feasting with friends

Feasting with Chicago John

So…this little ditty arrived in my inbox back in January, LOL! Pinterest Message

How does Pinterest know this?? I mean, I could have told them myself…but that’s beside the point. I have know for quite some time that I share many “likes” with Chicago John. A love of Italy, a love of good food… But I also love his family stories. Stories of the Bartolini Family. Hence, I love his blog, From the Bartolini Kitchens.

John’s is one of the first blogs I discovered when I jumped into the blogging world. He was so gracious in welcoming me! To top things off, even though Chicago John is from…you guessed it…Chicago, he actually grew up in Detroit. One more thing we have in common!

Recently, John notified his readers that his long awaited printed cookbook was now available. And what a delicious cookbook it is!!Recipes from the Bartolini KitchensI’ve spent hours scouring through this book since the UPS man dropped it on my porch! John has a knack for story telling… of sharing his memories of days past. Stories that lead to food… and the “how” to make them in your own kitchen.

My list of must-try recipes is a long one! And though I do intend on spending time before Easter to make homemade ravioli, I decided to start with a basic, no fuss recipe for a busy Sunday. Penne with Vodka-Cream Sauce.

John actually posted this recipe on his blog… back in October 2014. Back then I said, “This has always been a dish I’ve reserved for ordering when dining out…and I have no idea why now that you’ve posted the recipe. It really is quite simple…at least with your thorough instructions, John. 🙂 I’m soooo making this…and soon! Thanks for the nudge!”.

Soon?? Not quite, lol. But as of now, I’ve rectified that! And so glad I did! This dish is truly simple to make. But don’t let that fool you into thinking the flavor isn’t deep. The prosciutto, onion, tomatoes and vodka give a fabulous base. The bit of spice from the red pepper flakes and the herbs, cream and cheese take it to flavor town. Delicious!


This penne with vodka-cream sauce was just one component of our Sunday dinner. I rounded out the meal with a delicious panzanella/arugula salad, Italian sausage with a sautéed pepper trio and green beans. A hearty, delicious meal for visiting family.

I’m quite sure I’ll be working my way through this cookbook over the coming months. Thanks to John’s blog, I’ve already made entrees of goat and lamb. I can’t wait to get a taste of the next dish I create in my kitchen all thanks to my new cookbook!

Do yourself a favor, bounce on over to The Bartolini Kitchens to snag the recipe for the Vodka-Cream Sauce, and if you’re so inclined, order your own copy of his delicious cookbook. You won’t be disappointed!


I’ve included my recipe for the Panzanella with Arugula and Lemon Vinaigrette Salad below. Though a panzanella salad is traditionally dried bread, tomatoes, onion and herbs, I chose to toss fresh baby arugula with it to stretch out the salad a bit. In addition, instead of dressing the salad with the expected red wine vinegar, I chose fresh lemon juice. Just a few little changes to throw a curve to a traditional recipe. 😉


Panzanella Arugula with Lemon Vinaigrette Salad

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

For The Lemon-Garlic Vinaigrette:
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 1 to 2 medium lemons)
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the salad:
8 ounces day-old Italian bread (about 1/2 of a loaf), torn into large pieces
2 pounds ripe tomatoes, large dice
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onions
1 pound English cucumbers (about 2 medium), halved lengthwise, large dice
1 packed cup fresh basil leaves, torn into large pieces
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces fresh baby arugula

For The Lemon Vinaigrette:
Place all of the ingredients in a medium bowl, stir to combine. Set aside until needed.

For The Salad:
Place the bread, tomatoes, onions, cucumber and basil  in a large bowl and add about 2/3 cup of the vinaigrette.

Toss to coat well; set aside at room temperature for about 1 hour to allow the flavors to blend.

(Note: The bread can be dried in a low temperature oven for about 30 minutes if you only have fresh bread.

Toss in the fresh arugula before serving. Adjust seasoning and vinaigrette as needed (I used about 1/4 cup of the remaining vinaigrette). Serve at room temperature.



  1. I love, love, love John’s blog! I have not seen his new book, but I have read his great narrative, recipes and profound, well thought, beautifully written responses/comments, which tells me how fabulous his book must be. I totally am in agreement with you, Nancy. Here you have presented a fabulous feast. 🙂

  2. I’ve always wanted to try vodka sauce. Yours looks so wonderful, Nancy! The salad looks like the perfect accompaniment, too. What a great meal – your family was very blessed!

    • Now’s the time to try it, Shari… so easy to make and so delicious too! It offers a delightful change of pace to the basic tomato sauce. Thanks for visiting…hope you’re having a great week!

  3. It all looks delicious Nancy and thank you for the intro to the Bartolini kitchens blog … looks great! Your vodka-cream sauce sounds and looks wonderful. 🙂

  4. skd

    I totally agree with what you said about Bartolini kitchens. It is one of my favorite blogs too.Looks like I need to order the book online. Thanks for sharing Nancy.

  5. What a pleasant surprise! I cannot thank you enough, Nancy, for your gracious comments and recommendation. It may be overcast outside but it sure is sunny in my home this morning, all because of you. Again, thank you.
    Almost forgot … So glad that you tried and enjoyed the penne recipe. It remains a favorite of mine and love to read that others like it too. 🙂

    • You are very welcome, John… though the pleasure is all mine! The penne was fabulous and well worth the year and half wait it took me to finally make! I’m happy I could brighten your day. 😀

  6. What a feast here Nancy! Love vodka penne, the prosciutto definitely had to add a real depth of flavor…… and your salad with the arugula looks so delicious. How wonderful that you have a blogger buddy who has his very own cookbook? Wow! Will have to look into it.

  7. I’ve seen this recipe so many times and I have wanted to try it – it’s my kind of pasta with the cream and touch of vodka. Love that pewter/armetale? dish by the way – so appropriate! I am a sucker for new cookbooks so I am sure I will be adding John’s cookbook to my collection – next stop Amazon 🙂

  8. I love John’s recipes and his stories make them even better. So glad he came out with a cookbook, it pulls everything together so nicely. The addition of arugula in your panzanella is wonderful.

    • Thank you, Gretchen… if any blogger was meant to have a cookbook, it’s John! He has so much history to offer with each dish he prepares. He’s very lucky to have his family recipes in his possession!

  9. This is indeed a wonderful book and I’m so glad I bought it. So full of great stories and recipes, which, as much as I enjoyed them in John’s blog, they somehow are even better in the form of a book.
    I’ve yet to try John’s recipe, it looks so very tasty!
    Love your “stretched” version of panzanella with the arugula and lemon!
    What a feast! 🙂

    • I totally agree on the blog vs book comment, Ronit. John’s family must treasure the cookbook! The vodka cream sauce is a must try…we loved it! Thank you.

I'd love to have your input....

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: