lola rugula how to make easy pasta carbonara

Pasta Carbonara

Ahhh….pasta carbonara. So few ingredients yet a rich, incredible dish that every pasta lover should have in their recipe arsenal. I’ve had this post written for a long time but getting the photos has been another story. I can promise you that making this is WAY easier than documenting it, mostly because it’s so delicious that whenever I make it we just want to dig right in and eat it – it’s definitely a pasta dish best when served fresh.

lola rugula pasta carbonara

pasta carbonara recipe

  • 1 lb. bucatini or spaghetti (I prefer De Cecco) + 1 teaspoon of kosher salt for cooking pasta
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, plus an additional 1/4 cup for serving
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 ounces pancetta, cubed or sliced
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

A couple of notes before you start:

  • Start your pasta cooking, have your egg & cheese mixture mixed together, your garlic minced and your parsley chopped before you start, then you’re not rushing or pressured when the dish is ready to put together.
  • One of the keys to a carbonara sauce is cooking the sauce while the pasta cooks. This ensures that the pasta will be hot and ready to toss with your sauce when you need to. This will also ensure that the eggs cook just a bit, which accomplishes two things – not eating raw eggs and making a creamy sauce that clings to your pasta.
  • Instead of draining my pasta, I use tongs to scoop it out and toss it right in with the garlic pancetta mixture. This may be a little messier but it’s faster and ensures I have reserved hot pasta water when I need it.

Directions:

  1. In a small bowl, blend your eggs and cheese together well using a fork or whisk
  2. Bring your pasta water to a boil, add salt and pasta and stir well. Bring back to a boil and cook for 10 minutes or according to directions on package, while completing the steps below.
  3. In the meantime, once the pasta has been cooking for about 3-4 minutes, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  4. Add pancetta and cook until fat is rendered and the pancetta begins to crisp up, stirring often, about 4-5 minutes.
  5. Reduce heat to medium, add garlic and stir constantly over heat, about 2 more minutes.
  6. Shut the heat off of the pasta if needed, while you complete the sauce.
  7. Using tongs, pull pasta directly out of the water and toss into the pancetta garlic mixture, tossing it all together.
  8. Quickly add the egg and cheese mixture, tossing well again.
  9. Using a ladle or measuring cup, add about 1/4 cup of hot pasta water to the cooked pasta mixture and keep tossing.
  10. If needed, add more water in 1/4 cup increments until creamy sauce forms. You may end up adding close to a cup of water. Toss well after each addition.
  11. When you have a creamy sauce, plate pasta immediately, sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper, additional Parmesan, and chopped parsley.
  12. Serve and enjoy!

lola rugula how to make easy pasta carbonara

This dish is really all about timing because obviously, there aren’t a lot of ingredients involved. Again, having everything chopped, mixed and as prepared ahead of time as possible makes this much easier to throw together.

Invest in the best cheese you can for this, as it’s really the star of the dish.

Once you have this down, you’ll find yourself making it pretty often. It’s a perfect pasta dish for an easy weeknight dinner, a romantic dinner for two or a dinner party with friends or family.

Want to make carbonara with bacon instead? Go for it! I’ve done it and it’s delicious. I’ve also tossed roasted, chopped asparagus into this and it’s divine. Don’t limit yourself – you can use this as a base for all kinds of ideas.

Mangia!

lola rugula how to make easy pasta carbonara

shredded beef and pork ragu

I’ve had a craving for a meaty ragu ever since the weather started to turn cold and, as is typical with me, I was inspired to go with what looked beautiful at the meat counter as opposed to what I traditionally do with my meat sauces. My local grocery had some lovely beef bones with lots of meat on them and hefty country-style pork ribs on sale, so I grabbed a couple of the soup bones and a 3 pack of ribs and carted them home.

