Author Archives for johnnylapasta

About johnnylapasta

Foodie. Yogi. Reader. Writer. Adventurer. Lover.

Hydration, Hydration, Hydration

It’s summer and that means the sun stays in the sky longer and the temperature in the air grows warmer. All this extra light and heat gives us more time to spend outside and in the ocean or the pool having fun, but it also means that our bodies will be needing greater amounts of hydration.

Our bodies recognize that we are in summer because of the seasonal shifts that happen around us, and to compensate for the greater exposure to light and heat our bodies release more water in the form of sweat to keep us cool. You might recognize yourself sweating more when you are exercising or merely outside walking; but what you probably don’t notice is that you are also probably subtly sweating more in your sleep and throughout the day in general. This is natural and this is good; your body is doing its job in making sure you do not become over heated. However, it needs your conscious support to keep it hydrated.

Staying hydrated comes with a whole bunch of benefits. Some of those benefits are:

  • Weight Loss & Weight Regulation
  • Higher Amounts of Energy
  • Memory Loss Prevention
  • Fresh & Glowing Skin
  • Stronger Hair & Nails
  • Healthy Digestion
  • Healthy Function of Kidneys
  • Aid of Natural Detoxification Process
  • Good Joint Health

All good things right?! So you see why staying hydrated is so important to your overall health.

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Now, here are some good tips to making sure you stay hydrated throughout your day:

  • Drink a large glass or bottle of water in the morning to replenish your system after the extended period of time in which you aren’t hydrating because of sleep.
  • Drink an 8 ounce or more glass or bottle of water within a 2 hour period, every 2 hours.
  • Drink coconut water when feeling extra dehydrated to also replenish electrolytes. Great for post-workouts!
  • Get hydration from your food!
    • Straight water is not the only way your body can receive the hydration it needs.
    • Your digestive system will extract water from the food you eat, so eat more of the following water rich foods throughout the summer:
      • Watermelon
      • Peaches
      • Grapes
      • Berries
      • Tomatoes
      • Cucumber
      • Carrots
      • Celery
      • Lettuce and Greens
      • Zucchini & Yellow Squash
    • So as you can see, staying hydrated can taste great too!

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Now we all know how important hydration is, how great it can be for us, and how we can all be mindful is staying hydrated.  So drink your water and eat your water rich foods and  go forth, soak up the sun, work up a sweat, and have fun!

A Paella Experience

As many of you may have seen if you follow me on social media, I was recently on holiday in Spain. I embarked on this Spanish adventure to see the beautiful and iconic sites, engage with the vibrant people and culture, and of course, I went to eat and drink A LOT. I enjoyed a truly unfathomable amount of sangria and indulged in Spain’s national dish, paella. Now, I will not recount every single meal I ate nor review every single restaurant that I dined in; if I did that, I would be on my way to publishing a travel guide. I will, however, share a wonderful experience I had; my Paella Cooking Class through Airbnb Experience.

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I highly recommend Barcelona.

If you live under a rock and are unfamiliar with Airbnb, read about it here. For the rest of you who know Airbnb already, you might be surprised and delighted to learn that Airbnb now offers “Experiences” in which locals host an event, tour, or class of some kind that gives participants a taste of their city and community. Airbnb users visiting that city or community sign up and attend to join in the “experience” offered; it could be a hike through scenic hills followed by a picnic, a pub crawl, an art tour, or really anything that a host feels would be a good way to experience their homeland. The concept is unique and fantastic, offering travelers a chance to not only learn something new and/or do something fun under the guide of a local, but also the chance to meet up with other travelers! I think you should check it out.

Anyway, while I was in Barcelona, I noticed that Airbnb Experience was advertising a Paella Cooking Class. Upon further inspection, I learned that for just $30 I could attend this cooking class, instructed by a local cook, hosted in a professional kitchen, and learn to make sangria, paella, and a Catalan cream dessert, which I would then get to eat and enjoy. Sign me up and take my money! I was in.

