Tag Archives: Simple

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!

Vegan Pumpkin Nice Cream

Fall is here! One of the many reasons that I love Fall, like so many of you, is the incorporation of sweet and warming pumpkin into all manner of dishes (though, I really do feel like pumpkin spice popcorn and salmon have taken the whole pumpkin craze too far). Anyway, I am a big pumpkin fan and get very excited to eat more of it this time of year.

YAY PUMPKIN! #basicanddontcare

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Southern California, however, doesn’t always get the memo that it is Fall and we want to cozy up against crisp weather. No, October here by the beach typically brings random heat waves that trump the temperatures that Summer brought. It’s annoying. But I have learned to adapt to it by getting my pumpkin dessert fix through cooling, but seasonally tasting Pumpkin Ice Cream! And anyway, who doesn’t love ice cream any time of year regardless of the outside temperature?

You’ll recall in the Summer that I posted a recipe for my Vegan Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Nice Cream; a recipe that utilizes frozen bananas, cocoa, and peanut butter to make a cool and sweet dessert that is totally guilt free. Well, Oops! I did it again because I’ve now made a Vegan Nice Cream that highlights the flavor of the season: PUMPKIN!

Oops! I made another Vegan Nice Cream recipe!

oops

This delicious dessert utilizes the base of frozen bananas with unsweetened pumpkin puree, good and smoky maple syrup, and pumpkin spices to create a dessert that is cooling and sweet with the flavors reminiscent of pumpkin pie and lots of nutritious benefits. This recipe is simple and inexpensive, and also healthful and seasonally comforting. I hope you enjoy my Vegan Pumpkin Nice Cream!

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Vegan Pumpkin Nice Cream

  • Servings: 3-4
  • Time: 5 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy
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Ingredients:

  • 6 bananas, cut into chunks and frozen
  • 12 oz. organic pumpkin puree, unsweetened (about ¾ of a 15 oz. can)
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 ½ tablespoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions:

Pulse the frozen banana pieces in a food processor until blended and resembling vanilla ice cream. This can take some time and you may need to scrape down the sides of the bowl, so be patient.

Add the pumpkin puree, maple, and spices. Puree until smooth. Pour into a freezer safe bowl and freeze until solid.

Defrost and serve into bowls, topping with additional pumpkin pie spice and nuts as desired. Enjoy!

Slow Cooker Lemon Artichoke Chicken

In the past year, I have fallen truly and deeply in love with my Slow Cooker, whom I affectionately call Carlotta. The relationship that I have with this piece of home-cook culinary equipment is nothing short of magical. In my busy 50+ hour work week, Carlotta often makes sure that I am fed healthful and delish meals with unimaginable ease. I adore her for it. This new recipe for Slow Cooker Lemon Artichoke Chicken that Carlotta and I created together is just one of my favorite meals to make for the whole week, especially in the warmer months.

OH CARLOTTA!

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The recipe is unfathomably simple, quite inexpensive, and greatly healthy! Chicken, onions, garlic, pre-prepared artichoke hearts, capers, lemon, herbs, and a splash of wine make this dish zesty and bright with the chicken so tender it can be shredded with a fork. Essentially, you dump all of these ingredients into the Slow Cooker (I’ll let you name your own) and turn it on: that’s it! If you invest in a quality Slow Cooker complete with a timer that switches to the “Warm” setting after it is finished cooking and stays there – like Carlotta here – you can make this on your way out the door in the morning and when you get home in the evening, the Slow Cooker will have kept it warm and ready for you all day long. Once you experience this for yourself, you will find it hard to break away from your Slow Cooker for more than a week.

Lemon Artichoke Chicken 5

It looks messy because it is all so tender, but boy does it taste great!

I like to serve this Slow Cooker Lemon Artichoke Chicken with seasonal vegetables and some sort of carb to soak up the sauce like quinoa, rice, couscous, or my personal carb-fake-out cauliflower rice. This is the ultimate late-Spring and all-Summer week night meal that you are going to love!

