Tag Archives: Foodie

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
  • Difficulty: easy
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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!

Meatloaf Calabrese

The word “Meatloaf” often harkens traumatic images of your mom’s signature recipe for the nights where she literally didn’t give a _________ and threw some protein, carbs, and other questionable fixings into a bowl, baked it, and called it dinner.

ewwww

She’s making meatloaf again???

And so, sadly, meatloaf often gets a bad rap. I, however, can assure that not all meatloafs are created equal. I grew up on my mom’s meatloaf and always jumped for joy when I found out that she was cooking it. But of course, my mother is Italian so the meatloaf was undeniable phenomenal. Well, now you can have phenomenal meatloaf too because I am gifting the recipe to you!

Meatloaf 9

Italians do everything better.

Yummm

This is Meatloaf Calabrese. My Italian family is from Calabria in Italy (things from Calabria are called Calabrese) and this recipe comes from there. Actually, the base of this recipe is for our Stuffed Bell Peppers which are a tad more elegant. Of course, when they came to America, they created a meatloaf incarnation of the dish that was more convenient for busy American weeknights. You will notice that this recipe calls for raisins in addition to beef, red pepper flakes, and other such ingredients; so you are probably thinking, “What in the damn hell?”

raisins and beef

Raisins and beef!?

Trust me, it is delicious. Savory beef and herbs, spicy red pepper and onion, and sweet raisins and tomato all work to complement, contrast, and balance each other PERFECTLY. This meatloaf could honestly be fed to royalty and they would knight the cook.

Now, about the “recipe”. Remember when I started this blog and I told you that not all my recipes provide precise measurements because of the Italian tendency to just feel the dish out as you go? Yeah, well that applies here. This is a recipe that you just have to touch and feel, adjusting as you go. I’ve never been able to get a straight answer about measurements for this dish.

just feel it

Just touch it…

I ask, “How much tomato sauce?” The response I get is, “I don’t know, you just have to touch it and you will figure it out!” So that is what I do and so I have never found myself able to fully break down the recipe. Sometimes I find it needs a touch more this or that. I look, I touch, I feel, I sense, I am guided by my great nonna Isabella. So this recipe is for those who feel pretty confident in the kitchen and are open to a little experimenting with out provided precise measurements.

Here’s the trick though, you’ve got to cook it with love for the people you are cooking for and passion for the quality ingredients you are using to nourish your body and satisfy your soul. If you infuse the food with this love and positive energy, it’s going to turn out great no matter.

cheers.gif

Let me know it goes! Buona Fortuna and Buon Appettito!

Meatloaf Calabrese

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:

  • 1 pound grass-fed, organic ground beef
  • About ½ cup diced tomatoes, drained
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup marinara sauce
  • ½ large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon crushed garlic
  • About ¼ cup Italian parsley, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 egg
  • 2 slices of bread
  • Splash red wine
  • ½ cup raisins
  • 3/4 cup parmesan cheese grated
  • ¾ cup grated mozzarella cheese
  • 1 zucchini shredded or 1 Portobello mushroom thinly sliced
  • Salt and Pepper

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375̊ F.

Put the beef, tomatoes, tomato paste, 2 tablespoons of the marinara, onion, garlic, parsley, Italian seasonion, red pepper flakes, a ¼ teaspoon of both salt and pepper, 1/3 cup of the parmesan cheese, the wine, and the egg in a large bowl.

Toast the bread, lightly wet with water from the sink. Remove the crusts and squeeze the liquid out until you are left with a mushy crumble. Throw in the bowl with the other ingredients.

Mix by hand until ingredients are well combined. Add the raisins and mix again until the raisins are well distributed.

Grease a meatloaf dish with olive oil. Add ½ of the meat mixture. Layer on the zucchini or mushrooms over the meat. Sprinkle with half of the mozzarella cheese over the vegetables. Add the rest of the meat mixture. Over with ¼ cup of the marinara. Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella and parmesan cheese

Bake for 1 hour until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Serve with additional marinara sauce as desired. Enjoy!

Garlic Rosemary Chicken

Ciao! Johnny here with one of my most simple recipes that will quickly become a weeknight staple in your home: Garlic Rosemary Chicken. This dish is great for any time of year really, but I think it is most perfect for Fall and Winter on weeknights when you need something quick, simple, and inexpensive. Woodsy and earthy rosemary, pungent garlic, and fresh lemon flavor this easy chicken dinner in a way that is warming and hearty but also light. I love serving this throughout the cooler seasons with roasted butternut and acorn squashes, Brussels Sprouts, and steamed green beans. Hope you enjoy this easy weeknight classic!

