Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Many (many) years ago, when I was a student in Rome and lived in an apartment in Trastevere for almost a year, I learned how to make Spaghetti alla Carbonara.

I remember the first time I tried the dish at a tiny trattoria. I didn’t know what it was, but ordered it anyway. I can still remember the specks of black pepper, the silkiness of the sauce coating the pasta, and the big surprise when I took my first bite. A flavor I never tasted before. A magical flavor.

Massimo, a new Roman friend, taught me and my co-student friends how to make this pasta dish. It was a sunny afternoon as we gathered at his family’s apartment in EUR– the apartment complex just outside of the city. We sat around the kitchen table as he demonstrated how to mix the eggs, add the pecorino, fry the guanciale, and toss the cooked pasta quickly with the sauce. Result? Perfection. I have never wavered from this recipe all these years — no matter how many variations are out there.

Here’s the recipe. Try it!

Roman Spaghetti alla Carbonara
1 lb. spaghetti
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ lb guanciale or pancetta, diced
4 large eggs
½ cup pecorino or more as needed plus extra to serve w/pasta
2 teaspoons black pepper
salt to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. When boiling, season with salt, add spaghetti. While the pasta cooks, make the sauce. In a small skillet sauté the pancetta in the oil until cooked, about 4 minutes. Set aside.
In a large serving bowl, break the eggs, add the pepper, and salt to taste. Mix together thoroughly. Add enough of the cheese to make a pasty (rather than thin & liquidy) mixture.
Just before the pasta is done, spoon out a cup of the pasta water and reserve. When pasta is al dente, drain and immediately add to the bowl with the egg mixture. Immediately, mix the pasta and eggs together quickly. Pulling the eggs through the pasta strands over and over. The hot pasta will “cook” the egg and the egg mixture will give the pasta a creamy coat of sauce. When you see the pasta as absorbed all the eggy mixture, add the pancetta in its oil, and mix through. Add a few spoonfuls of the reserved water if the dish is a little dry. Serve hot, passing around extra cheese.

Spicy Shrimp Sauce

I love this recipe! It’s been in my family since forever — a real Sicilian hand-me-down. It’s great with all kinds of seafood.

We used to catch blue-claw crab on Long Island and make them with this sauce. Wonderful for lobster, too — a real Fra Diavolo taste. But here’s the more regular go-to: shrimp!

Make it as spicy as you like — I put in about a teaspoon of red pepper flakes, but it can be hotter, or less hot, and it’s still the best sauce ever.

The combo of dried oregano, minced fresh parsley, minced garlic, and red pepper flakes are the umami magic.

Plus Pastene tomatoes, originally from the Boston area, are here in the Southeast and at Publix. I love to use the San Marzano DOP or the Kitchen-Ready Crushed Tomatoes. Both work great in this recipe.

Try it. You’ll love it!

Spaghetti with Spicy Shrimp Tomato Sauce (serves 3-4)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound raw shrimp, peeled, deveined
3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1.5 teaspoons dried oregano
3 teaspoons, minced fresh Italian parsley
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 28-ounce can Pastene San Marzano Tomatoes or Pastene Crushed Tomatoes
1/2 lb. Spaghetti or Linguine

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan until hot. Season the shrimp lightly with salt. Add shrimp to pan with oil. Cook tossing shrimp until almost cooked through and pink, about 1-2 minutes. Remove shrimp from pan. Reserve.

Add garlic, oregano, parsley, and red pepper flakes to pan. Sauté until garlic softens and starts to color, less than a minute. Add the wine, cook another minute.

Add tomatoes (if using whole San Marzano tomatoes, cut them roughly with a pair of scissors before adding to the sauce with all the juices), stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a pasta pot of water to a boil. Add a tablespoon of salt. Add the pasta. Add shrimp back to sauce while pasta is cooking, simmer sauce for 8-10 minutes more.

Drain pasta. Add to a large serving bowl or platter. Add sauce with shrimp to pasta, toss to coat. Serve with toasted breadcrumbs.

Toasted Breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
salt to taste

Add the breadcrumbs and oil to a small sauté or frying pan. Stir on medium heat until the crumbs turn a golden brown color. Season with salt. Use as a sprinkling condiment to seafood pasta.

Tuscan Ribollita. Yes, make this.


You have to make this soup. Just hearing about it isn’t enough. It’s deceptively simple, but the flavor is so much bigger than it sounds.

Its Tuscan origin shows up in the vegetable choices, the beans, and the bread that’s part of the soup. Tuscan lacinato kale is much more tender than traditional kale with a light deeply green taste. Cannellini beans are the “meat” of the mixture. And the toasted bread within is a satisfying bite of soupy yum.

This soup takes the chill right out of the air. Make a batch…it gets better the next day. And the next. And the next.

