lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

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 red lentil chili with black beans

i don’t think you’re ready for this hot pepper jelly recipe

Break out the cream cheese and crackers because I’ve got on an old-school classic for you that I just can’t resist sharing. This is an easy holiday appetizer recipe and guess what – it also makes a great gift! If you want to fancy it up a bit, you can swap out the cream cheese for goat or feta cheese but, no matter how you serve this, I promise that almost everyone will love it. Hot pepper jelly or jalapeno jelly is a silly-simple thing to make but it’s something I love and this is a perfect time of year for it.

This is an unprocessed hot pepper jelly recipe, as most of them you’ll find involve water-bathing or steam canning and honestly, as much as I enjoy canning, this stays just long enough to enjoy a batch without the extra work. I hot pack my jelly, so the jars seal and that, along with the vinegar in this, will be enough for a lot of people to tell you that you can put it up and preserve it without any refrigeration. Though I clean and dry my canning jars for this, I don’t sterilize them, so I refrigerate mine after processing. I have no problem keeping this batch for a month or more in the fridge and again, that’s thanks to the vinegar and hot packing process.

lola rugula canned hot pepper jelly

hot pepper jelly (aka jalapeno jelly) recipe

  • 2 large bell peppers – I typically use red, yellow or orange for the color. Remove stems and seeds and discard.
  • 4-8 jalapeno peppers or other hot peppers. Remove stems and discard. Remove the seeds if you want to tone down the heat.
  • 2 cups cider vinegar
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 1.75 oz. package less or no-sugar needed Sure Jell

For me, this makes 5  of the 1/2 pint canning jars. Wash and dry your jars and lids and set aside.

Cut the bell peppers into quarters and the jalapenos in half and place in food processor. Pulse a couple of times and then scrape the sides of the bowl. Pulse again a couple of times until all of the peppers are minced. Be careful not to liquify the peppers – you just want to chop them until they’re minced. There may be a tiny bit of liquid in the bottom of the bowl, but that should be all.

Here’s what they should look like:

lola rugula peppers for jelly

  1. Scrape the minced peppers out into a large saucepan.
  2. Add vinegar and sugar to the pan and stir well.
  3. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat and simmer about 7 minutes.
  4. Add package of pectin, stir well with a fork or whisk and bring back to a boil.
  5. Make sure all of the pectin is fully incorporated and there aren’t any lumps.
  6. Boil 1 more minute.
  7. Be careful here to not let the mixture boil up and over the pan.
  8. You should actually start to see or feel with a spoon the mixture start to thicken and gel a bit.
  9. Quickly and carefully pack the hot mixture into clean canning jars, leaving about 1/4 inch of headspace, wipe the rims of the jars clean, and seal with lids and bands.
  10. Let cool at room temperature. Typically, my lids will seal in about 35-45 minutes.
  11. When completely cool, refrigerate.

Tada! You’ve achieved simple no-canning-required hot pepper jelly. Easy, right?

The heat of this totally depends on you and the peppers you want to use. Want to make ghost chili or Carolina Reaper hot pepper jelly? You can, but you probably should only use one of them and not six, as my recipe calls for. You’ll need to taste your peppers first, to gauge the heat, although peppers often get hotter when cooked so only let this be your guide.

Serve with softened cream cheese (or goat or feta) and some crackers. People are going to love you for this, I promise. 🙂

lola rugula hot pepper jelly and cream cheese

As I mentioned earlier, this can also make a really nice little gift by simply putting a jar of it into a gift basket or bag, along with a brick of cream cheese or tub of feta, and some nice crackers.

I’ve read where people add food coloring to their hot pepper jelly and I just don’t think it’s necessary. I mean, look at the beautiful colors in this:

lola rugula hot pepper jelly preserves recipe

I also consider this a low-sugar hot pepper jelly recipe, as a lot of recipes call for twice the amount of sugar that I do. I think the sugar in this is more than sufficient and provides just enough sweet foil to the heat of the hot peppers.

The real beauty of this is that if you make some now and have some cream cheese and crackers on hand, you can whip up an easy appetizer in no time at all. I can’t tell you how nice this is when you’ve got people dropping by unexpectedly, not only at the holidays but all year round.

lola rugula hot pepper jelly photo

This is so much fun to serve to guests – most just aren’t’ expecting the heat but enjoy it, once they’ve tasted it. And you know if there’s anyone who loves an easy holiday appetizer recipe, it’s this girl. I’ve got enough things to do this time of year, so this just makes life a little bit easier.

