It’s really not too bothersome though – easy to identify and pull up before it goes to seed again, but I love having it on hand for pickles and such.

One of the ways we enjoyed our fresh cukes this summer was these incredibly easy salmon cucumber appetizers. My husband was the inspiration for these (have I mentioned how much I love that he loves such a variety of food?) and they work perfectly as both an easy appetizer and a light lunch or dinner. I”m sure there are probably thousands of similar recipes out there for these so please customize them however you wish.

This isn’t really a “recipe”, as I’m only going to give you the ingredients – the quantities and portion are really up to you, depending on what you have on hand and what the occasion is.


salmon and cucumber bites

  • Cream cheese, softened
  • Small capers, at room temperature
  • Cucumber, at room temperature
  • Red onion, thinly sliced
  • Smoked salmon
  • Fresh dill weed

To make the assembly of these as easy as possible, have the cream cheese, capers and cucumbers ar room temperature. If any or all of them are cold, it makes working with them very difficult, as they’ll chill the cream cheese and make it seize up and stiffen. If needed, you can chill these once you’ve assembled them.


  • First, mix together some of the softened cream cheese and capers in a small dish. I like mine heavy on the capers but don’t go too crazy – you don’t want to overpower the salmon.
  • I like to peel my cucumbers leaving small stripes of its dark skin on – I just love the way it looks, plus taking away some of the skin reduces the bitterness of the cucumbers. Slice the cucumber into 1/4 inch slices and arrange on a serving platter.
  • Using a small spoon, scoop just a small bit of the cream cheese and caper mixture onto each cucumber slice.
  • Add a bit of thinly sliced red onion, using it to flatten the cream cheese mixture a bit.
  • Top with smoked salmon and finish each appetizer with a tiny sprig of fresh dill weed.
  • Try not to inhale them all at once.


Beautiful and, of course, the salmon is heart-healthy, so you can’t feel too guilty for indulging.

For me, a 5 oz. package of smoked salmon, 1/3 of a brick of cream cheese and 1-2 cucumbers are about enough for 16-18 bites or so.

You now have an easy appetizer to add to your holiday menu or, if you’re like me, to just enjoy on a late summer day.

lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

oven roasted cherry tomatoes with fresh herbs

It was not a stellar year for my tomato plants this season. Though I harvested quite a few, it was certainly not a typical year. Cool nights, flooding rains and cooler-than-average daytime temps do not make for happy, bountiful tomato plants.

The exception to all of this were my cherry tomato plants, which went absolutely insane. Typically, I only plant one cherry tomato plant but, somehow, I mixed up “Cherokee” and “Cherry” in my planting and markings, so this year I had 3. Yeah, 3. Holy moly.

What to do with a surplus of cherry tomatoes? Aside from eating them like candy from the bowls on our kitchen counter (for the love of all that’s holy, do not refrigerate tomatoes, please) and tossing them into every single salad I make, we also gave a ton away. Still, the bounty overflowed. If you’re having a party, skewers of cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella balls and a leaf or two of fresh garden basil make a lovely appetizer. You can also make an a amazing fresh tomato salsa with cherry tomatoes, just like you would with their larger counterparts: toss with chopped onion, jalapeno and cilantro, drizzle with lime juice, sprinkle with salt and serve. Of course, you can also make canned salsa with cherry tomatoes, but that’s a whole other post. Cherry tomatoes are a beautiful thing, so when you’ve exhausted all of the ways to use them fresh, you’ll want to preserve the rest of them.

Here’s one way that I like to preserve cherry tomatoes: roasting them with olive oil, salt, garlic and fresh herbs. Very similar to my other oven roasted tomato recipe, this one simply involves cherry tomatoes instead of roma tomatoes.


Cherry tomatoes are typically sweeter than larger tomatoes, but these still work great for soups, sauces and spreads. And if you’re looking for a great way to preserve cherry tomatoes, this is certainly a delicious way to do so, as these freeze really well.

This is more of a “how-to-prepare” post than it is an actual recipe. How you do this will depend on how many tomatoes you have, how much time you have, and what herbs you’d like to add.


oven roasted cherry tomatoes with garlic and fresh herbs

  • Lay clean cherry tomatoes in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet
  • Top with chopped garlic
  • Sprinkle with chopped fresh herbs of your choice (or, be lazy like me and just top with large sprigs of fresh herbs
  • Sprinkle generously with kosher or sea salt
  • Drizzle the whole thing with olive oil

I like to crush the herbs with my hands at this point – it helps release their flavorful oils.

