“Roman Holiday” Spaghetti Carbonara

Posted on: August 10th, 2010 by Carla Johnson 1 Comment

La cucina di un popolo è la sola esatta testimonianza della sua civiltà.

~ Unknown (The cuisine of a country is the only exact attestation of its civilization.)

•   •   •

Reporter: Which of the cities visited did Your Highness enjoy the most?

Princess Ann: Each, in its own way, was unforgettable. It would be difficult to… Rome! By all means, Rome. I will cherish my visit here in memory as long as I live.

~ Excerpt from Roman Holiday (1953)

Many years ago (I won’t give a number!), I used to babysit 3 truly adorable young Hersey kids, Simon, Sarah and Mark. Simon was always pensive and intellectual. He liked to discuss things, while Mark the baby did what most babies did – ate, slept and pooped! Sarah was quite charming and had a special sparkle in her eye. She figured things out really quickly and would often return your knowing glance with a coy smile.

After I left home for university, 3 more beautiful Hersey children joined the family, Rachel, Ruth and David. Of course they have all grown up now. Simon, Sarah and Mark are all married and have moved even further away. Mark, the baby, has really grown UP. Long ago topped my 6′ 2” height and he now hovers somewhere around a mere 6′ 9”!

When Sarah contacted me and told me she had a recipe, I was so pleased. It was wonderful to reconnect and catch up. She now has two children of her own, James and Elizabeth. and even though her husband’s name is actually Jeremy, she sometimes just calls him “Handsome.” :)


When their first child James was just 4 months old, Sarah and Jeremy Fresz decided it was time to visit her extended family in England. Adding an extra excursion to Rome and Paris was natural for the two history buffs. As Sarah explained it, “Rome because of the history and Paris, well… who doesn’t want to go to Paris and the price was right!”

Walking through the Coliseum and the Roman Forum were Sarah & Jeremy’s favourite moments. So much had happened there that continues to impact the world today. “It was awe-inspiring and overwhelming to stand there and think about all that had happened… to imagine Caesar, and Nero, and the other emperors in their fine robes walking amongst the pillars.” She also pondered the prisoners and imagined some of the well known prisoners from Christianity like the apostles Peter and Paul walking through the streets in chains.

Then there was the food. Sarah and Jeremy share the Italian love of delicious food: the pastas, the meats, the breads dipped in olive oil, the balsamic vinegar and the wine. They had so much fun trying out different restaurants and all different kinds of food. They especially fell in love with Spaghetti Carbonara the way the Italians make it.

As Sarah explains it, “True Carbonera has eggs in it! The American version is more saucy… almost an Alfredo sauce and that is so wrong!”

When they returned home, Sarah and Jeremy were bound and determined to recreate it the authentic way. They found a recipe that was close and had a lot of fun adjusting the ingredients to get it right. They added garlic and that brought it closer, but the key ingredient that it needed was white wine. “It made all the difference in the world!”

Italian Spaghetti Carbonara

8 servings

1 pound spaghetti
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 slices bacon, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup dry white wine (Sarah uses Piat d’Or)
4 eggs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 pinch salt and black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese


1.In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook spaghetti pasta until al dente. Drain well. Toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and set aside.

2.Meanwhile in a large skillet, cook chopped bacon until slightly crisp; remove and drain onto paper towels. Reserve 2 tablespoons of bacon fat in the pan, add remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and heat in reused large skillet. Add chopped onion, and cook over medium heat until onion is translucent. Add minced garlic, and cook 1 minute more, being careful not to over-cook it. Add wine; cook one more minute.

3. Return cooked bacon to pan; add cooked and drained spaghetti. Toss to coat and heat through, adding more olive oil if it seems dry or is sticking together.

4. Add beaten eggs and cook, tossing constantly with tongs or large fork until eggs are BARELY set. It may be wise to take it off the heat first so the eggs don’t fry. Quickly add 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, and toss again. Add salt and pepper to taste (remember that bacon and Parmesan are very salty).

5.Serve immediately with chopped parsley sprinkled on top, and extra Parmesan cheese at table.