The class was led by Eladi, a Catalonia-Spain native with a passion for cooking and drive to share traditional Spanish and Catalan cooking techniques with others. He believes in cooking with quality ingredients and infusing the food you cook with love and good energy; my kind of guy!

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The class took place in the kitchen of a bakery which we were allowed to use for our cooking purposes. With it being a professional kitchen, we had plenty of space for our class (and bonus, the bakery happened to be a 1 minute walk from my Airbnb!) And so, under Eladi’s instruction, our group of nine Airbnb travelers gathered around a big center island in the kitchen and set out to learn!

Eladi taught us first to make the traditional, and dearly beloved, Spanish drink that we all know and love, Sangria. He gave us a little background on its origins and then divvied out tasks for a few of us to do: squeezing oranges, cutting apples, etc. I myself had never made Sangria and so I really enjoyed learning the basic measurements and techniques for making it because I would like to make and drink more Sangria on a normal basis (you know, for health reasons). Anyway, we mixed everything in a big pitcher and stored it away in the fridge to emulsify for the next couple of hours, with the promise of our being able to drink the sangria when it and dinner was ready!

See Eladi’s original recipe for traditional Sangria here: Sangria Recipe

Below, I have rewritten the recipe to be in the British-American recipe format and using American measurements.

Sangria

  • Servings: 6
  • Time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups red wine
  • 1 large apple, large cubed
  • 1 large orange, sliced
  • 1 large orange, juiced
  • 1 large lemon, sliced
  • 1 large lemon juiced
  • 2 sticks cinnamon
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 2 cups soda water
  • Ice

Directions:

Pour the wine in a pitcher. Add the juices of the orange and lemon. Add the cubes of apple, slices of orange and lemon, and the cinnamon sticks. Add the sugar and stir. Allow to chill for minimum 2 hours to maximum 24 hours. To serve, add ice and soda water, serve, and pour.

Pro-Tip: Sangria really should be made with Spanish wine and if you are in the States, Trader Joe’s has this good, inexpensive choice! See below!

Spanish Paella

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Next, we moved onto making the Catalan Cream for dessert, a very popular and traditional dessert in Spain’s region of Catalonia. It is essentially a custard made from milk, sugar, egg yolks, cinnamon, and lemon which is chilled in individual dishes, topped with sugar, then torched to create a sugar-glass crust. Think of a cross between flan and crème Brule, flavored with lemon and cinnamon; that’s Catalan Cream. Similarly, Eladi asked for volunteers to execute tasks like beating egg yolks and sugar together and so on. I am not a huge dessert eater or creator, so I really enjoyed adding this dish to my repertoire!

See the original recipe here: Catalan Cream Recipe

Again, below I have rewritten the recipe to be in the British-American recipe format with American measurements.

Catalan Cream

  • Servings: 6
  • Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: intermediate
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups milk
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • Peel of 1 whole lemon
  • 1 ½ tablespoons corn starch
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 1 cup sugar

Directions:

Place 3 cups of the milk, the cinnamon sticks, and the lemon peel in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Once boil is reached, turn off the heat and allow flavors to infuse for 10-15 minutes. Discard the cinnamon sticks and lemon peel after this time.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat the remaining 1 cup of milk, egg yolks, sugar, and starch until well mixed.

Add the egg mix to the sauce pan with the milk. Bring back to a boil over medium heat, continuing to whisk until the mixture starts to thicken, about 8 minutes. Turn off the heat and whisk 1 more minute.

Pour the mix into individual clay pots or ramekins and chill for 2-24 hours. When ready to serve, top each surface with an even layer of sugar, about a tablespoon, and using a blow torch, burn the sugar until a crust is formed. Serve and enjoy!

