lola rugula deli style medium rare roast beef

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.

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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:

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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…

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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.

Mangia!

lola rugula deli style medium rare roast beef

easy refrigerator pickles by the jar

The last of my cucumber plants got pulled up last week and, though I’m sad to see summer end, I have to admit that this year’s cucumber harvest was a bit overwhelming. I added diced cucumber to salsa (delicious) and threw together quick cucumber salad (sliced cukes and onions mixed with seasoned rice vinegar and marinated for a couple of days, stirring twice a day). I made our favorite salad – tomato wedges, sliced red onion and fennel, and cucumber chunks drizzled with unseasoned rice vinegar and sprinkled with salt and pepper – super refreshing in the summer and everything’s picked right from our garden except the red onion. I made salmon, cucumber and dill bites more times than I can count (not that I’m complaining because they’re seriously delicious).

While all of these were great ways to use and enjoy my cucumber bounty, they weren’t nearly enough to use them all up. I’ve tried canning pickles but the only ones I truly like canned are bread and butter pickles; dill pickles just shouldn’t be cooked in my opinion. In summers past, I made at least a couple of batches of my fermented half sour dill pickles but this year I decided to try and perfect an easy recipe for refrigerator dill pickles. I also decided the perfect recipe would be a refrigerator-pickle-by-the-jar recipe, so I could easily make them without waiting to have a certain amount of cucumbers on hand. Also, I may have mentioned how we have dill that shows up every year, so this is also a great way to use some of that while I’m at it. I finally nailed down a quick and easy recipe…give these babies a try. The cucumbers retain a nice crunch and the flavor is fantastic.

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quick and easy refrigerator dill pickles recipe (by the quart jar)

Per Jar:

  • 1 tablespoon canning salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 4-5 black peppercorns
  • 3 heads fresh dill
  • 1 tablespoon fresh dill weed
  • 1/2 jalapeno, sliced (for hot refrigerator pickles, optional – adjust amount to taste or omit)
  • 3-4 medium cucumbers, preferably the pickling variety, quartered lengthwise – make sure you remove the stem end and discard beforehand. (you’ll need more if smaller cukes and fewer if they’re on the large side)
  • White vinegar (approximately 3/4-1 cup)
  • Water

Place salt, garlic, peppercorns, dill and jalapeno (if adding) in the jar. Add about 1/4 cup hot water, seal jar tightly with lid and shake vigorously from side to side for a minute or so. This not only helps the salt dissolve but also wilts and bruises the garlic, dill and pepper, releasing some of their flavor into the brine. Remove the lid, add 1/4 cup of vinegar and then pile in your sliced cucumbers,  packing them in as tightly as possible. I find it easiest to hold the jar sideways and stack them in that way. Once you think you’ve packed as many in as you can, set the jar on the counter and push in a few more.

Now just top off the remaining air space with 50% vinegar and 50% water, filling the jar as closely to the rim as possible. Wipe rim clean and seal tightly with lid. Give the jar a few shakes and then refrigerate for at least 1 week.

Yum!

Another beautiful aspect of this recipe is that you don’t have to cook a brine like a lot of refrigerator pickle recipes call for – the hot tap water is just enough to dissolve the salt and warm the herbs and spices.

If you like your pickles a little sweet, just add a little sugar when you add the salt. Also, play with the heat by adding more or different kinds of hot peppers, or add none at all. Remember, don’t be afraid to play with your food!

lola rugula deli style medium rare roast beef

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.

lola-rugula-easy-salmon-appetizers

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.

Assembly

  • 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.

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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 deli style medium rare roast beef

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.

lola-rugula-how-to-preserve-cherry-tomatoes-recipe

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.

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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 deli style medium rare roast beef

eggplant bianca

Every year I’m in awe of just how many eggplants one plant can product and this year is no different. Here are a couple of shots of some of the eggplants I harvested out of our garden last year:

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lola-rugula-eggplant-recipe

Beautiful, aren’t they?

This past weekend, I decided to try something new with my eggplant. I’m not a huge fan of Eggplant Parmesan, because as a general rule I try and stay away from breading and frying things. Usually, in place of the classic, I simply saute some slices, layer them in a pan with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, Parmesan and basil and then bake it. I’ve changed this up with tomato sauce instead of fresh and it’s equally delicious.

But, I really wanted to try something new this weekend and I’m calling it Eggplant Bianca, since there’s no tomato sauce involved; it’s just grilled eggplant baked with cheese and a simple white sauce. A layer of blanched arugula or spinach would be perfect in this. A layer of fresh tomatoes would also be wonderful (though no longer “bianca”) and I’m looking forward to playing with this more in the months to come.

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eggplant bianca recipe (eggplant with fresh mozzarella and parmesan)

  • 2 medium to large eggplants
  • Olive oil, for sauteing the eggplant and also greasing the pan
  • 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs (1 tablespoon for the bottom of pan, the rest for layering)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup (generous) half and half
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (1/2 cup for white sauce, 1/2 cup for topping)
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, broken or cut into small cubes
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350°

Using olive oil, lightly grease a 9 x 13 dish. Sprinkle with about a tablespoon of panko and set aside.

Slice eggplant into thin rounds, about 1/2 inch each and sprinkle on one side with a bit of salt. Using a grill pan (or a grill), grill the slices with a bit of olive oil, turning occasionally, until mostly cooked through, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

In a bowl, whip together eggs, half and half, garlic, Parmesan. basil, parsley and a pinch of salt and pepper.

In prepared casserole dish, lay down a single layer of grilled eggplant slices. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the fresh mozzarella and 1/3 of the panko bread crumbs. Create 2 more layers, doing the same. Pour the egg mixture over everything in the dish and, using a spatula, gently press the eggplant/cheese layers together.

Bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until edges and tops begin to bubble and brown.

Remove from oven and let rest for 5 minutes before slicing and serving.

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I already told you some other ideas for this, such as a layer of arugula, spinach or tomatoes. I think if you cut this into small squares, it would make a perfect appetizer. It could also be used as a side dish, if you prefer, instead if serving it as a main course, such as I did. And if you’re looking for what to serve a vegetarian guest at a party, I think this definitely fits the bill. Also, as a final note, you can certainly remove the eggplant skin, if you prefer it that way.

Bon Appetit!

lola rugula deli style medium rare roast beef

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-filling-recipe-lola-rugula

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 portobella mushroom, 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

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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)
  • Corn meal – 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 corn meal-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.

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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.