Tag Archives: italy

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
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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!

Fig, Goat Cheese, Prosciutto, and Arugula Pizza

One of my absolute favorite foods to make is artisanal pizzas; I love rolling the pizza dough into rustic, oblong shapes that are perfectly imperfect and then topping them with gourmet flavor combinations of quality ingredients. I don’t know exactly what it is that makes me enjoy cooking these types of pizzas so much, but I love the process of cooking them and am really proud of the original recipes I’ve developed!

A couple of my other artisan pizzas!

Most recently, I published my recipes for my Butternut, Brussels, and Bacon Pizza and my Bleu BBQ Chicken Pizza. Today, I giveth onto you the recipe for one of my favorites; my Fig, Goat Cheese, Prosciutto and Arugula Pizza – I know, it’s a mouth full literally and figuratively!

Can you say, “BELLISIMA!”???

Fig Pizza 14

 

This pizza is born of summer and is reminiscent of Tuscany in the warmer months. Imagine this; the sweetness of fresh figs, caramelized onions, and balsamic, contrasted with the saltiness of prosciutto and the tang of creamy goat cheese, and finished with the fresh and peppery bite of arugula. I am telling you, this is one incredible gourmet pizza!

Pour yourself a glass of wine and turn on the old world Italiano music, because with this pizza, you are about to feel like you’re enjoying a beautiful summer meal in the Tuscan countryside! Buon Appettito!

Fig, Goat Cheese, Prosciutto, and Arugula Pizza

  • Servings: 3-4
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: Easy
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Ingredients:

Cook’s Note: Vegetarians can certainly omit the prosciutto here to make this a veg friendly option! 

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

On a floured surface, roll out the dough into a thin, oblong shape and place on an oiled baking sheet. (Pro-tip: sprinkle course cornmeal on the baking sheet to help prevent the pizza dough from sticking).

Drizzle the surface of the dough with the olive oil and balsamic. Use the back of a spoon to smear evenly over the dough. Arrange the caramelized onions in an even layer over the sauce. Sprinkle evenly with the mozzarella, goat cheese, and half of the basil. Arrange the fig slices all over the pizza. Arrange the prosciutto pieces over the figs throughout the pizza, evenly spacing the slices.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until the dough is golden brown, the cheese is melted and bubbly and the prosciutto is crisped. Sprinkle with remaining basil, then the arugula in an even layer.

Cut into rustic squares, sprinkle with parmesan, 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
  • Time: 1 1/2 hours
  • 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!

Christmas Biscotti

I am not really a huge baker, but when it’s Christmas time, I do enjoy covering myself in flour and homemaking a batch or two of holiday treats. I love Christmas cookies, the baking and of course the eating of them. However, I find that so many people bake the traditional chocolate chip and sugar cookies around the holidays, so when I make the effort to actually bake I like to produce something a little different. My Christmas Biscotti gives me the satisfaction I seek of baking at Christmas while also letting my Italian heritage shine through! I took a basic biscotti recipe from Giada De Laurentiis and then added my own holiday tweaks to create a dessert that has now become a tradition in my family to enjoy every December.

For those of you that don’t know, Biscotti is an Italian cookie that is shaped almost like a cigar and has gone through two rounds of baking in the oven. These cookies are satisfyingly crunchy, deliver just the right amount of sweetness without being too sweet, and highlight any flavors you choose to create them with. My Christmas Biscotti looks, smells, and tastes like Christmas. Zesty-sweet orange, green-crunchy-earthy pistachio, red-chewy-tart dried cranberries, and rich dark chocolate (because chocolate, duh) all complement each other perfectly with both flavor and texture.  These guys are just a super festive dessert to make for home or even to gift to your family, friends, and colleagues.

Christmas, chocolate, Italy; all the things that I love rolled up into one! I hope you enjoy my Christmas Biscotti!

Christmas Biscotti

  • Servings: Yields 12-15 Cookies
  • Time: 1.5 - 2 hours
  • Difficulty: Intermediate
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Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 ½ tablespoons orange zest
  • ½ stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • ½ cup pistachios, roughly chopped
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • ½ cup dark chocolate chips
  • Optional: 1 cup dark chocolate chips to make glaze

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350̊ F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder.

In a large bowl, beat the sugar, orange zest, and butter with a hand mixer until well mixed. Add one egg at a time and beat until completely combined. Gradually add the flour mixture and beat together until all ingredients are mixed and dough starts to form. Stir in the pistachios, cranberries, and chocolate chips.

Place the dough in the center of the baking sheet and form a log that is 13 inches long and 3 inches wide. Bake for 35-40 minutes until the log is golden brown. Remove from oven and from baking sheet and allow to cool for 30 minutes.