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Finally, we embarked on cooking the main course, the highlight; traditional Spanish Paella! Here again, even with how big of a cook I am, I had never tried to cook paella, though I’d always wanted to. In this setting with Eladi as my guide, I was able to not only learn the techniques and basic measurements for paella, but also the culture around it. Here were some of the takeaways pertaining to paella:

  1. Paella is not always made with shellfish or seafood – Contrary to what you see online or television, Spanish families use whatever protein is available for when they would like a pan of paella, and that does not always involve expensive seafood. Similarly, paella can be made with different types of vegetables depending on the season, and paella can be completely vegetable based as well if you would prefer not to have animal protein. We had a chicken-only paella.
  2. Paella is a dish that is built in stages from the center out – Oil is heated at the center of the pan. Salt and garlic are added to the oil to season said oil which will in turn season and flavor the rest of the dish. Proteins are added and cooked at the center, then they are pushed out in a circle and vegetables are added to the center. This process continues until all the larger ingredients are cooked, after which the rice is added and cooked for a short time before it is drowned in broth and the remaining herbs and spices are added, at which point the paella is pretty much left alone until the rice absorbs the liquids.
  3. Paella is a communal dish – This was the most important takeaway I found. Paella is not traditionally something that the main cook in the family makes in private then serves to everyone else in the family when it is ready. Rather, the act of cooking paella is a group effort. Spanish families make an afternoon of paella, gathering in the kitchen, each person fulfilling a role in the cooking process. Much like in our cooking class, steps are divided out; someone cuts vegetables, someone grates tomatoes, someone prepares the herbs, someone mans the pan, etc. Everyone is involved in the preparation of this traditional dish and when it is finished cooking, everyone enjoys it all together, usually out of the same pan!

We each did our part in the cooking as we learned, we chatted and laughed, and after about an hour of all of this, the paella was finally ready. We poured ourselves glasses of our previously concocted sangria which was incredibly, beautifully smooth, and we were then ready to eat.

Eladi placed the giant paella pan in the middle of the kitchen island and handed out big wooden spoons that paella is commonly enjoyed with in Spanish households. Then, as is traditional, he drew lines in the paella to create pizza slice-like sections. We all chose our own section and dove in. Truly, that first bite of our communally cooked paella was divine. The flavor salty, slightly smoky, and very savory, the texture delightful to the tongue, the chicken juicy and rich. I had had paella a couple of other times while in Spain at this point, but this homemade paella definitely won out as the best paella I had on my entire Spanish adventure.

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Furthermore, our group indulgence in this dish that we had all played a part in creating, our sharing in the dish all out of the same pan, made our eating more than just eating; it made it a special and memorable experience, as well as a delicious one.

See the recipe for Eladi’s Paella here: Paella Recipe

Once again, I have rewritten this recipe in a British-American recipe format with American measurements.

(You can take this recipe and get creative with your meats and veggies, as long as you have the basic measurements and techniques down.)

Paella

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: intermediate
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Big pinch of salt
  • 4-6 garlic cloves
  • 1 ½ pounds chicken (whatever pieces you like, cut up)
  • 1 – 1 1/2 cups green beans, cut in half
  • 2 large tomatoes, grated
  • 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
  • Rice
  • 12 strands saffron, soaked in 3 tablespoons of warm water
  • 2 bunches rosemary
  • 2 ½ cups Bomba Rice
  • 6 cups chicken stock, warmed

Directions:

With the paella pan over low heat add the salt over the whole surface. Pour in the oil and allow to heat a minute. Add the garlic to the center of the pan and cook 1 minute. Add the chicken to the center and cook until browned, turning occasionally, about 5 minutes. Move the chicken away from the center. Add the green beans to the center and cook 2 minutes. Move the green beans away from the center. Add the grated tomato to the center and stir 1 minute. Add the paprika and mix everything in the pan together.

Add the rice all over the surface and stir with all the other ingredients for 1 minute. Add the hot chicken broth. Move the meat and vegetables to be arranged evenly throughout the pan. Distribute the saffron threads evenly throughout the broth. Add the rosemary bunches.