Roast in oven until they begin to break open and caramelize on the tops and edges. I usually speed this process along by gently pressing the partially-cooked tomatoes with a large spatula. Be careful though or you’ll end up with an oven full of hot tomato juice.

I’ve done these long and slow in a low oven and done these fast in a very hot oven. Either way really works, as long as you’re keeping an eye on them and don’t let them burn. If you do them in a slow oven and they’re cooked well but not caramelized, pop them under the broiler for a few closely-watched minutes and they’ll brown right up.

Also, if I’m using whole herbs, I take them off if they roast faster than the tomatoes. Inevitably, some of the roasted herbs break off into the tomatoes and that’s just fine.

Remove from oven and cool.

Transfer to the freezer-safe packaging of your choice and refrigerate until well chilled and then freeze.

lola-rugula-oven-roasted-cherry-tomatoes-recipeYou can thaw these and drizzle with extra olive oil for a great crostini or bruschetta recipe at the holidays. Adding some creamy mozzarella or pungent parmesan helps cut through the sweetness of the tomatoes.

They’re also great in soups, stews and sauces. I’ve done numerous trays in the oven at one time, which helps me justify turning the oven on in the middle of summer.

Beautiful stuff, right? This is one of my favorite ways to preserve the fresh summer bounty of tomatoes. I hope you love them, too!

lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

fresh no-cook tomato sauce recipe

This is another popular summertime recipe in my house because the only thing I have to truly cook is pasta. This no-cook pasta sauce is simple, flavorful and delicious, especially when you use sun-ripened tomatoes and fresh basil from your garden or farmers market.

Take your pick of tomatoes and see what you like. For this, I prefer a beefy red or roma, but I have mixed in some fruity heirlooms with good results. Cherry tomatoes are really great for this also – just cut them in half, to help release their juices. You’ll have to play around with what you like. Also – feel free to mix up the cheese: Parmesan works great, of course, but a little cubed, fresh mozzarella adds a creaminess to it. A spoonful or two of ricotta also works beautifully.

As far as the pasta itself, I tend to make this with whatever I have on hand, whether it’s fresh or dried, though I’d stay away from anything too heavy, such as rigatoni. Two things that really make this work best are this: let the sauce sit for at least an hour at room temperature. This gives the salt time to work its magic on the tomatoes and helps them release their juices. The second thing is to add the sauce immediately to the hot, drained pasta, which ensures the oil becomes smooth and the cheese and tomatoes heat up and soften. Seems simple enough, right? It is!

This is definitely not a “measure it out” dish – if you like more garlic, add more. If you like more tomato, add more. If you like more basil, or cheese, or oil, add more. If you want a bit of kick, add a few crushed red pepper flakes to the sauce before it rests. You’ll find what you like and works for you. The recipe below contains my best “guesstimate” measures, since I literally throw this together in about 10 minutes. This is truly an easy summertime recipe. Enjoy. no-cook-tomato-sauce-recipe-lola-rugula

 no-cook fresh tomato and basil pasta sauce

  • 4 cups diced tomatoes
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lb pasta (fresh pasta cooks a lot faster than dry, so just another hot-weather tip!)

In a large bowl, mix everything but the pasta together. Set aside, at room temperature, for at least one hour. After an hour, you’ll notice that the tomatoes have released their juices and the sauce is much saucier than when you started. Cook pasta and drain. Immediately add tomato sauce and stir well. See how simple and easy that was? This is a great weeknight recipe and also perfect for a meatless Monday dish. If you want another no-cook pasta sauce recipe check out my Lemon, Basil and Parmesan recipes here and here.

Happy cooking and Happy Independence Day! Let the fireworks begin!

lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

mushroom ravioli with browned butter, garlic and fresh herbs

Duh-rool, duh-rool.

