lola rugula cold cucumber salad recipe

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 cold cucumber salad recipe

charred shishito peppers

If you’re a home gardener, shishito peppers are an easy-to-grow, heavily-producing plant that bears fruit earlier than a lot of other types of peppers. These peppers are fast growers too; two plants easily produce about 10-20 peppers every week or so during peak growing season.

Because these aren’t easy plants to find, I start seeds indoors, typically in mid-February. This gives me about a 6-inch plant to put into the ground come early May, which jump starts the growing season here in zone 5 Northern Illinois.

If you’re not much into growing your own peppers but lucky enough to come across these delights at your grocery store or farmer’s market, I suggest you scoop some up. These are mild peppers packed with great flavor. People will tell you that every so many of these peppers are hot and that’s true but “hot” here is not anywhere near a jalapeno. Yes, some peppers have more heat than others but it’s not anywhere near an unbearable or uncomfortable heat, at least in my experience.

lola rugula how to grow shishito peppers

One of the easiest and most typical ways to cook these peppers is to roast them or char them with a drizzle of oil and some coarse kosher or sea salt.  This method brings out their flavor and makes it easy to eat a couple of handfuls in one sitting.

You can accomplish cooking them this way in a number of ways, via a hot grill, a hot, heavy skillet or under a broiler. All you’re looking to do is char the skins a bit and give them a beautiful roasted flavor. If your peppers are large enough, you can actually place them directly on the grill, just keep a close eye on them. You can char them a little or you can char them a lot but, either way, I think you’ll like the end result.

lola rugula charred shishito peppers (2)

All you need to make these are:

  • Shishito peppers
  • Olive oil
  • Coarse kosher or sea salt

When I cook these on the grill, I toss them in a small pan or sheet of foil with the olive oil and salt and spread out into a single layer. Place the pan on a preheated grill and cook for about 7-10 minutes, tossing them around occasionally, until they’re browned a bit on all sides. Use this same method if cooking under a broiler.

lola rugula grilled shishito peppers

To cook them on the stovetop, heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat for a couple of minutes. Add oil and heat the oil for a minute or so – do not let the oil become smoking hot.

Add peppers in a single layer and let brown slightly on one side then, using a pair of tongs, flip them over and let brown on the other side.

lola rugula how to cook shishito peppers

These are perfect for cookouts and parties and are always a huge hit. The bonus is that there isn’t a simpler dish to make.

To really kick them up a notch, toss in some minced garlic and shallots before cooking; I promise you won’t be disappointed.

If you’ve ever seen these and wondered how to cook shishito peppers, now you know how easy it is. Now get out there and enjoy your summer while it lasts.

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

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.

Variations:

  • 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 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

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!