lola rugula how to make easy pasta carbonara

Fennel, Tomato and Cucumber Salad

If you follow my blog on Facebook, you may have seen me share a photo of this salad recently. This is a salad that celebrates summer veggies. It’s cool, crisp, colorful and, of course, delicious. It seems almost too simple of a recipe to post but I sometimes get asked what to do with fennel and this is seriously one of my easiest suggestions.  People often pick up fennel at a farmer’s market or receive it in a CSA box and wonder what the heck to do with it.  Recipes don’t have to be complicated and, if you’re not a regular home cook, I know you don’t want them to be. This is a great way to introduce yourself to fennel while enjoying other summer veggie delights. Roasted fennel is also divine – try throwing some on the grill or pan roasting it, to really intensify its flavor.

I’ve been growing fennel the last couple of years and I think it’s a great addition to a home vegetable garden. It’s not susceptible to disease or bugs and, if you can keep the groundhogs from chewing off the tops (true story last year), not much bothers it, at least in my case.I do tend to pick it while it’s young, which yields a very tender and crisp fennel. It also helps thin out my patch of it, as I inevitably plant them too close together every year.

The tomatoes and cucumbers pictured here are also from our garden. The tomatoes are Black Vernissage heirloom from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, one of my favorite places to buy seeds. They’re gorgeous little 3-inch tomatoes packed with flavor.  The cucumbers are a pickling variety, which is all I typically grow, but any type of cucumber will work here.

lola rugula fennel tomato and cucumber salad

This isn’t so much as a recipe as a salad suggestion. You can increase or lessen the quantities of any of the ingredients to suit your tastes.

lola rugula fennel and tomato salad recipe

fennel, tomato, and cucumber salad

  • Fresh fennel, sliced
  • Tomatoes, diced
  • Cucumbers, sliced or diced
  • Red onion, thinly sliced
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Olive Oil
  • Rice vinegar, unseasoned

Add your vegetables to a bowl, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle olive oil and rice vinegar over, toss and serve.

Easy, right? That’s what I love!

I prefer to use rice vinegar on this because it has a very light flavor, but it’s also good with red or white wine vinegar and even white balsamic vinegar. I use the unseasoned variety of rice vinegar but if you like a little sweetness, use seasoned rice vinegar and omit adding any additional salt.

You want just a hint of oil and vinegar on this, to really let the flavors of your veggies shine through.

lola rugula tomato fennel and cucumber salad recipe

Isn’t it beautiful? This salad screams summertime.  Fennel is easy to find now in most supermarkets and farmers markets so, even if you’re not a home gardener, you shouldn’t have any problem getting some.

Variations: thinly sliced sweet yellow, orange or red peppers work great with this. If you prefer, you can also serve it on a bed of greens. A little fresh parsley, basil or mint also change this up a bit, as does a little thinly sliced summer squash.

Don’t be afraid to play with your food! Enjoy!

lola rugula how to make easy pasta carbonara

Classic Potato Salad with Peas

I love experimenting and creating new recipes but who doesn’t love good old-fashioned potato salad? Mine’s pretty much a classic skins-on potato salad with peas added for their bright flavor and nutritional punch. I prefer to use red potatoes because I love their flavor and texture, plus their skins look so beautiful in this salad (another nutritional punch)! Of course, you can peel the potatoes if you prefer but if you’ve never tried it this way, give it a shot and see what you think.

Red skins, bright green peas, celery and red onions all combine to make this a very colorful and flavorful salad, so it makes an attractive and delicious side dish for a summer cookout or picnic.

A couple of notes about my recipe: I dice my potatoes before cooking for two reasons:

  • I like to rinse the starchiness off of them before cooking
  • They cook faster, which is a big bonus in the middle of summer

Also, I don’t add sugar to my potato salad – I prefer mine savory over sweet but if you want to add some, it’s your call.

lola rugula classic potato salad recipe

red skin classic potato salad with peas recipe

  • 12 medium red potatoes (3.5 lbs.), scrubbed well, diced into large chunks and rinsed well
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (for cooking the potatoes)
  • 3 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 4 boiled eggs, diced
  • 1 1/4 cup diced or sliced celery
  • 3/4 cup diced red onion
  • 1 1/2 cups green peas (if using frozen, thaw and drain well)
  • 1/2 teaspoon each kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 (generous) cup mayonnaise (I prefer the olive oil kind)
  • Minced parsley or scallions for serving (optional)

Place clean, rinsed potato chunks in a large pot, cover by a few inches with cold water and bring to a boil. Cook for about 15 minutes or just until fork-tender, and drain well. (I typically skim the starchy bubbles from the top with a slotted spoon as they’re cooking to help prevent boil-overs) Rinse briefly with cold water, drain very well and return to pan.