Raise the heat to medium-high until the broth boils. Then lower to the lowest possible heat while still continuing the boil, usually a medium-low. Watch the paella and when rice grains appear on the surface of the liquid, lower the heat to low. Cook until the rice is firm, but tender, about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover with lid, and let stand 5 minutes.

Serve right out of the pan with wooden spoons!

Notes:

It is important to choose a quality paella pan and make sure that the pan can be placed somewhere where heat can be distributed evenly.

Needless to say, I greatly enjoyed our Paella Cooking Class through Airbnb Experience. It offered a chance for my friend Kayleigh and I to make new friends in our fellow travelers and also in Eladi. It allowed us to learn new dishes we had always been interested in cooking. And of course, it gave us a space to have fun and to have a delicious meal. Now home from Spain, I am very much inspired to purchase a Paella pan and have a “Paella Party” with all my friends, giving us all a chance to enjoy the communal and tasteful experience that the Spanish have created around Paella.

If you are traveling to Barcelona and are interested in taking this class with Eladi, please visit the following to see when and how you can join!

http://paella.experientz.com/

https://www.airbnb.es/experiences/51311

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g187497-d12246113-Reviews-Paella_Experientz_Barcelona-Barcelona_Catalonia.html

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

It’s been a minute since Johnny La Pasta shared a pasta recipe with you. And so, today I am sharing one of my all-time favorite recipes that I learned in the motherland (Italy): Spaghetti alla Carbonara.

In 2014, I embarked on the adventure of a lifetime, traveling all around the Italian peninsula with a whole party of new and now very dear friends. We visited the historical and iconographic sites, we took in the naturally dramatic and beautiful landscapes, we immersed ourselves in the warm and vibrant culture, and we DRANK A LOT OF WINE and we ATE A LOT OF PASTA.  It was bliss.

Eating pasta in Italy is true living. Beyond the soul joy of devouring bowls of authentic pasta dishes, for a cook like me, these indulgences were also inspirations for my own kitchen back home. Whilst in Rome, we had a lot of Pasta alla Carbonara as this is Rome’s signature dish. My Italian family did not immigrate to America from Rome, they came from Calabria in the south, and so no authentic recipe for carbonara came over with them. Pasta alla Carbonara was not a dish I normally had growing up, so having the opportunity to taste authentic incarnations of it in Rome was new and exciting for me.

Of course, I had had Pasta alla Carbonara dishes here in the states; but they were always incredibly cream based, white and gooey, made with a rue like an Alfredo sauce. I could never really detect the use of egg and therefore could not appreciate it in these dishes, which is unfortunate as egg is supposed to be a main feature of any carbonara.

So I was pleasantly surprised by the Roman’s carbonara dishes: silky, smooth, salty, decadent, very simple, yet absurdly divine. The use of egg is pronounced in these dishes as the yolks provide a beautiful yellow gold color for the sauce and create a silken consistency, making the dish creamy and luxurious but in a different way than probably most American eaters are used to. I was hooked on the stuff, and I had to know how to make it at home.

I spoke with several natively Italian cooks about carbonara at length because I am me and obsessed with food. I explained to them what most Americans thought carbonara was: a cream sauce made from flour, butter, and milk or cream cooked down with cheese melted into it and then an egg beaten in for good measure, often served with peas and mushrooms. The Italians were absolutely, deeply, and profoundly horrified to hear this. They told me that, “If that is how Americans are making carbonara, they should be ashamed of themselves.”

They then proceeded to BLESS me with the proper, authentic technique for Pasta alla Carbonara in the hopes that I could bring it back home to the USA and bring the American people closer to God by showing them how to make and eat carbonara right!

The secret to this carbonara is that it is super simple: eggs, parmesan and pecorino cheese, pancetta or bacon, black pepper, and pasta. That is all. No fancy rue sauce, no added cream, no mushrooms, no peas.