Ribollita – Tuscan Hearty Soup

2-3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for brushing
1 medium onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, trimmed and diced
1-2 garlic cloves, peeled & smashed
1-2 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves removed & minced
2-5 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed, stems discarded
1 15-oz can plum tomatoes, roughly cut up
1 15-oz can cannellini beans, drain and rinsed
3-4 cups stock or broth
4-5 cups Tuscan kale, torn into bite-sized pieces
salt & pepper to taste
6-8 slices Italian bread or baguette
1/2 cup grated parmigiano

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. When hot, add the onion, carrots, and celery. Cook until softened, but not browned, about 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic & herbs, cook a minute or two more. Add the tomatoes and beans, sauté for a couple of minutes. Add the stock. Season with salt & pepper. Bring to a simmer, then add the kale. Simmer for about 30 minutes until all the flavors combine.

Meanwhile, place bread slices on a baking sheet in one layer. Brush or drizzle with a little olive oil, season with salt & pepper. Dust with grated parmigiano. Toast bread in a medium oven until golden, about 5-7 minutes.

To serve: Place a slice of bread in an individual soup bowl. Ladle soup on top, Top with another toast. Drizzle a little olive oil and dust with grated cheese. Serve hot.


Quick Easy Roasted Asparagus & Mushrooms

CIao! This dish came about in the interest of doing something quickly. The result: wow! So good. I love easy and I love so good. Two of the best things that can go together.

Here’s how:

1 bunch of asparagus, trimmed of woody ends & rinsed

10-12 mushrooms or 8 ounces mushrooms, rinsed, stems trimmed, quartered

1/4 cup breadcrumbs

1/4 cup grated parmesan

olive oil for drizzling

salt & pepper to taste

Line a sheet pan with foil. Drizzle a thin film of olive oil. Spread out asparagus in one layer, lined up. Toss the cut mushrooms around the edges. Season all with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl, mix together the breadcrumb and cheese. Drizzle a little olive oil to moisten slightly. Season with salt & pepper.

Sprinkle breadcrumb mixture lightly over asparagus. Drizzle a little more olive oil over all. Roast in 400 degree oven until crumbs are golden and vegetables are cooked — about 15 minutes.



Easy Roasted Sausage, Peppers, Onions, & Potatoes

These ingredients are together for a reason.

Each ingredient tastes great on its own. But. When you combine Italian sausage (hot or mild) with onions and peppers (and the potatoes just up the ante)…it’s cause for some taste-bud celebration.

Roasting them together couldn’t be easier. I just blanche the potatoes first to give them  a start. But then everybody into the pool! (Oven, really.) MMMmmmm!

Baked Sausage, Peppers & Potatoes

Serves 4-6

4-5 small red potatoes
2 medium onions, yellow or white
2 red or green bell peppers
1-1.5 lbs Italian sausages
olive oil for drizzling
salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Rinse & peel the potatoes (or leave peel on if you prefer) and cut them into ½ inch wedges. Bring a medium pot of water to boil. Blanche the potatoes for 2 -3 minutes. Drain.

Peel onions and cut them into ½ inch wedges. Cut the peppers in half. Pull out the stem, and seeds. Cut into ½ inch strips. Line a sheet pan with foil. Add the potatoes, onions and peppers. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt & pepper. Toss to coat.

Cut each sausage into 2 or 3 chunks, or cut in half and then split lengthwise. Add to the vegetables. Roast in oven for about 45 minutes until vegetables and sausage are cooked through and starting to brown. Turn vegetables and sausages 1-2 times while cooking. Serve hot or warm.







Easy Focaccia

You will love this authentic focaccia. You don’t even need a mixer to make it. Just a bowl and a fork. It is reminiscent of Riviera-style focaccia. Not very thick, with the moistness of olive oil, and a crunchy-tender bite.

You can top it with almost anything. I usually sprinkle thinly sliced onion, or sliced pitted olives, and/or rosemary. And then a touch of finishing salt.

Here’s the recipe. Let me know how you do!

Riviera Focaccia with Rosemary and Olives

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 cup warm water
2 tablespoons plus scant 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves removed, stems discarded
1/2 cup of pitted kalamata olives, or favorite pitted olives, sliced
1/4 teaspoon finishing salt, or regular salt

Combine the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Whisk to combine. Add the yeast and sugar to a small mixing bowl, add 1 cup warm water. Stir once. When yeast puffs up (blooms), add 2 tablespoons olive.

Make a well/hole in the center of the flour mixture. Pour in the wet ingredients. Whisk together gently with a fork until flour is all absorbed and the mixture looks smooth, about 1 minute. Cover dough in bowl with plastic wrap to seal, then cover with a clean kitchen towel. Place in a draft-free spot and let dough to rise until about doubled, about 1-1 ½ hours.