Note: You can easy double and triple the recipe to accommodate how many people you are cooking for. I am providing directions to serve 2 people as I normally cook for 2 these days and know that many of you do as well.

Garlic Rosemary Chicken

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:

  • 2 chicken breasts or thighs, bone-in and skin-on
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon crushed garlic
  • Zest of half a lemon
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 ̊F.

Place the chicken on a baking sheet lined with foil. Drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Top each piece with half the rosemary, half the garlic, and half the lemon zest. Using your hands, rub the ingredients all over the chicken making sure to get underneath the skin, stop when all looks well distributed. Drizzle with the lemon juice and actually place the lemon pieces you used for the juice near the chicken on the pan; it will help to perfume the dish and provide additional moisture.

Roast for 35-40 minutes until the chicken is golden brown. Serve with your favorite sides and enjoy!

Stuffed Acorn Squash

A few years ago, my best friend Kayleigh had me and a few of our other friends over for dinner during the Fall season. She was cooking up a storm in the kitchen with all sorts of ingredients: onions, apples, sausage, sage – all things I love. I asked, “What are you making?” Her response was very in character; nonchalantly she answered, “I’m not sure. Some sort of stuffed acorn squash. We’ll see what happens.” I laughed because this was very like her to just whip something up and go with the flow with confidence that all would be well; and all was well indeed! The Stuffed Acorn Squash turned out truly and utterly phenomenal and from that point on it became a traditional Fall and Winter dish between us and our families.

I have since made this dish many times throughout the Fall and Winter seasons because it is truly these seasons in one exquisite meal. The sweet squash is stuffed and balanced by spicy Italian chicken sausage, savory onions, tart green apple, fresh celery, woodsy sage, and pungent garlic; each component balancing and complimenting the other perfectly. A bit of bread crumbs provides a nice crunch to contrast the softness of the squash and sausage, and melted Havarti cheese seals and completes with a buttery finish. Honestly, this is one of my favorite meals to make during the cooler seasons. It is relatively simple to prepare, decently inexpensive, festive, comforting, and downright delicious. I truly hope you enjoy this recipe in your own home with loved ones.

Stuffed Acorn Squash

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:

  • 2 acorn squashes
  • 1 pound hot Italian chicken sausage, casings removed
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 large celery stick, chopped
  • 1 large granny smith apple, diced
  • 1 teaspoon crushed garlic
  • ¼ cup white wine
  • 4 sage leaves, julienned
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • ¼ cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 block Havarti cheese, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and Pepper

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 425̊F.

Cut the acorn squash down the center length wise. With a spoon, remove the seeds and dig the cavity till it would be able to hold ¾ cup of water. Drizzle the insides with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and season with about ¼ teaspoon of salt and pepper each. Place on a greased baking sheet with the inside facing down. Drizzle the skin with an additional tablespoon of olive oil and season with an additional pinch of salt and pepper. Place in the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes until the skin is easily pierced with a knife.

In the meantime, heat the remaining olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, celery, and green apple. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Saute for 5-7 minutes until tender. Add the sausage and break into small chunks using the back of a wooden spoon. Cook until the sausage is browned. Add the garlic, sage, and red pepper flakes. Add the wine and continue cooking until the liquid has evaporated. Remove from the heat and stir in the breadcrumbs until well mixed. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

Remove the acorn squash from the oven and flip over so that the cavity side facing up. Stuff each cavity with the mixture from the pan until filled and slightly doming over. Top completely with the cheese slices. Place back in the oven for 5-10 more minutes until the cheese is melted, bubbling, and browned.

Remove, allow to cool a few minutes, and serve – 1 half of a squash per person! This is best served with a simple green salad and some wine. Hope you enjoy!

Note: The images below are from when I cut the recipe in half to just serve 2, but the steps are the same.

What’s your favorite Fall/Winter dish to make at home?

Pasta di Janet

Growing up, my mom made my family quite a bit of pasta for dinner, being herself a 2nd generation Italian-American; and it was glorious. I remember being in high school, coming home starving from various practices and rehearsals, only to be fulfilled by a bowl of one of my mother’s pasta dishes. This particular dish, which I have deemed Pasta di Janet (Pasta of Janet- my mother), became a staple in our home because of its general healthy ingredient contents and for its ease and simplicity.