While they’re still warm, sprinkle potatoes with vinegar, stir well and set aside to cool about 30 minutes. I stir mine again a few times while they’re cooling, to help speed up the cooling process.

In the meantime, dice your boiled eggs, celery, and red onion. If using frozen peas, make sure they’re thawed and drained well. Add everything to your cooled potatoes.

Add salt and pepper and stir everything together.

Add Dijon and mayo and stir well, until it’s all incorporated and everything is evenly covered.

Refrigerate for at least 4 hours – I like to let mine sit overnight for the best flavor. Sprinkle with freshly chopped parsley or scallions before serving.


  • If you don’t like peas, omit them
  • If you prefer your potato salad more “mustardy” add more Dijon or switch it out for classic yellow mustard
  • Skins are also optional – peel the potatoes if you prefer
  • If you don’t have red onions, white onions or diced scallions will work just fine
  • Like potato salad with bacon? Hey, throw some bacon in there.
  • Again, if you like your potato salad sweet, you can certainly add a little sugar

lola rugula classic red skin potato salad recipe

Aside from the peas, this is a classic skins-on all American potato salad and one that’s always a hit with my family and friends.

How do you like your potato salad? (or do you hate it?) Leave me a comment and let me know!

lola rugula how to make easy pasta carbonara

papaya seed dressing

Spring has officially arrived here in Northern Illinois and yet they’re calling for an inch or two of snow tonight. Sigh.

We had a week or so of nice 50+ degree weather though and we even grilled out a couple of times, so I know these latest flurries won’t stick around long.

Thinking spring thoughts, I was excited to see a display of gorgeous papayas on my last trip to the grocery store. As the weather starts to warm up, I’m always looking for delicious ways to amp up the flavor in my green salads so that they don’t get boring. This is an easy, nutritious, delicious salad dressing that I quickly threw together in my blender. Papaya seeds are high in protein and a good source of calcium and magnesium. You may not suspect it but their flavor is similar to black pepper and they add a definite kick to this dressing.

Salad dressings are so easy to make at home and if you’re trying to stay away from processed foods, dressings are a good way to start. Most store-bought dressings are loaded with junk – read the labels and you might be surprised at everything that’s in them.

lola-rugula-papaya-seed-dressing-recipepapaya seed dressing recipe

  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup roughly cut onion (I used about 3 large slices)
  • 1 tablespoon agave nectar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 heaping tablespoons papaya seeds
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Place everything except olive oil in a blender and blend on high speed for a couple of minutes. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil until everything is well blended.

You can certainly play around with this recipe quite a bit. If you don’t have ground mustard, add a bit of dijon. If you don’t have rice vinegar, try champagne or tarragon vinegar. If you want some extra color, add some chopped chives or scallions. Use raw honey instead of agave nectar. Add a bit of garlic to the mix. Never be afraid to play with your food.

Oh, and how to tell if a papaya is ripe? Ideally, buy them at the store while they’re still partially green. Let ripen at home for a few days and then enjoy! The skin of the papaya will turn yellow as it ripens and have a little bit of give when you touch it. You don’t want it overripe, so don’t let it get too soft.

Keep thinking spring and enjoy!

lola rugula how to make easy pasta carbonara

bean and veggie salad with cumin dressing

Happy Labor Weekend all! I hope everyone is having a fun and amazing summer. I’ve been canning and freezing up a storm from my garden, but it’s always worth it when the days become shorter and colder. Brrrrrrrrr.

Thought I’d share one of my easiest salad recipes with you this holiday weekend. I’m not even going to try and give you measurements on this, because it’s different every single time I make it. The only constants are the cilantro, cumin, cider vinegar and olive oil. There are always beans, veggies, garlic and onion involved, but the beans, veggies and even the onion vary, depending on what I have on hand or what I’m in the mood for.

Give it a whirl and see what you think!


bean and veggie salad with cilantro, cumin and cider vinegar dressing

  • beans of your choice (I personally love to mix them – black beans, garbanzo beans, dark red kidney beans, etc.)
  • diced veggies of your choice
  • minced garlic
  • chopped fresh cilantro
  • ground cumin
  • cider vinegar
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Toss the beans, veggies, garlic and cilantro together in a large bowl. Sprinkle on some ground cumin, to taste. (remember, you can always add more, so go easy at first) Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle on a bit of olive oil and cider vinegar. You just want to coat everything well, without drowning it all. Toss everything well – best when it sits at least an hour.