Sarah’s Tip:

If the eggs “scramble” when you’re cooking them, you’ve overcooked them. Its a bit difficult to get them just right. Err on just under-cooking it as they will keep cooking in the dish as you serve it. I usually serve this with a big caesar salad and a French loaf of bread with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.”

“The best thing I know is to do exactly what you wish for a while.”

~ Excerpt from “Roman Holiday” (1953)

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“Goddess Supper IV” Pasta de la Coeur

Posted on: March 28th, 2010 by Carla Johnson 1 Comment

Athena“I always love being in the company of women. It’s all about good conversation and great wine.” ~ Naomi Watts

“God may be in the details, but the goddess is in the questions. Once we begin to ask them, there’s no turning back.” ~ Gloria Steinem

Sometimes we call ourselves “The Goddesses.” Other times we’re “The Divas.” Either way, it’s clear what we think of of ourselves. We are women who met 10 years ago at work. We are all teachers or principals and while we have all moved on to different schools, we continue to get together a few times a year.

 Whatever we have gone through individually, The Goddesses have been there to support. We are all passionate about living life vibrantly with integrity. We all love travel and adventure. We are intellectuals and insist on delving into issues rigorously, especially when it comes to education, and most important of all we laugh loud and we laugh long.

We have seen each other through the inevitable ups and downs of life. Some of us are married, some of us are divorced, some of us are single. We raised a glass of bubbly when when one of us got married, we poured lots of red wine when one of us faced a break-up and we championed the virtues of being single when one of us struggled with the idea. We anguished together when one of us faced daunting parenting challenges and we were consoling when one of us faced a hysterectomy that came too early in life.

Among The Goddesses, I have been the most prodigal, so I invited everyone to my house for a “Sin Supper” and the jokes ensued. “Can we get tipsy on pork tenderloin?” “I’m bringing a dish called ‘Potted Cheese’ with Riesling, not pot.” “We may need to make it a sleep-over.”

The dinner was pot-luck and we had an absolutely wonderful time tasting each other’s dishes and ranting about the need for more Arts in education. There was Pat’s Potted Cheese, Laurie’s Chicken au Champagne and Trish’s Pork Tenderloin with Brandied Mushrooms & Shallot Sauce. Gillian brought Pasta Amatriciana and a bottle of Passion-Fruit Jamaican rum. I made George’s Sherry Potatoes and Melissa made Sex In The Pan (What a great idea!) for dessert.

Here are all the recipes from our “Goddess Supper” one course at a time. Enjoy!

Entree #3


Gillian brought Pasta de la Coeur. Gillian – I call her “Gigi la Coeur” :) became a principal a few years ago and she is one of the few black administrators with our board. One day a mom came in to talk about her child and walked right by her. When Gillian got her attention, the mother said, “Oh! You don’t sound black over the phone.” Sometimes you just have to shake your head. Gillian is one of the people I go to when I’m looking for perspective. I love how she leans back, crosses her arms and let’s you know what she thinks. I have really learned to trust her.


Pasta de la Coeur

This is a truly delicious pasta dish that serves well with salad and fresh crusty bread.



2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
4 slices bacon, chopped (not maple-flavoured bacon)
¾ cup white wine
1 can (28 ounces) tomato purée
red pepper flakes

Note: Adjust the amounts of garlic, wine and red pepper to suit your taste

  1. Place enough olive oil in a large sauce pan to cover the bottom and heat over medium heat.

  2. Place onions, garlic and bacon in pan and sauté for about 5 minutes or until the bacon is cooked through.

  3. Add wine and bring to a boil for 3-4 minutes.

  4. Add tomato purée, then use the can & fill it half way with water and add the water to the pan.

  5. Add as much or as little red pepper flakes as you like

  6. Simmer on low heat for about ½ hour.

  7. Serve with penne or any pasta of your choice.

Gillian’s plate here has the Chicken au Champagne, the Sherry Potatoes & the Pasta Amatriciana.


Gillian brought Jamaican Passion Fruit Rum. It was delicious & sweet!