This quick and flavorful pasta combines hot (Chicken) Italian Sausage, sweet and juicy cherry tomatoes, green and earthy broccoli/broccolini, fresh herbs, and of course, parmesan cheese. I fell in love with this pasta and often requested it for the dinner table. I now make it quite often when I am looking for a go-to meal. Already a decently healthy meal, I have made my own tweaks to my mother’s classic pasta (like switching from regular Italian sausage to chicken Italian sausage) to create a dish that is equally as nourishing as it is indulgent. Serve with a nice green salad and red wine and you are in for an Italian delight!

Pasta di Janet

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:

  • 1 pound farfalle pasta
  • 1 pound hot Chicken Italian sausage, removed from casings
  • 2 small heads broccoli or 1 large package Italian broccolini
  • 2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • ¼ fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, julienned
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper

Directions:

Bring large pot of salted water to a boil. Heat a large pan or skillet or medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Add the sausage and break into small chunks with the back of a wooden spoon. Once the sausage is broken up, add the pasta to the water and allow to cook for 8-10 minutes until al dente.

Cook sausage until browned, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and add the tomatoes and garlic to the sausage. Cook 2-3 minutes until tomatoes soften. Meanwhile, add the broccoli or broccolini to the pasta water. Boil 2 minutes. Using a straining spoon, transfer the broccoli to the pan with the sausage and tomatoes. Stir to combine and season the mix with a pinch of salt and pepper each and red pepper flakes. Reduce heat to low and allow to continue cooking until pasta is done.

Drain the pasta, add to the pan on top of the veggies and sausage. Add the cheese and half the parsley. Toss till pasta is coated and all is well mixed. Serve into pasta bowls. Top with additional parmesan cheese and herbs and serve.

Lemon Herb Quinoa with Greens

Quinoa has really made it big these days; and I am ALL about it! Quinoa is often described as a grain, but it is technically the seed of a grain. As a seed, it packs a ton of protein, making this a great choice for a carb/starch side in place of the usual rice, pasta, and potatoes. I am often asked how to prepare quinoa; and I always tell people that it is kind of absurdly easy.

Here is the basic formula for cooking quinoa:

  • 1 part quinoa to 2 parts water
  • Bring to a boil over high heat in a small sauce pan, then reduce heat to low and cover
  • Cook for 15-20 minutes
  • Fluff with a fork and Done!

Now, that you know how to cook quinoa through, you can basically do ANYTHING with it. Still, you might want a starter recipe; this Lemon Herb Quinoa with Greens recipe is for you! It makes the perfect side to almost anything. Hope you enjoy!

Lemon Herb Quinoa with Greens

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: absurdly easy
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Ingredients:

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups water
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon crushed garlic
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, julienned
  • 1 tablespoon fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 cup spinach, kale, or power greens mix, roughly chopped.

Directions:

Place the quinoa, water, and salt in a small pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook until the quinoa has absorbed the water and the quinoa has puffed, 15-20 minutes. Fluff with fork.

While the quinoa cooks, mix the lemon zest, juice, olive oil, pepper, and crushed garlic in a small bowl.

Once you’ve fluffed the quinoa, add the basil, parsley, and chopped greens. Mix until the greens are wilted. Add the lemon and oil mixture into the bowl and toss. Season with additional pepper and serve.

Tell me, how do you make your quinoa?

Balsamic Glazed Salmon

I love salmon, it really is one of the greatest fishes; it’s incredibly healthy, it’s decently affordable, and it’s freaking delicious. One thing I love about salmon is that it can be ABSURDLY EASY to make. Take my Balsamic Glazed Salmon. Minimal prep, no active cooking, and only a few minutes until it is s ready for you to plate and eat. I am always getting questions about how to make salmon; this is the best way to start! Hope you enjoy!

Balsamic Glazed Salmon

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: ridiculously easy
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Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless salmon slab
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon crushed garlic
  • 1 teaspoon Herbs de Provence
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons Trader Joe’s Balsamic Glaze or similar product

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 ̊F.

Spray or oil a 9×13 inch baking dish. Place the salmon in the baking dish. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and Herbs de Provence. Spread the crushed garlic all over the salmon. Drizzle with olive oil. Drizzle the balsamic glaze all over, and with a pastry brush, spread the glaze until even and the salmon is covered.

Bake for 12-15 minutes depending on the thickness of the salmon. Cut into fillets and serve.