I hope you try this and love it. Enjoy!

lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

roasted garlic and leek soup with potatoes

I’ve been trying to photograph and post some of my super easy soup recipes lately, such as my Roasted Garlic and Veggie Soup and my Summer Garden Gazpacho. We love soup in my house and I love them because they can be easy to throw together while still being incredibly nutritious.

If you scan through my soup recipes, you might notice the word “roasted” used quite often. That’s because roasting your soup ingredients adds a nice boost of flavor and depth, and this recipe is another perfect example of this. This is a soup I’ve made for many moons and beyond, mostly because I’m seriously obsessed with garlic. Roasting garlic, as many of you know, smooths out its harsh edges and brings out a sweeter, smokier flavor. This is the case with roasting most things as long as you bring it to the “roasted” point and not the “burnt” point. When roasting, you just want to get everything to golden, with a hint of browning. Burning garlic, or any other ingredient, is only going to get you sharp, harsh, bitterness and that’s not what you’re looking for.

Okay, enough of my rant. Let’s make some soup. And stay tuned, because I’m going to give you a number of variations on how to make this creamier, smokier and more.

lola rugula roasted garlic and leek soup with new potatoes

roasted garlic and leek soup with potatoes recipe

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 10 medium to large cloves of garlic, peeled and gently smashed, but left mostly whole
  • 2 medium leeks, white and tender greens only, cut into 1-inch pieces and rinsed well
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine (optional – if you don’t want to use wine, use vegetable stock instead)
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (again, optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 medium potatoes – preferably red or gold – peeled and diced into 1 inch pieces
  • turmeric and freshly-chopped parsley for serving (optional)

In a large stockpot, add olive oil and heat over medium heat for about a minute.

Add garlic and leeks and toss well with olive oil.

Cover, turn burner to lowest setting and let roast on the stovetop for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, being careful to not let anything burn.

You’re looking to have the garlic and leeks soften completely and turn golden, with a few pieces start to gently brown. You’ll also start to notice some browning on the bottom of the pan.

lola rugula how to make roasted garlic and leek soup with potatoes

When you’ve reached this point, add the wine and, using a large spoon, scrape up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan and stir well.

Add stock, black pepper, pepper flakes and thyme. Stir well.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer about 15 minutes, or until the garlic and leeks are all fully soft and cooked through.

Using an immersion blender, blend the mixture until smooth and then return to pan.

Add diced potatoes and simmer about 17-20 minutes, until potatoes are tender.

Remove from heat, spoon into bowls, sprinkle with a pinch of turmeric and parsley and serve.

lola rugula garlic leek and potato soup

This soup is a huge antioxidant boost to help protect you from all the nasty winter bugs that circulate this time of year. Adding a bit of turmeric just ups the antioxidant factor, but it’s totally optional.

Garlic is good for your heart, your blood and your gut, so it’s good to add it to your diet whenever you can. Roasting it removes the sharpness while still keeping its health benefits.

I promised you some variations on this and believe me, there are many.  Here are some of them:

  • If you want a creamier soup, add 1/2 cup of half and half or heavy cream
  • If you want a creamier soup without adding dairy, when the potatoes are done cooking , scoop out a cup or so and puree it and then add it back to the pan. Viola! Creamy soup without the dairy.
  • Want a smokier flavor? Crisp up some diced bacon when you’re browning the garlic and leeks and cook it with the soup.
  • If you prefer to keep the bacon crispy, cook it separately and sprinkle on top of soup before serving.

Never, ever be afraid to play with your food.

Enjoy!

lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

spicy honey sesame wings

If you’re looking for a great chicken wing recipe with just a hint of heat but a ton of flavor, these are your wings. And, if you don’t subscribe to the “wings have to be nuclear” line of thought, you might also love my spicy apricot wings, because they’re pretty delicious without being crazy hot, also. And don’t be tied down to doing this recipe with wings, because it’s a great sauce for legs, thighs, and even chicken breast, you’ll just have to adjust your cooking time accordingly.

I happened to have hung with a crowd from the Buffalo, NY area during the original Buffalo-style chicken wings heyday back in my New Haven days, and I can tell you they didn’t actually involve much more than deep frying the wings and then tossing them in Frank’s Red Hot, butter and (shhhhh) a shot of Amaretto while they were still hot. True story.  Not very exciting but that’s my story. I still swear by Frank’s Red Hot if you want hot wings because it’s a great, flavorful base to making a tasty hot chicken wing.