The dinner is not over yet. What’s a Goddess dinner without dessert? See the next post for Melissa’s “Sex In The Pan.”

All the “Sin Supper with the Goddesses” recipes were tested and photographed especially for the print version of Cooking With Sin. Check it out! 

“Grandma Started It!” Chicken Cacciatore

Posted on: January 12th, 2010 by Carla Johnson 7 Comments
The wines that one best remembers are not necessarily the finest that one has ever tasted, and the highest quality may fail to delight so much as some far more humble beverage drunk in more favorable surroundings. ~ H. Warner Allen
Nickel family 1940

Nickel family 1940 L to R: My grandfather John holding Alice, Gerald, Hank, Betty & my grandma Elizabeth

My mother, Betty (Nickel) Johnson, was raised in a staunch, devout, Mennonite Brethren home.  Her family moved throughout western Canada – Grande Prairie, AB to Yarrow, BC. She and her 5 siblings, Jerry, Hank, Alice, Esther & David remain proud and true to their roots, but enjoy sharing tales of the times they grew up in.

The Mennonite tradition is rooted in simple living and a solid work ethic, so in the 1940’s things like nail polish and lipstick made one stand out too much. Smoking, dancing, drinking and playing cards were also taboo. It was often joked that they weren’t allowed to have sex is because it might lead to dancing.

My maternal grandmother, Elizabeth (Voth) Nickel Dyck (1910-1996), lived the life of a true pioneer. As a teen, she and her family fled the Russian Revolution with only the clothes on their backs. They started off farming in Mexico, then picked up again and travelled to northern Alberta where they settled down to farm the cold prairies. She had worked extremely hard her entire life and had seen first hand how it paid off for her family. Faith was #1. Work was #2.

Grandma's recipe for platz, a Mennonite strudel

When Grandma married my grandfather, John Nickel, and started a family, she was extremely dedicated to making the farm flourish. Work was so important for her that she questioned the value of humour. She often told her children that jokes and laughter were a waste of time. Her love of work was supported by her enormous stamina. She had to bury her infant son Melvin (my Mom’s twin) and out-lived two husbands and only slowed down in her mid-80’s just before she passed away. When Grandma first met Steve, my husband, she grabbed his face, nodded approvingly and said, ”Good for work.”

Our 4 generations: Betty (my mom), Elizabeth Voth (my great-grandmother) holding me as a baby and Elizabeth (Voth) Nickel (my grandmother)

My brother and I at the airport.

I grew up in the east in Ontario. Visits with my western relatives were few and far between. Grandma lived in Clearbrook BC and I remember one of her visits when I was a teen. Mom was making one of my favourite dishes, Chicken Cacciatore and she liked to add a bit of red wine into her recipe. (Please understand, my parents were both devoted non-drinkers. There was never alcohol in our home and I never saw my parents take even a sip of wine until I was in my 20’s.) On that particular day, mom was hunched cautiously over the stove quickly pouring the red wine into the pan of cooking chicken before Grandma found out. Too late. Grandma came around the corner and caught my mom ”red wine handed.” With her firm voice and Plautdietsch (Low German) accent, she hrmphed, “Cooking with sin, are we?”

It was the first time I ever really saw my mom become defensive. “Well Mom, the alcohol is cooked off in the pan. It adds a nice flavour. It’s fine to eat… really.”

We all happily ate the cacciatore for supper and enjoyed every morsel. As the years went by, Grandma mellowed – as we all do – and became more relaxed about many things. After she passed away in 1996, the family was very surprised to find a good stash of liquor in her nursing room cupboard. Way to go Grandma!

Recently, my daughter Daren and I spent a day with Mom where we made her chicken cacciatore and reminisced. We were joined by my Aunt Esther, her daughter Leanne and Leanne’s daughter Beth. The six of us represented the only maternal lines decended from Grandma. Betty and Esther were the daughters of Elizabeth who had a daughter, who had a daughter. We had a great time together.


