The Mediterranean Diet. . . and a recipe too!

Did you know that with the New Year 2.6 million people started a diet? And did you know that 92% of those 2.6 million are already off the wagon?

I am not kidding, I was just reading an article about it.

I know for experience that it is not easy to stick to a diet. I tried them all, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, Atkins, South Beach and so on.

What throws me off is the idea of dieting itself; the idea that you have to constantly think about the food you can or cannot eat, the measuring, the fat, the sugars, the carbs. . . wow that is a job  in itself!

I finally told myself, I am Italian, from Southern Italy, my mom used to cook delicious food everyday and still, she looked great and definitely she was never on a diet, so what’s the secret?

The secret is that healthy eating was a way of life, it was the way my mom grew up, it was part of her culture.

The secret was what, in the late 1950, the American professor Ancel Keys  defined as the Mediterranean Diet (Dieta Mediterranea).

Professor Keys was with the Allied troops in Greece and then in Southern Italy where he noticed the absence of obesity and that the rate of  heart attack was  very low.

He also noticed that the diet of these areas was completely different from the American diet.

From these observations, professor Keys, later developed a full study around the Mediterranean Diet.

The history of the Mediterranean cuisine is complex and connected to the people who lived on the coasts of this sea.

The model of The Mediterranean Diet has its roots in the Ancient Greek which deeply influenced the Etruscan and Roman cultures.

These cultures, in fact, cherished all products from agriculture, in particular wheat, olives and vines. The cuisine was distinguished by the use of vegetables, fish, fruit and dessert. These were then integrated by cheese and small quantity of meats.

The meals were consumed three times a day : colazione (breakfast), pranzo (lunch) and cena (supper). This is how they are still consumed in Italy

This diet soon clashed with that of the Barbarians which invaded Italy in the High Middle Age (around 560). The Barbarian populations were mostly nomads, their diet was primarily based on gaming, fishing and wild berries. They also bred pigs and used their meat, but also their fat. The cereals were primarily used for the production of beer rather than bread.

This dietary style spread partially in the original Greek-Roman style.

The regions in the North of Italy quickly adopted the new diet of the barbarians, while the populations of Central-Southern Italy were disinclined to these changes and remained faithful to their cuisine, maintaining their identity and originality.

On November 16, 2010 the Mediterranean Diet has been recognized by the UNESCO as a virtuous model of health and intangible cultural World Heritage.

The term “diet” (dieta) refers to the Greek etymon “diaita” or way of life (stile di vita). The recognition from the UNESCO is precisely the recognition of a set of practices, expressions, knowledge and skills, that have allowed the populations around the  Mediterranean Sea to create, over the course of centuries, a synthesis between the cultural environment, the social organization and, the art of eating.

Image from "The Oldways"

The Mediterranean Diet emphasizes:

Eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts

Using healthy fats such as olive oil

Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods

Limiting the intake of red meat

Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week

The late addition of getting plenty of physical exercise and drinking red wine in moderation, makes of this ancient diet a true model of healthy and modern lifestyle.

We can all try to stick to these simple guidelines and still eat flavorful foods – Italian of course!

One of the secrets is to keep your recipe simple. My mom never used more than 5 ingredients in her recipes!  Also use  local, seasonal ingredients, watch for your portions, and take the time to really enjoy every bite of your meal. Every meal in Italy is a ritual, you sit at the tables with your family and you share the food but also the worries and the happy moments of your day.

Let’s give it a try! To get you started I will share the recipe of the Minestrone.

The Minestrone well represents the style of the Mediterranean diet. It is in fact a complete meal with its combination of fresh vegetables and greens, the use of beans, which provide the necessary protein, and small quantity of carbohydrates. You can opt to use small pasta (like ditalini) or rice. You can also use barley or farro.

Ricetta del Minestrone

Ingredients for 6

4 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil

1/2 onion finely sliced

1 carrot diced

1 celery stalk diced

1 large potato peeled and diced

1/2 lb. Swiss chard chopped

1/4 of Savoy cabbage chopped (original recipe uses lettuce)

2 ripe plum tomatoes seeded and chopped

4 oz. string beans (cut into thirds)

6 leaves of basil chopped

2 cups of canned  cannellini beans

salt and black pepper to taste

6 cups of water

Rinds of Parmigiano-Reggiano (optional – I always add it when I use rice)

1/2 lb of short pasta or 2 fistful of rice/person

Directions:

In a large pot heat 4 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and sautè the onion, and  basil. Let the onion softened and take a little color then add all the vegetables except for the tomatoes and the beans.

Add salt and pepper, stir, cover and let cook on low heat for 10 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and the water, stir, cover and let simmer for 2 hours.

The next two steps are optional, they are my personal preference.

After one hour add the rinds of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and continue cooking for 45 additional minutes. The cheese rinds melt and make the minestrone more flavorful.

In the bowl of a food processor add half of the cannellini beans and 3-4 cups of the vegetables from the pot. Run the food processor until you obtain a creamy mixture. Add the mixture back into the pot, taste for salt and pepper and add as needed.

Cover and let simmer for additional 15 minutes.

