lola rugula cold cucumber salad recipe

Baked Mac and Cheese

Is there anyone who doesn’t love mac and cheese? It’s a rare indulgence for me but when I succumb to the craving I admit that I can eat quite a bit of it in just one sitting. Butter, cheese, and pasta don’t exactly make for a low-calorie dish but it’s oh, so worth it once in a while. Since our weather here in Northern Illinois has been on the cool side for August, I took advantage and baked up a big dish of it this weekend.

I’ve played with a lot of variations over the years and have found I really love it with a combination of different cheeses. I’ve also found that adding a beaten egg adds a richness to it, as well as helping bind it together. I started adding the bay leaf after I saw Alton Brown use it and I really like the subtle flavor it adds. I add garlic and onion mostly because I love garlic and onion and again, they really help amp up the flavor. Totally optional.

I don’t usually put a topping on mine but you can top it with a mix of panko bread crumbs and melted butter if you prefer. You can also sprinkle it with or mix in some bacon or, heck, throw in some sliced hot dogs like you did when you were a kid. Browned ground beef, tomatoes, peppers, roasted chicken or pork…you can really add just about anything to it that your heart desires.

Like I always tell you, don’t be afraid to play with your food!

Mine is not a super creamy mac and cheese; it’s a little bolder with a little more flavor than some. Always use the best-quality cheese you can, as that’s how you’ll get the biggest flavor. Also, layering some shredded cheese on the top before baking yields soft chunks of melted cheese that become part of each serving. Yum.

lola rugula macaroni and cheese recipe

baked macaroni and cheese recipe

  • 1 lb. elbow macaroni (I prefer De Cecco, because their noodles seem to hold up better with the combo of boiling and baking)
  • 4 tablespoons butter (plus a little extra for buttering the baking dish)
  • 4 tablespoons flour (I use white whole wheat flour)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup finely chopped white onion
  • 3 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon ground mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 egg, beaten in a small ramekin or bowl and set aside
  • 16 oz. shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 6 oz.  shredded Gruyere cheese
  • 2 oz. aged white cheddar cheese
  • (Reserve 1 cup of the mixed cheeses for topping)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

Lightly butter a 9 x 13 baking dish and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350°

In a large stock pot, cook pasta just about 1-2 minutes shy of al dente, according to the package directions (De Cecco is only 5 minutes and I cook it for 4) and drain in a colander. Use a large spoon and toss it around to let some of the steam out.

In the same pot you cooked the pasta in, heat butter over medium heat until melted. Add flour and, using a whisk or fork, whisk together until well blended and smooth. Continue to stir occasionally for about 5 minutes. Add garlic and onion and whisk together well. Let cook about 5 more minutes, stirring often. I know it just looks like a clumpy mess right now, but you’re toasting out the “flour” flavor and starting to cook the garlic and onion in the meantime. You don’t want anything to burn or stick to the bottom of the pan, so stay vigilant.

Add the milk all at once and stir well, being sure to scrape the bottom of the pan as you do, incorporating everything together. Stir until there are no flour lumps.

Add the mustard, paprika and bay leaf and stir again.

Bring your entire mixture to a slow simmer and then stir every minute or two, being careful not to scald the mixture. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan often, to assure there’s nothing sticking to it. Continue doing so for about 15 minutes. By this point, you should be able to smell the garlic and onion cooking…perfect. You’ll also notice the sauce thickening up just a tad, which it should. It won’t be thick by any means but you’ll notice it gains a bit of “body” to it.

Now, take a tablespoon of your hot mixture and add it to the beaten egg that you’ve set aside in a dish. Stir well. Add another tablespoon and stir well again. Again. Again.

Add your tempered egg to the pot and stir well.

Add all EXCEPT 1 cup of cheese and the salt and pepper.

Continue to stir over a low heat until all the cheese has completely melted and your mixture is nice and creamy. Be careful not to get the mixture too hot.

When all the cheese has melted, stir in your cooked pasta.

Ladle the mac and cheese into the lightly buttered baking dish. Sprinkle the top with the remaining cup of cheese.

Bake for 30 minutes.

Voila! Homemade mac and cheese is simply the best. You can also make this ahead if you want and refrigerate it for a day or two. Obviously, it will need to bake longer if you do so.