I’ll state here that I’m not in the camp of breading chicken wings or deep frying them; I like roasting mine in a hot oven and, if needed, crisping them up for a couple of minutes under the broiler. Less grease, less mess and a wee bit healthier. I also can’t stand a soggy-skin chicken wing. Char it a little and crisp up the skin or don’t bother giving it to me.

Chicken sauces are fun to play around with, as you can do so much in the way of flavors, so I try and mix things up once in a while. The sliced scallions and sesame seeds are key toppings with these wings because they add a huge burst of flavor and crunch to the overall dish. Mostly though, these are just chicken wings…have fun with them for Pete’s sake.

lola rugula sesame chicken wings

spicy honey sesame chicken wings recipe

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon Thai hot chili garlic paste
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 3.5 lbs chicken wings, cut at the joints, wing tips reserved for making stock at a later time. (about 3 lbs wing and drumettes)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds

In a large bowl, combine the first 7 ingredients (garlic through rice vinegar) and whisk together well.  Add chicken wings, toss well and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 425º

  1. Brush a large baking sheet with olive oil.(for easy clean-up, line with aluminum foil first)
  2. Place wings on baking sheet, skin side up. Reserve any extra marinade.
  3. Roast wings for 10 minutes. Turn wings over and brush with some of the reserved marinade.
  4. Roast 15 minutes, turn wings over and brush with remaining marinade.
  5. Roast for about 10 more minutes, until wings start to char a bit on the edges.
  6. Remove from oven and transfer to a serving bowl or platter. Sprinkle with sliced scallions and sesame seeds and serve.

lola rugula spicy honey sesame chicken wings

These are just about the perfect chicken wing recipe. Spicy, crunchy and full of sweet, hot flavor. If you want more heat, just add some more Thai garlic chili paste. If you don’t have the chili paste, feel free to add some minced jalapeno, habanero or other hot pepper.

lola rugula sesame honey chicken wings

Of course, if you want to lessen the heat, don’t add any chili paste or hot peppers at all..it’s just that simple.

lola rugula sesame honey chicken wings recipe

These babies are sticky, so be sure and serve them with plenty of napkins. 🙂  And if you have to have a dipping sauce with your wings, these will still do just fine alongside your cup of ranch or blue cheese dressing.

Another variation on these is to do them with chicken tenderloin pieces on skewers. They still make a great meal or appetizer this way, but without the mess of bones.

Never, ever be afraid to play with your food.

Enjoy!

lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

Baked Chicken Breast Recipe

As part of my “back-to-basics” series, I’m sharing my baked chicken breast recipe. I had a long-time aversion to chicken breast because it’s often overcooked, dry and tasteless. Then, after much trial and error, I finally figured out how to bake chicken breast and still keep it flavorful and juicy.

The beauty of cooking chicken breast in the oven is that:

  1. It’s easier than standing over a frying pan
  2. It’s less messy than frying
  3. It’s more reliable than cooking on the stovetop
  4. See  reasons 1, 2 and 3

It’s a habit of mine to cook chicken breast on the weekends so we have it for our lunches during the week. It’s low in calories, healthy and delicious if you cook it right. I cook it for other dishes too, obviously, but here’s how I cook just a simple, baked chicken breast in the oven.

This works best with a big baking sheet or pan and only 3-4 chicken breasts. If you overcrowd them, they will steam instead of roasting and you’ll miss out on the beautiful, delicious golden crust that comes with baking only a few of them at a time.

Also, once again, I highly recommend a probe thermometer, as this is really the only way to be able to gauge when the chicken breasts have reached their ideal temperature.

lola rugula how to bake chicken breast

baked chicken breast recipe

  • 3-4 chicken breasts, trimmed of excess fat
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1//2 teaspoon kosher salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 450º

Line a baking sheet or pan with aluminum foil. Place chicken breast on pan, leaving at least a few inches in between each of them. Drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Rub all over the chicken breasts and then flip and rub again.

Place probe of the thermometer into the thickest part of the thickest piece of chicken. Place pan in oven, with the thickest piece of chicken in the back of the oven.

Bake until the internal temperature of the thickest part of chicken has reached 140º,  remove probe, flip chicken breasts, re-insert probe and bake until temperature reaches 160º. Remove from oven, wrap foil around breasts and let rest at least 20 minutes.

Slice and serve with pan juices.

Now, for the record, a little bit of butter in place of olive oil adds a wonderful (buttery!) flavor. You can also rub the breasts down with the spices of your choice or smother them in the sauce of your choice, it’s all up to your preference.