After a total of 2 hours, add the pasta (or rice) and the remaining beans. Cook until the pasta is ready. (If you opt to use rice, let cook without stirring – not even once! – for 15-20 minutes. Do not overcook!)

Serve warm with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with Parmigiano cheese.

Perfetto!

NOTES:

I particularly like to use rice whose starch, along with the creamed vegetables, gives the minestrone a slightly creamy texture.

Barley and/or farro require a longer cooking time. If you opt to use one of these two grains,  you can add them to the vegetable mixture along with the  creamed vegetables, and then cook for 1 additional hour.

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La ricetta della Calamarata . . . Calamarata recipe

I am back after a few days of break. I am sure you all had a delightful Holiday weekend just like mine.

My fall (off the only ONE step outside my front door!) on Friday evening, the failure of the garbage disposal and dishwasher on Saturday and the delay of the gift my husband had bought me, which by the way was worth the wait, could not ruin our plan for a wonderful Holiday!

I have spent many hours in my kitchen, the house smelled great, the food was delicious. My husband and I and our two wonderful sons – oh . . . I shouldn’t forget our two lovely dogs – spent a joyous Christmas Eve at the dinner table. The various courses were intercalated by the unwrapping of our gifts and, let me tell you, Babbo Natale (Father Christmas) has been once again generous, thoughtful and tasteful with everyone.

Even Vera and Luna were happy with their new bed, toys and giant cookies!

Vera

Luna

After dinner we played board games and just had a good time.

The rest of the weekend was enlightened by more great food and the company of some dear friends, which is always special during the Holidays.

Before I move on to the the Notte di San Silvestro (St. Sylvester’s night – New Years Eve), it is time to keep my promise, so here there are some pics from the Cenone della Vigilia and the recipe of My Calamarata ai frutti di mare (Sea food Calamarata).

 

Calamarata is a type of pasta typical of the region of Campania. It is a wide tubular pasta that takes its name form the calamari (squids) to which once cut into rings, is very similar in shape. The pasta that I used is from Gragnano (a small town in the Neapolitan area, which is considered the kingdom of pasta making. I will tell you about it in another blog), it is made exclusively with durum wheat semolina and it is extruded through bronze dies. This makes the surface slightly rough, making it more suitable to hold sauces and condiments.

Calamarata Pasta

Because of its resemblance to the rings of squid, the typical recipe requires only the use of calamari (squid) so that the pasta and the squids become indistinguishable. In my recipe however, I use different mollusks, and crustaceans.

MY CALAMARATA AI FRUTTI DI MARE

Ingredients for 6

1 pound Calamarata Pasta ( you can substitute with Paccheri)

1/2 pound cherry tomatoes

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 pound calamari (squid)

3/4 pound large gamberi (shrimp)

2 pound cozze (mussels)

2 pound vongole (clams)

1 steamed lobster tail (optional)

2 garlic cloves crushed and peeled

salt to taste

crushed red pepper to taste

freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 cup hand chopped parsley 

Directions:

In a large pot bring salted water to boil.

Keep in mind that if you use good quality pasta it might take up to 20-25 minutes to cook. This means you can prepare your sauce while the pasta in cooking. Also remember to cook the pasta one minute less than directed on the package.

If your seafood is not already clean start with these steps

Choose the clams and mussels discarding the cracked ones.

Brush the mussels under running water and remove the beard.

Rinse the clams several times in running water. (Tip: to remove any sand present in the clams, add a bit of flour to water and leave to soak the clams for a few minutes. Then proceed with the rinsing process).

Rinse the squids several times, then skin, eviscerate and wash them inside and out and cut into rings slightly larger than the size of the pasta.

Shell the shrimps, devein, rinse and pat dry (if you buy shrimps with head on, remove the heads and keep 6 on the side).

Shell the lobster tail and cut into 1 inch pieces

Now all your seafood is ready.

Put the clams and the mussels in two separate pots over high heat. Let the clams and mussels open, to facilitate the process cover the pots with a lid. Remove from the heat, shell the clams and mussels (keep some in the shell for decoration) and strain the juice through a sieve and set aside. Keep the clams and mussels warm (pour a little juice over the clams and mussels to prevent drying out).

In a pan large enough to hold the seafood and the pasta, heat the oil, add the crushed garlic, the crushed red pepper and a little salt. Fry until the garlic is slightly gold. You can remove the garlic now.

Add the cherry tomatoes and the squids and cook for 10 minutes. After the first 5 minutes, to keep the sauce moist, add a little of the juice that you had reserved.

After 10 minutes add the lobster tail and the shrimp and cook 3 minutes. Keep adding juice as necessary.

Meanwhile your pasta has been cooking in salted boiling water.

It is time now to add the mussels, clams, hand chopped parsley and a little more juice. Stir together and cook 2 minutes.

At this point your pasta should be al dente, drain well and add it to the pan.

Lastly add the unshelled clams and mussels, more juice and freshly ground black pepper and  fate saltare ( make the pasta jump – slightly fry) the pasta for a minute shaking the pan. When all the condiment has completely coated the pasta, remove from heat and sprinkle with fresh hand chopped parsley.

Buon Appetito!

I would love to hear about your Holiday weekend and your plans for New Year ‘s Eve, what’s your tradition?