Here’s a shot prior to going in the oven. I like the extra shredded cheese on top because, as I mentioned earlier. then you get small chunks of cheese as you scoop it out and serve it.

lola rugula easy mac and cheese recipe

Also, I cook my pasta ahead instead of while I’m making the cheese sauce for 2 reasons:

  1. I don’t need to worry about the pasta cooking and having to drain it while I’m stirring my sauce
  2. I really hate making more dirty pans than is necessary. Who’s with me on this one?

Finally, if you are making this ahead and refrigerating it,  don’t add a panko and butter topping, until right before you bake the mac and cheese.

Do you have any other additions you love in your mac and cheese?

lola rugula cold cucumber salad recipe

asparagus frittata

I have to confess I’ve been on a bit of a frittata kick lately. I mean really, what’s not to love about something that’s so easy to make and that you can pack full of all the veggies you love?

Asparagus is growing rampant in our garden right now; it’s seriously one of the best gardening investments that I’ve ever made. It comes back in full force year after year, it’s really nutritious and, of course, it goes great with eggs. So, needless to say, asparagus frittata has been on our menu more than a few times in the last few weeks. So far, my husband isn’t complaining.

lola rugula asparagus frittata recipe

asparagus frittata recipe

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil (or butter)
  • 2 cups diced asparagus
  • 3 scallions, sliced
  • 8 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup cottage cheese
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese – I used an Italian blend for this mix which consisted of mozzarella, provolone, parmesan and asiago
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 375

Over medium-high heat, heat olive oil in10-inch ceramic or other non-stick skillet.

Add asparagus and scallions and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  The asparagus should still have a bit of a “bite” to it when adding the egg mixture.

While the asparagus is cooking put the remaining ingredients in a large bowl and whisk together until well-blended and frothy.

Add the egg mixture to the asparagus mixture and place in a preheated. Cook for about 18-20 minutes. When done, the center will have puffed up a bit and the edges will be just starting to turn golden. Remove from the oven, let sit 5 minutes, slice and serve.

lola rugula asparagus and scallion frittata recipe

I love a good frittata – it’s a wonderful meatless Monday dish, especially if you serve it with a mixed green salad on the side.

If you’re not a fan of asparagus, feel free to substitute your favorite veggie (or veggies) because trust me, this is great with broccoli, broccolini, sweet peppers, zucchini…use your imagination and play with your food a bit.

Enjoy!

lola rugula cold cucumber salad recipe

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 cold cucumber salad recipe

homemade gnocchi

I have a lot of fun making homemade pasta. It may not always look perfect but it’s always more delicious than the boxed, refrigerated or frozen stuff. That’s not to say I don’t ever cook with dried or refrigerated pasta, but it’s fun to play with making it fresh. Oh, and did I mention it’s always delicious?

I’ve been on a homemade gnocchi kick recently and my recipe creates fluffy pillows that have flavor all on their own. One of the keys to great homemade gnocchi is to not overwork the ingredients or dough. If you spend a lot of time smashing or kneading everything, you’ll take away the lightness that creates a light, fluffy gnocchi.

lola rugula easy homemade gnocchi recipe

Do you see how beautifully imperfect they are? Please don’t sweat the small stuff. The reason for the ridges in gnocchi are to help hold onto the sauce you put on them.  They don’t have to be perfect ridges or equal ridges…just make some ridges, pour some sauce over them and sit back and enjoy your talent at making homemade gnocchi.

This recipe makes 4-6 healthy servings – for me it makes enough for a dinner for 2 and an extra portion for freezing. How to freeze gnocchi? Easy! When you’re done rolling them, just lay them on a single layer on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and freeze for about 2 hours. Then toss them into a freezer-safe container or bag and freeze. To cook frozen gnocchi, just add to boiling water and let them all come to a slow boil for 3 minutes or so. No need to thaw or anything…it’s a beautiful thing!

A potato ricer, at least for me, is the key to making terrific gnocchi. It’s also good to rice the potatoes while they’re still hot, as this helps keep your gnocchi fluffy.

homemade gnocchi recipe

  • 3 lbs russet potatoes (about 6 medium)
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • pinch freshly grated nutmeg

Scrub potatoes and place them in a large pan. Cover with cold water by a couple of inches and bring to a low boil. Cook, uncovered, for about 35-40 minutes, until the skins begin to split. Drain potatoes and let them cool just 5 minutes or so. Using a towel or paper towel to hold them, quickly but carefully peel them. One by one, place the potatoes (cut them in half if needed) into a potato ricer and rice onto a clean, dry surface. Let the riced potatoes cool completely, at least 1/2 hour.