That’s it. Not overly exciting but the best way to cook chicken breast in the oven without ending up with dry bookends.

I use my baked chicken breasts in salads, tacos, enchiladas…the possibilities are seriously endless.

Stop spending so much time in the kitchen and get out there and enjoy life. 🙂 Ciao!

lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

perfectly cooked roast beef

I’ve  been having so much fun posting some of my classic back-to-the-basics lately, such as my Summer Garden Gazpacho recipe, my Cucumber Salad recipe, my simple Refrigerated Beets recipe, and my Classic Potato Salad recipe, that I’m considering making it a new category on my blog. It’s always good to have some simple, easy-to-execute recipes in your arsenal; recipes that are versatile and don’t take a gazillion ingredients to prepare.

Adding to my classic recipe collection is this (in my opinion) perfectly-cooked medium rare roast beef. The beauty of this roast is that you don’t need an expensive cut of meat to make it. I’ve done this with top round roasts and bottom round roasts and they’re both delicious when cooked this way.  The roast in my photos below is a small 2 pound bottom round roast, an inexpensive cut but very tender and flavorful when cooked and sliced correctly. The bottom round roast typically has a little more marbling than a top round, so it tends to have better flavor, plus it’s usually cheaper than top round. Score.

You can season this however you like, although salt and pepper at the bare minimum is highly recommended. A little bit of oil rubbed all around helps to keep the edges from drying out in the initial high-heat sear. I love the flavor rosemary adds to this, but all kinds of herbs will work – go with what you love. This works best with a fresh roast, as freezing meat tends to draw out some of the moisture. If you can get a higher-end Black Angus cut, go for it…it’s worth it.

The key to any great roast is a probe thermometer; if you don’t have one, it’s worth your money to invest $15-$20 and have one on hand.  It will more than pay for itself in just a few no-more-over-cooked meals.

Behold a big platter of sliced roast beef.

lola rugula perfectly cooked medium rare roast beef

This is one of my “it’s a technique more than it’s a recipe” posts. Why? Because it really doesn’t matter the size of the roast, what matters is this:

  1. a bit of oil and seasoning rubbed all over
  2. let the meat sit at room temperature for at least an hour, so the roast slow-cooks evenly
  3. an initial sear in a very hot oven
  4. a slow roast at a low heat
  5. a probe thermometer to tell you when it’s done
  6. a long resting period
  7. slicing very thinly against the grain with a sharp knife or meat slicer

bottom round roast beef recipe

These are the instructions for the roast pictured here – again, you can use a top round roast if you’d rather. These cuts don’t typically have a lot of fat on them but if it does, you can trim off any excess. Remember though…the fat keeps the roast from drying out.

  • 1 2 lb. bottom round roast
  • 1 tablespoon dried rosemary (or 3 tablespoons fresh)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 healthy teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Unwrap the roast, pat it dry and set it inside a large, low-sided roasting pan or on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with rosemary, salt, and pepper. Drizzle with oil and then rub the oil and seasonings all over the roast. Let sit about 1 hour at room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 500º

Place roast in oven and roast at high heat for about 12 minutes.

Remove roast from oven, reduce oven temperature to 275º, and insert the probe of the thermometer into the center of the thickest part of the roast. Set the alert temperature to 122º. I don’t insert the probe during the initial searing process, due to most probe thermometers shouldn’t be used in temperatures over 450º.

Let roast slow-roast until the probe thermometer tells you the thickest part of your roast has reached122º.

Remove from oven, cover loosely with a  piece of aluminum foil, and let rest at least 30 minutes. Remove the probe and wipe clean.

Transfer the roast to a platter or cutting board or, using a meat slicer, slice thinly across the grain with a very sharp knife or meat slicer. My trick is to cut it starting at a corner, so you cut a corner off and keep going from there. You can slice it very thinly or shave it, whichever’s your preference.

You now have perfectly cooked, tender, medium rare roast beef. Enjoy it as a dinner, with a bit of horseradish and your choice of sides or pile it onto sandwiches, bruschetta, etc.

This is, seriously, the best deli-style roast beef you can make.

 

Life’s too short to eat over-cooked roast beef. 🙂

If you’re cooking a larger roast, up the sear time to 15 minutes but don’t go any longer than that. The slow roasting is really the key.

So now you know how to cook a top round or bottom round roast to medium rare. Easy, right? Put that slow cooker away!

The other beautiful thing about this recipe is the roast cooks pretty quickly.  You can cook a 2 lb. roast in under an hour and that’s a wonderful thing with a busy schedule.

Are you hungry yet?