Pour a scant 1/4 cup of olive oil in a quarter-sheet pan, or rimmed jelly roll pan (approximately 9 x 13-inches). Pour out the dough into the pan without folding it, using a spatula to help (dip spatula in the oil — dough will be sticky). Poke your fingers into some of the oil, so the dough won’t stick as you poke down the dough to fill pan. Push it into the corners and try to even out the thickness all around. Poking the dough gives it the characteristic pocked surface of focaccia. Cover the dough with plastic, without sealing it— just on top to cover, and then kitchen towel. Let rise about 30 minutes more. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

When the dough has risen a second time, discard plastic. Poke your (oiled) fingers to make impressions again, scatter rosemary, olives, and finishing salt on top. Bake focaccia in the hot oven for about 20-30 minutes until deep golden. Allow to cool a few minutes before loosening from pan with a spatula. Cut into squares or strips.


Cinnamon Twists

Here’s the recipe from today’s WSMV-TV “Today in Nashville” segment…

I hope you try it! Comment if you have questions. Thanks!

Glazed Cinnamon Twists
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, plus 4 tablespoons softened
2/3 cup milk
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons sugar
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Using a pastry cutter or 2 knives, cut in the 6 tablespoons of cold butter, breaking apart the butter into very small pieces. Add the milk and stir until a dough forms, knead gently (not too much) to pull together a smooth ball of dough. 
Flour a work surface and roll out dough into rough rectangle (or oval), about 1/8” thick. Using a spatula or butter knife, spread the softened butter over the surface of the rolled dough to cover it all. Sprinkle cinnamon to distribute evenly, sprinkle sugar to distribute evenly. Fold dough in half. Press to adhered. Gently use rolling pin to press together a little more. Using a knife or fluted wheel cutter, cut 1/2-inch strips.
Twist each strip into a spiral and lay on a parchment or silpat-lined baking sheet. Press the two end down to adhere. Bake for 12-15 minutes until golden. Let cool completely before drizzling glaze criss-cross across the twists.
For the glaze
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature soft
1 cup powdered sugar (you may need a little more)
½ teaspoon vanilla
In a medium mixing bowl press out the butter with a spoon to make it smooth. Add the powdered sugar and mix until the butter is blended into small pieces with the sugar,. Add the vanilla and mix. Run the kitchen faucet until very hot. Add a couple of tablespoons of hot water to the mixture and stir rapidly to combine. If frosting seems too thick, add more hot water until it becomes the right consistency for drizzling. When adding water just a very little at a time— even just drops. (If it becomes too thin, let sit for a while — it will thicken on its own. Or add a little more powdered sugar.)
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Italian Easter Pie or Pizza Rustica

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Easter Pie or Pizza Rustica

I remember that exciting time when Easter pies lined the glass counters of Italian bakeries in New York. These savory pies — also known as Pizza Rustica — showed up just before Easter. They’re an elaborate, rich celebration of cured meats at the end of Lent.

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Easter Pie or Pizza Rustica

The pie is over-full with chunks of salami, mortadella, cappacollo, ham…that’s my version. You can mix up the meats to include pepperoni or soppressata, or prosciutto.

Pie chopped ingredients

Chopped cappacollo, salami, ham, mortadella, & mozzarella

They meats are mixed with ricotta, eggs, parmigiano, and — in my version — provolone for a little sharpness. 

Pie ricotta mix

Meats mixed with cheeses

The whole pie is baked in a flaky crust and served in slices for an appetizer — or part of your Easter lunch or dinner.

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Pie egg wash.JPG

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The pie keeps well, refrigerated, for a few days. You can sneak irresistible tasty slivers for as long as a week.

Don’t worry if it looks involved — it’s not hard! It’s authentic — one of those rustic culinary traditions that Italians look forward to every year (including me). Once you taste it, you’ll make it one your traditions, too. Let me know how it goes. : )

Buona Pasqua!

Easter Pie or Pizza Rustica

For the Pastry:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

pinch salt

7 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup cold dry white wine

For the Filling:

2 cups ricotta

3 eggs, plus 1 more egg for egg wash

1/2 lb. mozzarella, diced

¼ lb. mortadella, thick sliced, cut into small dice

¼ lb. capacollo, thick sliced, cut into small dice

¼ lb. salami, thick sliced, cut into small dice

1/4 lb. ham, thick sliced, cut into dice

1 cup grated Parmigiano or Pecorino

1/4 lb. diced pecorino or provolone cheese

salt & pepper to taste 

1 tablespoon butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F

Put the flour and salt in a food processor. Pulse to combine. Cut the butter into cubes and add to flour. Pulse until the mixture is crumbly. Add the chilled wine. Process until a ball of dough forms — about 15-20 seconds. If ball isn’t forming, add a tablespoon or more wine.