Basically, the eggs and cheeses are beaten together in the bottom of a pasta bowl to make a thick cream. Once the pasta is done cooking, it is removed from the water, and the bowl with the egg-cream is placed on the pot with the hot pasta water still in it. The heat from the water underneath the bowl starts to cook the egg-cream mixture. The pasta is added, with more cheese, and the heat from the pasta 1. finishes cooking the egg-cream sauce so that it is safe to eat and 2. melts the cheese and eggs into a thick, silky sauce the coats the noodles completely. Bacon or pancetta is added and the dish is served. That is all and it’s truly one of the greatest pasta dishes ever. I typically make this dish with Spaghetti as the long noodles are perfect to be coated and twirled in this rich sauce.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara has since become a staple dish in my kitchen. I turn to it again and again for its ease and affordability, its authenticity and its decadence, and for its ability to transport me right back to the streets of Rome with each and every bite. I hope you enjoy Spaghetti alla Carbonara! Buon Appetito!

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 15 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • ¾ lb-1 lb spaghetti
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 full egg
  • ½ cup grated pecorino romano cheese
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 5 slices bacon or wheels pancetta
  • 2 teaspoons cracked black pepper

Directions:

Cook bacon your favorite way. You can chop the bacon up into bits, cook until browned and crispy in a pan, and set aside to drain on a plate lined with paper towels. Or, you could cook bacon my way! Place a cooling rack on a baking sheet, lay the bacon pieces across the rack, and bake in the oven at 400F till crispy, about 20 minutes. Remove, allow to cool, and cut into pieces.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook till al dente, about 8-9 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the eggs, black pepper, and ¾ of the pecorino and parmesan cheeses in a large glass bowl. Whip until completely combined; it should be very thick.

Without draining the pasta water, remove the spaghetti to a separate bowl. Turn off the heat. Place the bowl with the egg-cream mixture atop the pot of hot water. Whip the mixture quickly for 30 seconds. Add the pasta to the bowl and remaining cheese to the bowl. Work quickly and toss for 1 ½ minutes until the sauce completely coats the noodles.

Serve equal amounts into bowls and top with the bacon/pancetta. Garnish with additional cheese and if you’d like, a small chopping of parsley. Serve and enjoy!

Spring is Sprung

The Spring Equinox is upon us and the season of spring is coming into full bloom! Each season has it’s own beauty and importance. Spring’s beauty is in its power as a time of renewal, of freshness and growth, of more sunlight and warmth, and of enhanced energy. There is much to be enjoyed in this new, bright season. And as with any season, spring brings different flavors and focuses. Here are a few of my favorite articles that are rooted in this great season to help you have the best spring possible!

(1) Pasta Primavera 

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Pasta Primavera translates in Italian to “Spring Pasta” as this dish features on the fresh and bright flavors of the season.

(2) Shepherd’s Pie

Shepherds Pie

Saint Patrick’s Day is technically in winter, but we still consider it a Spring Holiday. And on this holiday, it is time for a Celtic Classic: Shepherd’s Pie.

(3) Slow Cooker Lemon Artichoke Chicken

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Spring is a time for brighter flavors and of course, artichokes! This Slow Cooker dish can be dumped in the pot within 2 minutes and you come ready to a zesty and fresh meal!

(4) Saucha and the Spring

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Spring is a time of cleansing and growing. Explore this with yogic concept of “Saucha.”

Warrior Yoga Class

Whilst traveling around majestic Scotland this past October and learning more about the country’s rich history, I was once again inspired by the idea of “warrior”. The ancient peoples of Scotland were fearsome warriors who were nearly unbeatable when they united behind a cause and when they felt earnest conviction for a mission. Many other cultures have given history strong warriors as well that have carved pieces of history. The mental image of a powerful warrior, working to defend, to make change, and stopping at nothing to see justice done is riveting, but also thought-provoking. What if we harnessed some of that warrior determination, stamina, energy, and dedicated it towards the causes and missions that are important to us in our lives?