As a side note, using a great cider vinegar here is worth it. I highly recommend Bragg‘s  which can be found at most markets and grocery stores. It’s organic, live and raw, so it’s very good for you.

Hope you all have a wonderful holiday weekend! Bon Appetit!

lola rugula how to make easy pasta carbonara

grated raw beet and carrot slaw

My husband, beet lover that he is, put our beet seeds in the ground in late March. We just harvested the bulk of them about a week ago (early July) and oh, what a harvest it was! Beets are so good for you – they’re rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals and, especially in their raw form, are great for cleansing your body.


If you’re only familiar with beets in their cooked state, I really hope you’ll try them raw. They’re crunchy and delicious, with an earthy flavor all their own. Their greens are great in salads and juices, too, so don’t toss those beet greens!


raw grated beet and carrot salad slaw recipe

  • 4 medium washed, peeled and grated beets
  • 2 carrots, peeled and grated
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon chopped basil
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
  • Juice of 1 lime (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

In a large bowl, toss all of the ingredients together. Let stand for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Easy recipe, right? Are beets messy to work with? Yes. Will they stain just about anything they come in contact with, including your hands? Yes. Are they super great for you and delicious and totally worth the mess? Absolutely!

I know it’s impossible to tell that there are even carrots involved here, but there are; the beet juice stains them before you’re even done mixing, but they add a special flavor and sweetness of their own.

Oh, and the lovely plate the slaw is on? It’s from the set of my grandmother’s china that I inherited. Beautiful, isn’t it?

If you want to eat more raw food recipes and are looking for way to amp up the nutrients in your side dishes, this is it. If you’re looking for other slaw or salad recipes that are made with oil and vinegar, and no mayonnaise, check out my Asian-style slaw and my slaw with Dijon mustard and cider vinegar. Enjoy!

lola rugula how to make easy pasta carbonara

mediterranean quinoa salad

Quinoa is one of those foods that became super trendy, for a while. Super trendy until a lot of people actually tried it and decided they didn’t like it. The first way I ever made it was as a savory side dish, with mushrooms, veggie stock and fresh thyme and it was love at first bite.

My first recommendation on preparing quinoa is this: make sure you rinse it, rinse it and rinse it again, Or, better yet, buy the pre-rinsed stuff, which they happily sell now, but didn’t at the time I first started making it. I’ll admit I still rinse it briefly though…habit, I guess. If quinoa isn’t rinsed thoroughly enough, it tends to have a soapy taste to it. This is what I’ve heard, at least. I’ve always been a big rinser.

Secondly, for the love of all that’s holy, do not overcook quinoa. This one I have done and, trust me, it’s better to under-cook it just a tad, then to overcook it. This point is especially important when you’re going to make a salad out of it, because the quinoa is going to continue to soak up any liquid as it sits. If this happens with overcooked quinoa, you’re just going to end up with mush within a day or so.

Now that I’ve got all that out of the way, this really is just a basic Mediterranean salad with a quinoa base. You can make this with pasta as the base, lentils as the base, rice as the base, beans as the base, barley as the base…you get the idea.

lola-rugula-mediterranean-quinoa-salad-recipemediterranean quinoa salad recipe with veggies

  •  1 cup of quinoa, rinsed well
  • 1 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup black beans (if using canned beans, rinse them well and drain)
  • 3 scallions, sliced
  • 1 cup diced, de-seeded cucumber (slice the cuke in half and then run a spoon down its center, to remove the bulk of the seeds)
  • 1/2 cup diced yellow pepper
  • 1 cup shredded red cabbage
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 1 1/2 cups halved or quartered cherry tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup finely-chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Juice from one lemon (about 1 tablespoon)

In a small saucepan, bring water and salt to a boil. Add quinoa. Stir well and return to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes.  Remove lid and remove pan from heat. Fluff with a fork and let sit for 30 minutes.

In the meantime, cut of the veggies and parsley and place in a large bowl. Add olive oil and lemon juice and toss well. Add cooled quinoa and toss well, again.

Easy, right? Oh, and it’s truly delicious. So delicious that I’m loathe to tell you, in case you weren’t aware of it, that quinoa is super good for you. Just a one cup serving has almost 50% of your RDA of protein and fiber. Quinoa is actually a complete protein, meaning it contains all of your essential amino acids. That’s a pretty rare trait in the plant world.  It’s also loaded with iron, magnesium and potassium. Not bad for a little seed, right?

Here’s the part where I encourage you to play with your food: I love to mix up the veggies and beans in this. Add steamed asparagus or broccoli, garbanzo beans, snow peas, roasted red peppers, black olives….it’s so easy and versatile. Have fun with this and enjoy!