Some things in life are meant to be relished and enjoyed and this is definitely one of them. The temperature in the Rockford, IL area recently was almost the equivalent of hell freezing over, but that’s okay when you have homemade ravioli. This is a little decadent with the butter sauce, but it’s deliciously worth the indulgence.


homemade mushroom ravioli with fresh herb and browned garlic butter recipe

shiitake mushroom ravioli filling recipe:

  • 5 ounces of shiitake mushrooms, finely chopped (or use portobello mushrooms, if you’d like)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 -2 cloves garlic, minced well (I love mine on the garlicky side, but remember there’ll be garlic in the butter sauce, also)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese (be sure and drain it through a fine-mesh colander if it’s very wet)
  • pinch of salt and black pepper


browned butter with garlic and fresh herbs sauce recipe

  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, thickly sliced or roughly chopped into chunks (don’t mince or you may end up with burnt garlic)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh herbs (I used chives, basil and parsley, but feel free to play with your herbs here)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan, Asiago or Romano cheese

In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add garlic chunks and cook for about 7-8 minutes, until butter is lightly browned. Add fresh herbs and black pepper and continue to cook about 30 seconds. Remove from heat, spoon sparingly over ravioli and sprinkle with freshly-grated cheese.

ravioli dough recipe:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 large egg, mixed with a tablespoon of cold water, for egg wash “glue”
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Cold water (only if needed)
  • Cornmeal – dusted onto a baking sheet or counter top, for the finished pasta

In a stand mixer bowl, using the dough hook attachment, add the flour and salt and mix, on low, to combine. Keeping your mixer on low and, letting each one incorporate one at a time before adding the next one, add your 3 eggs.

Drizzle in the olive oil while continuing to mix.

Let your mixer run on low or 2nd to lowest speed for about 5 minutes, occasionally shutting it off to scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl. Mix until a ball forms around the dough hook. If the mixture is still dry, add a tablespoon of water and mix in well,

Ideally, this should be enough, but the frustratingly beautiful thing about pasta is this: depending on your location, your home temperature, and your humidity level, you may need to add just a  bit more water. You don’t want a bunch of dough sticking to the sides but you don’t want it falling-apart-dry, either.

Once your dough ball has reached this level, let the mixer knead it on the 2nd to lowest speed for 10 minutes. That’s TEN MINUTES. I know, it seems like forever, but it’s a mixer, for goodness sake. Take the dog for a walk or something and then come back.

This is what you want: a nice, firm ball that still isn’t sticking to the side of your mixing bowl but also isn’t so dry it’s cracking or breaking apart. It should be smooth and supple. (yes, I really wrote that).

When your 10 minutes of mixer-kneading is up, rub the dough with just a smidge of olive oil and wrap in plastic wrap, Let sit for at least 30 minutes, to let the gluten in the dough rest.

If you haven’t already prepared your mushroom filling and/or garlic herb butter sauce, now’s a good time.

When dough is done resting, divide into 4 small sections and flatten.

With your pasta attachment or pasta maker, using the widest setting, run each section through 2-3 times.

If sections aren’t rectangular, fold the sides of them over, to make a rectangle, and run through again.

Then, thin your dough by working it through each roller setting until about the 7 or 8 mark. You want the dough nice and thin, so you can see your hand through it, but not so thin that it’s falling apart and hard to work with.

Lay finished strip of dough on cornmeal-dusted surface and repeat with remaining chunks of dough. If your dough is going to sit for more than 10 minutes, I recommend placing plastic wrap over the finished strips – this will keep them from drying out.

assemble ravioli

On your prepared strips of pasta, place a teaspoon or two of mushroom filling 1/2 of your strips, about 1/2-1 inch apart. You can make a lot of tiny ravioli or make fewer, larger ravioli, whichever you prefer, just leave enough room in-between filling, to seal each ravioli well.

Using a pastry brush (or your fingers, if you don’t have a brush), lightly brush the egg wash in a grid fashion, around the filling. (I’ll admit I don’t always mess with the wash and can still make the pasta pretty well.

Place another strip of pasta on to and, starting at one end, cover and lightly press dough between filling rows, until you’ve reached the end of the strip.

Then, press around each filling firmly, trying to press out any air around the filling, as you go.

Using a sharp knife, cut out your ravioli, then press the edges of each one quickly, making sure they’re sealed.

Place finished ravioli in boiling, salted water for about 3 minutes. Remove from water with a slotted spoon or skimmer, plate, drizzle with sauce, sprinkle with freshly grated cheese and serve.


This is a delicious way to spend a cold, snowy evening. If you’ve never made homemade pasta, the silkiness and flavor of it is outstanding and totally worth the extra work involved. I know I covered a lot here, so if you catch any errors or missed-steps, please let me know…hopefully I covered it all!

I hope everyone is staying warm…and full.