Now, before I go further, let me disclaim that I am not by any means suggesting we should all become traditional warriors like the ones mentioned above; we should practice ahimsa (non-violence) as much as we can –always if we can. What I mean to say, however, is that we could take that same ferocity of a warrior and apply to our individual and group missions in life. We could use that warrior fire to fuel and to manifest change and positivity in our world. Truth be told, we may need to be our most “warrior” selves now more than ever.

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Age 26

I am 26 years old today. Birthdays, for me, are a lot like how most people see the New Year. I look at each birthday as a new starting point from which we can set new goals and launch into a time of new opportunities. As oppose to looking at what happened between January 1st, 2016 and January 1st, 2017 and so on and so forth, I tend to look at and reflect on what happened in the space of time that I was aged 23, 24, 25. Where did I travel? What new activities did I try? Who did I spend time with? What experiences did I have? What did I create? It is always an interesting and insightful reflection, after which I start to think about what I want my next age to look like. Where will I go? What will I see? What will I do? What will I learn? There is no way to assign definitive answers to these questions, but I can set intentions on what I might like those answers to be.

Oddly, I have always been enamored with the number 27; there is no rhyme or reason for this, it has just always been my favorite number since I was a little kid. And so, I feel that age 27 is going to be a big, powerful, and exciting year for me. But for now, I am age 26. So I think that this, the year of 26, is going to be my year of setting intentions, meditating on those intentions, and ultimately manifesting those intentions in the year of 27. I see age 26 as the year of planting seeds and watering those seeds, and I see age 27, God-willing, as the year of harvest.

So I begin to flow through my new age, ever present in the moment and breathing in gratitude for where I am at a in the here and now, and while chanting positive energy and intention into the universe for the present and the future.

Winter Vegetable Bowl

I am just one of those people who absolutely loves winter vegetables. While many dream of the bounty of summer all year long, the winter veggies like cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, parsnips and so on make me extremely happy. Recently while dining out, I had a warm winter vegetable salad featuring such winter produce tossed in a zingy horseradish vinaigrette; the dish was incredibly hearty, earthy, and satisfying and what’s more is the seasonality of it truly made me feel good in my body.

Thus, I went home and made my own variation of that good tasting and feeling dish. Roasted butternut squash, carrots, and parsnips provide hearty sweetness while roasted cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kale give earthy savory notes. The addition of warmed cannellini beans contributes a buttery creamy element while dried cranberries add chewy tartness. Lastly, a balsamic horseradish vinaigrette makes for a sharp and at times sinus-clearing dressing that highlights the best of all the other ingredients. Inexpensive seasonal ingredients and pulled together with very little effort!

This Winter Vegetable Bowl is perfect served as is and vegan! Or you can add a simply cooked protein like chicken, salmon, or shrimp. I hope you enjoy this bowl of winter’s bounty!

Winter Vegetable Bowl

  • Servings: 2
  • Time: 40 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butternut squash, cubed
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and cut into chunks at an angle
  • 1 large parsnip, peeled and cut into chunks at an angle
  • 2 cups cauliflower florets
  • 1 cup broccoli florets
  • 2 cups Brussels sprouts, halved or quartered
  • 8 ounces cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cups kale leaves
  • ¼ cup dried cranberries
  • 2 tablespoons grated horseradish root
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 ½ tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the butternut squash, carrots, parsnips, cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts on the baking sheet, drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and sprinkle with a teaspoon of salt and pepper, toss all together and arrange in an even layer. Bake 30-35 minutes until butternut squash is tender and the Brussels and cauliflower is browned.

On another small baking dish, place the cannellini beans and kale, place in the oven for the last 5 minutes that the other vegetables are baking just to warm the beans and slightly crisp the kale.

In a small bowl, whisk together the horseradish, balsamic, Dijon, and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil with a pinch of salt and pepper.

To serve, place an even amount of the vegetables, cannellini beans, and kale in pasta bowls. Drizzle with vinaigrette and toss to coat. Sprinkle the cranberries over the top. Serve and enjoy!

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