In the meantime, beat the egg, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a small bowl. Set aside.

When the potatoes are cool, sprinkle them with the parmesan. Bring everything together to form a “mountain” of potatoes and cheese. Form a well in the middle and add the egg mixture. Using your fingers to lift everything up from the bottom, gently mix everything together. 1 3/4 cups of the flour and gently mix

Sprinkle the mixture with 1 3/4 cups of the flour and gently mix it all together and form into a ball. Gently roll the ball into a long tube and slice into  8 equal sections.

lola rugula how to make homemade gnocchi recipe

Dust your work surface with some of the remaining flour and, using your hands, roll a section into about a 1/2 rope of pasta. Using a knife or pastry cutter, slice the rope into 1 inch pieces.

Laying a 1 inch piece of dough in one hand and holding a fork in the other, use the fork to gently roll indentions into the piece of dough. You may find it easier to dip the fork in flour first. Don’t make yourself crazy making perfect indentions…as you can see by the first photo, I don’t get too worked up about it and they still come out pretty good. My husband, who has Sicilian roots, is naturally a pro at gnocchi rolling, so I enlist him whenever I can. You can also buy gnocchi rolling boards to make this process even easier.

Repeat these steps with each section and piece, until done.

lola rugula homemade gnocchi recipe

To cook your gnocchi, bring a large pan of salted water to a boil, add the gnocchi and let them float to the surface. Continue to boil for about 2 minutes. Drain the gnocchi and serve immediately with your choice of toppings.

We have 2 favorite ways of enjoying our gnocchi – with my homemade fresh tomato sauce or with just butter, freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano and a bit of freshly ground black pepper.

lola rugula how to make homemade gnocchi

My gnocchi may never be perfect but it’s perfectly light and delicious. If you do freeze some of it, it’s best to use it within a month or so – I find that freezing fresh pasta for any longer than that can significantly deteriorate the quality of it.

Well, are you ready to roll some fresh gnocchi? I hope so! If you have any questions or comments, be sure and let me know. Remember to never, ever be afraid to play with your food. Happy pasta making, everyone!

lola rugula cold cucumber salad recipe

dried rattlesnake bean and vegetable soup

I had the pleasure last summer of growing rattlesnake beans for the first time. I had never heard of them and was intrigued because they can be eaten just like green beans when they’re young or eaten as dried beans when left to grow and dry on the vine. Anyone who’s grown green beans knows how quickly they can grow, so the advantage to growing rattlesnake beans is that if they go past their young, tender stage, you can let them go to dried beans and still enjoy them. Genius, I say! If you’ve been wondering how to grow rattlesnake beans, they’re easy to grow and delicious.

I ordered my beans from Territorial Seed Company and planted them in early May. Rattlesnake beans are pole beans, so you need to give them a fence or support to grow on and boy do these things grow. I did not have the foresight to take a picture of them on the vine but here’s a shot of them while they’re young:

lola-rugula-how-to-grow-rattlesnake-beaans

Aren’t they beautiful? The dark purple striping makes a stunning contrast to the green pod and these really are delicious when harvested at this stage. If you’re wondering how to cook young rattlesnake beans, they can be cooked any way you cook regular green beans. They’re wonderful steamed, roasted and added to soups and other dishes. We had a very healthy harvest of these before I let them go to the drying stage.

Growing them here in Zone 5 was very easy for me. I planted the seeds against a garden fence with some compost and manure mixed in. These are very fast growers and occasionally I had to train the vines around the fence, to make sure they had some much-needed support. I harvested them as green beans until late July or early August and then let the rest of them mature and dry on the vine, picking them as they became fully dry. Then I shelled them and stored them in a storage container in my pantry, where they’ve kept well as I work my way through them.

lola rugula how to grow rattlesnake beans in zone 5

As you can see, the dried beans are just as gorgeous as the green ones – their distinctive markings make it easy to see why they’re called rattlesnake beans.