Take dough out of the processor and divide into two pieces—about 2/3 and 1/3. Flatten each into a disk, wrap in plastic, and chill for at least 30 minutes, or as long as overnight. 

In a large mixing bowl mix together the ricotta with the grated cheese. Stir in the mozzarella, mortadella, capacollo, salami, ham, and diced cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste. In a small bowl, beat together the 3 eggs. Season eggs with salt. Stir into ricotta mixture, and combine well. 

Lightly butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Roll out the larger piece of dough to fit a the pan, with dough coming about half-way up the sides of the pan. “Dock” the dough by poking a fork all around the dough. Fill with the ricotta filling. Roll out the smaller piece of dough and place on top. Crimp the edges to seal it together with sides of the bottom pice of dough. . Cut about 4-5 steam slits in a circle around the center into the top dough.

Beat the last egg with a teaspoon o f water. Brush lightly on the dough.

Bake for about 1 hour until the crust colors to golden. Let pizza rustica sit for about 15 minutes before unsealing the sides of the springform pan. Let cool for another 30 minutes-1 hour before cutting into wedges. Serve warm or at room temperature. The pie keeps, refrigerated, for a few days.


Beautiful Romanesco Cauliflower

Romanesco cauliflower (or known, too, as Romanesco broccoli) is an inventive sculpture of the highest artistic quality.

Okay. It’s a vegetable, yes, but it’s so beautiful! And a work of stunning, shapely, color-bright art of the garden. If I see one in the produce section I must get it. It’s like a vegetable siren song.

I first encountered Romanesco in Rome one autumn. My friend, Malena, brought some to the apartment we were renting. In Rome it’s in season in autumn. She cooked us a fabulous pasta dish with orecchiette and garlic croutons and cooked-till-creamy Romanesco. I’ve made this same wonderful dish stateside and also tried it with cauliflower (perfect!).

But this time I wanted to keep those playful spiraled cones intact. Instead of making slices to roast, or cutting it willy-nilly, I very carefully cut the head, removing each floweret one by one.

The detailed work was worth it! I laid them out in a pan with just a few ingredients and roasted the beauties (recipe below). They kept their shape and became tender-firm and super tasty.

And still so pretty when brought to the table.

As an added texture you can toast some breadcrumb and sprinkle on top. These breadcrumb got toasted a bit further than I intended…but still good!

Roasted Romanesco Spirals

1 head Romanesco cauliflower
juice of one lemon
4-5 tablespoons olive oil
5-6 sprigs fresh thyme
1/4 cup white wine
salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Gently cut off each of the spiral tips/flowerets of the cauliflower. Line a sheet pan with foil. Drizzle some olive oil on pan and scatter flowerets. Sprinkle the lemon juice. Scatter the thyme sprigs. Drizzle olive oil lightly over all the flowerets. Season with salt & pepper. Pour the wine into the pan (this will help steam-roast the cauliflower).

Roast for about 40 minutes until desired tenderness. Serve warm or room temp. Add a sprinkling of toasted breadcrumb if desired.

(For breadcrumb: In a small frying pan heat 2-3 tablespoons olive oil with a 1/2 cup breadcrumb or panko. Stir until lightly toasted. Season with salt & pepper.)

What to do with Broccoli Rabe

Deep dark green, leafy veggies are so good for us. And broccoli rabe is my absolute favorite. Yes, spinach is pure earthy green. Kale vitamin earnest. Swiss chard beautiful, colorful. Collards durable, confident. Mustard greens spikey with flavor.

But broccoli rabe is downright bitter. Ah, that’s the best part! Bitter sometimes gets a bad rap. But bitter can be oh-so-good. From bunch to bunch of broccoli rabe the bitterness can range in intensity. Sometimes I take the fresh bundle from the grocery bag and, even raw, it smells bitter. I love that moment. That’s when I really swoon at what’s coming when cooked.

It’s easy to make and my favorite recipe is the most traditional. Olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes. Ta-da!

Do try it. A great side, or make it your main meal. Or cook the recipe below and add some pasta (with a sprinkling or grated parmesan or pecorino). Enjoy! Let me know how it goes.

Sautéed Broccoli Rabe with Garlic & Red Pepper Flakes

1 bunch broccoli rabe
3 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
4-5 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Cut off some of the thick bottom stems from the broccoli rabe and discard. Cut the leaves and flowerets into smaller pieces: halving large leaves, separating out floweret stems with a leaf or two attached. Rinse in a colander, and shake out extra clinging water.

In a large skillet, heat about 4-5 tablespoons olive oil. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, cook until garlic starts to turn golden. Add cut-up broccoli rabe (it will sizzle because it’s a little wet— but will calm down). Cook 5-6 minutes, turning broccoli rabe in oil, until wilted and tender. Season with salt & pepper. Serve.