Slow Cooker Lemon Artichoke Chicken

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Time: 2 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours
  • Difficulty: Absurdly Easy
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Ingredients:

  • 4-6 Boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs (your choice)
  • 1 yellow onion, large diced
  • 2 tablespoons crushed garlic
  • 1 package frozen artichoke hearts or 2 cans artichoke hearts
  • ¼ cup capers, drained
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 lemon, halved then sliced
  • ¼ cup basil leaves, torn
  • 2 tablespoons white wine
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoon black pepper

Directions:

Place the chicken at the bottom of the Slow Cooker. Cover with the onions, garlic, artichoke hearts, capers and dried oregano. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the lemon slices and half of the basil over all. Pour in the white wine.

Cook on the low setting for 4 ½ hours or on the high setting for 2 ½ hours.

To serve, plate the chicken with desired sides. Spoon over some of the sauce and top with additional torn basil leaves. Enjoy!

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
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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’s Tomato Soup

Ciao all! Johnny here with my inexpensive, unbelievably simple, super healthy, and incredibly delish recipe for my Tomato Soup! There is no way around it; tomato soup is one of the most comforting dishes you can enjoy. A bowl of tomato soup comforts you when you’re feeling under the weather or helps you to cozy up with a good movie or book on a chilly evening in at home. And my tomato soup will be your new favorite! With budget friendly ingredients and requiring minimal effort to prepare, this soup is vegan and healthy while also being warming and hearty. Cannellini beans within the soup pureed after cooking give the soup a creamy texture without the need for cream or dairy. Rosemary, red pepper, and bay leaf give the soup earthy and warming notes. This soup makes a great quick weeknight dinner and is perfect to take  a left over cup to work or school; hell, it’s even perfect for a Friday night with a good movie and bottle of wine! I make this soup almost every other week during Fall and Winter and anyone who has ever had it has always been thoroughly pleased. Hope you enjoy!

Johnny's Tomato Soup

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Time: 40 minutes
  • Difficulty: absurdly easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons crushed garlic
  • 1 15 ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 15 ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 ½ teaspoons fresh rosemary, chopped
  • ¼ -1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Optional Toppings: Olive oil drizzle, cracked black pepper, light sour cream, Greek yogurt, parmesan cheese, goat cheese

Directions:

Heat the olive oil in a pot over medium-high heat until hot. Add the onions and carrots, sprinkle with a ¼ teaspoon of salt and pepper. Sauté for 5 minutes until tender. Add the crushed garlic, mix together, and sauté an additional 2 minutes.

Add the cannellini beans, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, vegetable stock, rosemary, red pepper flakes, and bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper to taste and stir. Bring to a boil over the medium-high heat. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes.

Uncover and fish out the bay leaf, discard. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth and creamy with no chunks of veggies left. You can also puree in a food processor, but be very careful! Ladle into bowls and add your desired toppings. I personally like to do an artsy drizzle of olive oil and add some crushed black pepper to keep it light but tasty. Enjoy!

REI Inspires Change and Balance this Holiday Season

On Wednesday October 28th, national outdoor and sporting goods store, REI, announced that they would go against the grain this upcoming Black Friday by closing its stores across the country. Instead of opening early with major door busting sales like most retail stores do on Black Friday these days, they are encouraging Americans to #OptOutside on this day which normally marks the beginning of the crazed-holiday-shopping season. They are promoting friends and family to stay out of the stores and instead be outdoors; or at least spending more time with family and friends instead of mowing strangers down with shopping carts for the chance to save $20 on low-quality clothing and toys that have been imported from China for our consumerist enjoyment.

When I heard this news, I literally exclaimed aloud in triumph. A move like this from a major and well respected company is long overdue. In this past decade, I have been consistently saddened by the greedy fiasco that Black Friday has become in this country. First of all, the concept of Black Friday is twisted and morphed to begin with: immediately after we express our gratitude for the blessings in our lives on Thanksgiving, we rush out to the stores to buy and consume more and more goods, most of it that we don’t need, and are willing to be rude and even violent to others in order to do it? I mean, really people? There have been “Black Friday Deaths” where shoppers have been trampled by other shoppers in their rush to find their savings; there was even a shooting at a TOYS R’ US one year when two shoppers were fighting over the last toy that was apparently a hot commodity that year. Are you kidding me? This is the country and culture we’ve become?

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