So here we are, in the middle of a cold Midwestern winter, and what’s the best way to cook these dried rattlesnake beans? In soup, of course! Packed full of veggies, this is a great version of a clean-out-your-fridge recipe. Mine here simply reflects what I had on hand for veggies, so please don’t be afraid to use whatever you love and/or have on hand. There are no rules to veggie and bean soup, except that you make it with the veggies you enjoy. And if you don’t have dried rattlesnake beans, then use whatever beans you like. Don’t like beans? This is still a great vegetable soup recipe, so don’t be afraid to omit or change things up. Be prepared, this is a long list of veggies but don’t be daunted…I’m just cleaning out my fridge for soup…

lola rugula how to cook rattlesnake beans recipe

rattlesnake bean and vegetable soup recipe

  • 1 cup of dried rattlesnake beans
  • 1 cup of small pasta, such as ditalini
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 large white onion, diced
  • 8-10 baby carrots, sliced
  • 2 celery stalks, sliced
  • 5 small sweet peppers, diced
  • 4-5 medium-size turnip greens, tough stem removed and chopped
  • 1 cup small spinach leaves, torn or chopped
  • 1 small zucchini, diced
  • 15 asparagus spears, tough ends removed and sliced
  • 2 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 6 cups vegetable broth
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup bean broth
  • 1 2-inch piece of Parmesan rind (optional)

In a medium saucepan, add dried rattlesnake beans and fill with water. Bring to a boil for 2 minutes, cover and remove from heat. Let sit, covered, for 1 hour. In the meantime, cook the pasta, prepare the veggies and start the soup.

In a medium saucepan, cook the ditalini or other small pasta for 10 minutes or just until al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water. Let sit until ready to use.

In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic, onions and carrots and cook just until they start to sweat, stirring a few times, about 5 minutes.

Add the rest of the veggies and continue to cook until they all start to wilt and soften, about 7 more minutes.  Season with pepper flakes (if using), salt and pepper and stir well. Add vegetable broth, water, bean broth and Parmesan rind (if using).

Add the rattlesnake beans. You will not add the pasta until the soup is almost done. Bring to a boil, partially cover and reduce heat to a slow simmer.

Simmer for one hour or until beans are tender. Add pasta and bring back to a simmer. Remove from heat and serve.

We had a good 2 bowls of this before we sat back and wondered at the incredible flavor of these beans. Rattlesnake beans have a meaty, hearty flavor but cook quickly and stay tender. I love these beans and will definitely add them to my “things you should definitely grow in your vegetable garden” list.

Happy soup season everyone…here’s hoping for an early spring!

lola rugula cold cucumber salad recipe

orecchiette with pancetta and asparagus

Oh, pasta how I love thee. When I followed a vegetarian diet for a few years, I really learned how to have fun with pasta and man, I ate a lot of it. These days, I’m back to eating meat but my love for the versatility of pasta has carried through. I learned you can really toss pasta with almost anything – especially vegetables – and make a healthy, satisfying meal. Of course, adding a bit of sausage, pancetta or bacon never hurts but none of them are necessary to make a delicious pasta dish.

That being said, this recipe contains pancetta. Just sayin’.

orecchiette pasta with pancetta and asparagus recipe

orecchiette with pancetta and asparagus

  • 1 lb. dried orecchiette pasta
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 oz. pancetta
  • 1/2 medium onion, cut through the root end and sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 1/2 lbs. asparagus, trimmed of tough root ends and sliced into 1-2 inch pieces
  • 8 sweet mini peppers, sliced
  • 6-8 leaves fresh basil, chopped
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup reserved pasta water
  • Parmigiano Reggiano

Cook pasta al dente, according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water.

While the pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add pancetta and cook for at least 5 minutes or until fat begins to melt and brown. Add onions and garlic and continue cooking for a couple of minutes, stirring frequently. Be careful to not burn the garlic.

Add asparagus and peppers and continue cooking, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes. Veggies should still be brightly colored and still have a touch of bite to them.

Add reserved pasta water and stir well. Toss immediately with hot pasta and serve with chopped basil, a bit of freshly ground black pepper and freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

easy orecchiette with pancetta and asparagus recipe

If you like your veggies softer, you can cook a bit longer or blanch them first in the pasta water, before adding them to the pan.

orecchiette with pancetta and asparagus recipe

Of course, a lot of veggies will work with this, so take your pick.

If you enjoy pasta like I do, you should also try my pasta with cooked fresh tomato sauce, my fresh no-cook tomato sauce, my lemon pasta with asparagus and sea scallops, or my lemon spaghetti with broccolini and shrimp, to name just a few!

Mangia!