Using a sharp or serrated bread knife (at this point, the biscotti is a delicate bread), slice the log in ½ inch to ¾ inch slices. Be careful as the slices will be quite fragile. Place the slices with cut side down on the baking sheet and bake an additional 15 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely on a baking rack.

Optional: melt the 1 cup of dark chocolate in a double boiler. Pour the melted chocolate onto a plate. Dip the flat bottom of the biscotti in the melted chocolate and set aside until the chocolate hardens into a chocolate crust. Enjoy!

Buon Natale!

 

Easy Bolognese

I don’t know about you, but I don’t find anything as comforting as a bowl of pasta with a rich, hearty meat sauce (sorry vegetarians, I practice Meatless Monday and yoga, but I am Italian thru and thru). When I was growing up my mom often made pasta with Bolognese sauce when it was chilly outside. Curling up with that bowl of pasta and watching a good movie was simply the best…and it still is! Bolognese is something I now make on the regular during Fall and Winter. It’s inexpensive, simple, rustic, hearty, and it can actually be decently nutritious if you use grass-fed organic meat and control your portions.

Now, there are lots of Bolognese sauce recipes in the world and some of them can be slightly complicated and require hours of cooking, but my recipe for Bolognese is fantastically easy and rather quick! Serve with your favorite shape of pasta, on spaghetti squash, or even by itself in a bowl with some crusty bread. My Easy Bolognese will quickly make you feel like you’re dining in Tuscany! Buon Appetito!

Easy Bolognese

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Time: 75 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 1 large celery stalk, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons crushed garlic
  • ½ lb ground beef (preferably grass-fed organic)
  • ½ lb ground pork (preferably grass-fed organic)
  • ½ cup red wine (preferably a chianti or darker)
  • 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • ¼ cup fresh flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • Salt & Pepper
  • ¼ Pecorino Romano Cheese

Directions:

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions, season with a pinch of salt and pepper, and sauté for about 5 minutes until tender. Add the carrots, celery, and 1 tablespoon of the crushed garlic, season with an additional pinch of salt and pepper, and sauté for 3-4 minutes longer. Add the beef and pork. Using the back of a wooden spoon, break the meat up into small chunks, cook until the meat is browned and slightly caramelized, about 7-8 minutes. Pour in the red wine and cook until the meat absorbs the wine completely. Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, remaining 1 tablespoon of garlic, half the parsley, the basil, the bay leaf, the red pepper flakes, a pinch more salt and pepper, and half of the pecorino cheese. Stir together. Allow to come to a simmer. Reduce the heat the medium-low and cook uncovered for 45 minutes to an hour until sauce is slightly thickened. Serve with the remaining pecorino and parsley. Enjoy!

Pro-tip: If you make pasta or spaghetti squash, toss the pasta or shredded squash with additional pecorino cheese and olive oil, then place into pasta bowls, and serve the Bolognese sauce over the top. Allow the guests to mix the sauce into the noodles or squash as they like on their own.

Johnny Goes to Paris!

Hello, or I guess I should start saying, Bonjour!, because I am headed to Paris today! I will be exploring the city of lights over the next week as it has always been a top destination of mine. And bonus! I am even taking a quick side trip to Munich, Germany to meet some friends at THE Oktoberfest! Lots of adventures ahead!

Travel is something I am incredibly passionate about. In fact, I find myself dreaming all day at my desk at work about the different places I want to see in the world; there are just too many! I’ve reached a point in my life where I have decided to stop waiting for the right time to travel. I am only young and single once so I have decided to make the time and just go for it as much as I possibly can.

Last year, I went all over Italy, and it was literally the greatest time I have ever had in my 24 years of life. I went by myself, but hopped onto a great tour titled “Simply Italy” through Contiki Holidays, and it was there that I made a host of new friends and lifelong memories. Check out my guest blogs for Contiki here:

As I travel to Paris now, I travel alone once more. This time, there is no tour to hop on. I think there is much to be said about traveling alone; you are forced to be by yourself and figure out what the venture throws at you on your own, while at the same time you are also free to meet new people and quite possibly even new friends.

I am simply going to wander and see what this historic and iconic city that is Paris has for me. I honestly couldn’t be more excited. I feel so free and invigorated to be embarking on this journey.

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram: @johnnylapasta I can guarantee you that you will see many, many snap shots of my trip! You can also keep up with me by searching the hashtag #johnnynparis which I will be using to tag all of my photos.

I am sure I will have lots to blog about upon my return to the States! But for now, au revior!