I also picked up a 4 pack of Italian sausages because, honestly, that’s just the mood I was in. Apparently, my body already thinks it needs to bulk up for the winter ahead.  🙂

This makes a humongous family or dinner size batch so if you want to reserve some of the ragu for freezing, only cook one pound of pasta and then freeze the rest of the sauce.

lola rugula pasta and ragu

shredded beef and pork ragu recipe

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 beef soup bones with meat – about 3/4 lb. each
  • 3 pork loin country-style ribs, bone-in, about 1 lb. total
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 large garlic cloves
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 1 stalk celery
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1 1/2 cups beef broth, preferably homemade
  • 6 cups whole, peeled cooked Roma tomatoes with their juice
  • 18 oz. tomato paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 4 Salsiccia sausages (optional)
  • 1 1/2 cups warm half and half
  • 2 lbs. bucatini or other thick pasta
  • Freshly grated Parmesan for serving
  • Fresh parsley, minced, for serving

Season beef and pork all over with salt and pepper.

In a large stockpot, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Add beef bones and brown on both sides, about 10 minutes per side, until well browned. Remove to a plate.

Add pork ribs and brown well on all sides, about 15 minutes total. Remove to plate.

If excessive grease, drain off leaving 1 teaspoon in pan. Be sure and try to leave all the crispy bits, because that’s where the flavor is. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and heat.

Add garlic, onion, carrots, and celery. Saute over medium heat for about 7-8 minutes.

Add red wine, stirring and scraping the crispy meat bits from the bottom of the pan. Reduce until wine has almost evaporated.

Add beef stock and bring to simmer for about 10 minutes.

Add back beef bones and pork ribs.

Add tomatoes and tomato paste, hand-smashing the tomatoes as you add them.

Add grated nutmeg and stir everything together well, until tomato paste is well-incorporated.

Bring the sauce to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 3 hours.

Using tongs, carefully remove beef and ribs to a plate.

If using, add sausages to the sauce.

Using 2 forks, shred the beef and pork from the bones. If desired, also scoop out any remaining marrow from the beef bones. Discard bones and any excess fat, and add beef, marrow, and pork back into the sauce.

Simmer for 1 more hour or until almost all of the liquid has evaporated and the sauce is nice and thick.

While the ragu is nearing its finished time, pour half and half into a small pan and heat until warmed through.

Cook pasta and drain.

Add hot half and half to sauce and stir well.

Toss hot pasta with sauce. Transfer everything to large bowl or platter, sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan and minced parsley and serve.

lola rugula ragu with shredded beef and pork

Like most homemade meat and tomato sauces, there’s some prep and long simmer time involved but it’s totally worth it. This is a rich and hearty sauce, full of flavor.

The sausages may take it into overdrive but again, so worth it. My husband made a fantastic sandwich with one of the sausages, some sauce, and French bread. What could possibly be bad about that, right?

As I always say, don’t be afraid to play with your food. If you’d rather lighten this up a bit, why not try using chicken and pork, or even some ground or shredded turkey.  Or try replacing the sausages with chicken or turkey sausage. Don’t be a slave to specific recipes – mix them up to fit your tastes and lifestyle.

Winter is coming, so make it a warm, delicious one.

Enjoy!

lola rugula how to make easy pasta carbonara

Asian-inspired Spicy BBQ Meatballs with Rice Noodles and Pickled Veggies

It’s easy to get stuck in a food rut, so I often try to play around with new ideas. This time, I had in mind an Asian-inspired bowl of pasta and meatballs, so to speak, but as a fun dish packed full of flavor. Thai chili  garlic paste adds some serious heat

This dish has layers of flavor, so there are a few separate components here that are going to come together in the end; don’t be daunted by the multiple steps, this is a great Asian-inspired noodle bowl.

lola rugula asian inspired pasta and meatballs

First up are quick-pickled vegetables. These are very basic and easy quick-pickled veggies; you can add a myriad of spices and herbs to these, but this is really all that’s needed to add some brightness to the finished dish. Don’t be afraid to change the veggies up to your liking – cauliflower, zucchini, celery…whatever you like!

easy quick pickled vegetable recipe

  • 4 large scallions, julienned
  • 2 baby sweet peppers, julienned
  • 5 baby carrots, julienned
  • 1 small cucumber, peeled and seeds scooped out and discarded, julienned
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

Mix all of the ingredients into a small glass dish and stir well to combine. Let sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour or refrigerate overnight.

You can scoop out the veggies for this recipe and discard brine or add fresh veggies for another batch of future pickles.