Here is my mom’s chicken cacciatore recipe. We served it on homemade mennonite Kjielkje (cheel’-cha) that Grandma often made by hand and also had it with salad & garlic bread sticks. We paired (or tripled :) ) it with both a red Colle Secco and a white Pinot Grigio.


For dessert, we had a small bowl of beautiful vanilla gelato. Grandma often served her own rice pudding for dessert. She would bake it in an enamelled metal bowl. Mom and her siblings would fight over who go the Hüt (hoot), the brown, sweet milky skin on top.

* * *French Cross

Betty’s Chicken Cacciatore


14 fresh button mushrooms
2 tbsp + 2 tsp olive oil
7-8 chicken thighs
3/4 cup flour
sea salt
Herbes de provence
1 tbsp margarine or butter
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 large can (796 ml/28 oz) chopped tomatoes
1 can (398 ml/14 oz) chicken broth
1/2 cup red wine (we used a mini bottle of French Cross Dry Red Wine)
2 tbsp parsley
A sprinkle of oregano or marjoram
Freshly grated parmesan cheese
A few fresh basil leaves torn up by hand
A handful of cherry tomatoes


1. Roast the mushrooms. Place them caps down on a non-stick baking pan. Sprinkle them with 2 tbsp olive oil, pepper and sea salt and bake at 375° F for 20 minutes.

2. While the mushrooms are baking, roll the chicken thighs in a mix of flour with salt, pepper & oregano. Brown them in margarine or butter to seal in the juices.

Chicken browning crop

3. As the chicken is browning, sprinkle with Herbes de Provence. Take the meat out when browned, and stir the chopped onion in the meat drippings with 2 tsp of olive oil. Fry them for 4-5 minutes, until they are soft and clear, then stir in the chopped garlic and cook for 1 minute. The garlic gets a shorter time as you don’t want it browned.

4. Add the wine to the onions & garlic and stir making sure to stir up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Then add the can of chopped tomatoes followed by the chicken broth. Bring to a boil, reduce the temperature and cook for 10 minutes.

Onion-wine sauce

5. Return the chicken to the wine-tomato sauce adding the parsley and the oregano or marjoram and the mushrooms. A few of the basil leaves can be added at this time too. Bring the entire mix to a boil then reduce to a simmer and let cook for 20 – 25 minutes until the chicken is tender. If all goes well, it will be beautifully tender.

Simmering pot

6. After transferring the cacciatore to a serving bowl, place cherry tomatoes loosely and sprinkle the basil leaf pieces on top.

Note: This recipe can be prepared a little healthier by substituting chicken breasts for the thighs and baking the chicken instead of frying it.  Some may prefer substituting white wine (more traditionally combined with chicken) instead of the red.


We served it on Kjielkje (recipe below) sprinkled with fresh parmesan, but it works well on rice or on a bed of fresh spinach leaves.

This was one of Grandma’s cookbooks. The word for noodles is spelled “kielke” in here.


(Mennonite handmade noodles)


1 egg to 1 cup of flour
milk sprinkled in as needed

1. Make a hill of flour on a smooth working surface. Create a small bowl-like opening in the top of the hill of flour (much like a volcano) to put the egg(s) in.

2. Using a fork, stir the egg from the top centre of the pile, pulling the flour into the egg slowly for it to blend. Continue stirring  the flour into the egg and srpinkle milk as needed until it is all mixed together and feels like a thick dough.

3. Roll the pasta dough out until  it is about 1/3 inch thick. Add flour to keep it from sticking to the surface.

Flour & egg hill

4. Cut the pasta into strips and boil until tender. It will be a thick, rough type of pasta with a soft texture and it will taste dee-lish! A less healthy option is to fry the noodles up after boiling them. Yum!

* * *

The night before we cooked the cacciatore, Mom and I were going through her kitchen looking for ingredients when I found a bottle of brandy and some exquisite Belgium chocolates. That evening as we sat around her kitchen table, we savoured the chocolate, rolling the brandy over our chocolatey pallets. So nice.



L to R: Esther, Carla, Betty, Daren, Leanne & Beth

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