Asian-inspired spicy barbeque sauce recipe

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon Thai chili garlic paste
  • 1 tablespoon mirin
  • 1/2 cup water

In a small saucepan, bring all ingredients to a boil, reduce heat and simmer about 15 minutes, or until sauce starts to slightly thicken. In the meantime, make your meatballs.

garlic and ginger meatballs recipe

  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 2 large scallions
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 2-inch piece peeled ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons olive or sunflower oil, for frying

Place ground pork in a bowl. Mince together scallions, garlic, and ginger and add to pork. Add sesame oil and stir well to combine. Form into small, 1-inch balls.

Heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil and let heat for at least 2 minutes. Add meatballs and brown on all sides, for about 12 minutes total.

Remove from skillet and, using tongs, add them to your hot barbeque sauce.

rice noodles and cilantro

To a medium-size pot of boiling, salted water, add a healthy handful of rice noodles. Stir well and cook at a low boil for about 4 minutes. Drain.

In the meantime, chop up a handful of fresh cilantro for serving

plating (or bowling, actually)

  • Divide the rice noodles into 4 bowls
  • Scoop out a few meatballs and sauce and place on top of noodles
  • Add a spoonful of pickled veggies to the side
  • Sprinkle with fresh cilantro

Serve while noodles and meatballs are hot.

lola rugula garlic and ginger meatballs with asian bbq sauce

I just can’t emphasize enough how bright and full of flavor this is, while still being pretty simple to bring together. If you don’t have mirin, just switch it out with some light, not-too-sweet white wine.

I tried to keep this simple because that’s how I typically roll, but afterward, I thought that some toasted sesame seeds would have been a nice addition to this.

If you just can’t stand cilantro (and I understand that many of you can’t) just add some fresh parsley for that bright finishing, herby touch. Chives or scallions will also work. For the pickled veggies, add what you have on hand – cauliflower, asparagus and even jalapenos (if you need more heat) will all work.  And this is honestly spicy. If you want to take down the heat, just use 1/4 cup of hoisin sauce or plain old barbeque sauce in place of the Thai chili garlic paste. I always tell you to not be afraid to play with your food and here’s a great example of that.  Have fun with your dishes and don’t be afraid to try new things.

If you like this recipe, I bet you’ll also love my Udon Noodle Bowl recipe and my Veggie Spring Rolls recipe.

Enjoy!

lola rugula how to make easy pasta carbonara

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 how to make easy pasta carbonara

green garlic meatballs

One of my favorite spring garden treats is young, tender green garlic. I always pull up some of it to enjoy – I add it to rubs, sauces, salads and more. Green garlic has a more mild taste than mature garlic and can be used just like scallions in most dishes.

This past weekend I made a large batch of meatballs; some for dinner and the rest for the freezer. I love having meatballs in the freezer – they make a weeknight dinner of pasta or subs a much easier endeavor. And since there’s nothing I love more than garlicky meatballs, my homegrown green garlic make these meatballs extra delicious. I also added a couple of garlic cloves, for a super intense garlic flavor. Vampires, you’ve been warned.

So, if you grow garlic or see green garlic at the market and have wondered what to do with it, here’s a delicious idea.

lola rugula how to use green garlic

green garlic meatballs

  • 3 lbs. ground beef
  • 2 lbs. ground pork
  • 1 cup finely chopped green garlic
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium white onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs

In a large bowl, mix everything together well, but not over mixing or smashing everything together too much. I use my fingertips more than my whole hands to blend it all together because I find that over-mixing and mashing it all together makes a denser meatball than I prefer.

Preheat oven to 350

Brush a baking sheet with olive oil.

Begin rolling the meatballs and placing them on the prepared baking sheet. This recipe made about 80 golf ball sized meatballs, 40 meatballs per sheet. If you want them larger, increase the cooking time; smaller, decrease the time.

Bake meatballs for about 20 minutes, turn, and then bake another 20 or just until they start to brown.

lola rugula green garlic meatballs recipe

See that beautiful green garlic in those meatballs? It really adds a fresh garlic flavor to these and I think you’ll agree.

Don’t know what to do with green garlic? Now you do! Never be afraid to play with your food – the results are delicious. Enjoy!

lola rugula how to make easy pasta carbonara

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!