Formaggio                                                

Is Cheese Healthy?
Because of its relatively high fat content, cheese has gotten the bad reputation as an unhealthy food. But it actually can be quite healthy, especially , if eaten in moderation. The trick is to know which kinds of cheeses are best and how to use them.  
Try freshly grated Parmesan or Romano on your finished dishes, and you can add a tremendous amount of flavor without a lot of fat or calories. A little sprinkle makes just about everything taste better!

One ounce of cheese has 27 percent of the recommended daily value of calcium, 26 percent of phosphorus and 2 percent of magnesium. Calcium and phosphorus combine to form the mineral part of bones. Magnesium is an essential part of protein that supports calcium and phosphorus. Throughout your life, old or damaged bone is dissolved and then replaced with new bone. If you don’t consume enough of these minerals to support that continuous rebuilding process, then you’ll begin to lose bone density and develop osteoporosis.

Cheese is loaded with calcium. You need calcium to maintain strong and healthy bones. What you might not know, however, is that cheese also contains Vitamin D, which is essential for maintaining bones and cartilage and it allows the calcium to be absorbed by your body.  Calcium and Vitamin D, once again, bolster the strength of your teeth and help prevent cavities and the wearing down of tooth enamel.  It can be seen as a good dietary way to prevent osteoporosis since it builds up bone density and maintains the strength of your body.

The government’s current dietary guidelines for dairy intake is 2-3 servings of fat-free or low-fat dairy per day. For cheese, a serving equivalent takes the form of 1.5 ounces of hard cheese, 1/3 cup shredded cheese, or ½ cup of soft cheese.

The Cheeses of Italy

In Italian American cuisine, cheese is often added to everything, not so in Italy. There are certain foods that call for cheese, others that do not.  The no cheese with fish custom has nothing to do with snobbery. Most Italians feel that cheese would overwhelm the delicate taste of fish.
Although most Americans think of mozzarella and Parmesan as typical Italian cheeses, Italy produces many varieties with each individual Italian region quite proud of their own. Many Italian varieties are not available in America, but the cheeses listed are some of the more common cheeses you can find in the United States.

Soft Cheeses

Mozzarella is a generic term for the several kinds of fresh Italian varieties that are made by spinning and then cutting: the Italian verb mozzare actually means to cut. Mozzarella was first made in Italy near Naples from the milk of water buffalos.
Today, two types of mozzarella are produced in the USA. Low-moisture mozzarella produced primarily for pizza, and fresh high-moisture mozzarella which is quite soft and can be eaten as appetizers or in salads. With the increasing popularity of Italian food, fresh high-moisture mozzarella is now readily available in USA supermarkets. Most fresh mozzarella is now made from cow’s milk, although it can be made from a combination of milks including goat’s milk and a small amount of buffalo-milk. It is also possible to get buffalo milk mozzarella imported from Italy.

Gorgonzola is a creamy, firm bleu variety originating from Lombardy, Italy. It can range from mild to sharp and is often used in dips, salads or paired with beef.

Mascarpone is an Italian cream cheese, milky-white in color, spreads easily and often is used instead of butter to thicken and enrich risotto. It is also a main ingredient of tiramisu and lasagna. Mascarpone is used in various dishes of Lombardy, Italy, where it is a specialty.                                  

Ricotta - The name “ricotta” means “cooked again” (“re-cooked”) in Italian, referring to the second processing of the liquid done to produce the cheese. A traditional creamy cheese made from the whey of cow or sheep’s milk and is very similar to cottage cheese, though considerably lighter and with more flavor. Its excellent in lasagna and desserts.

Semi-Hard Cheeses

Provolone is an Italian cheese that originated in southern Italy. It is basically mozzarella that has been aged and sometimes smoked. It is drier than fresh mozzarella and is therefore excellent on sandwiches.

Bel Paese is a mild, white creamy cheese made from cow’s milk. Originally produced in Melzo, a small town near Milan in the Lombardy region, it is now made in both Italy and the United States. It has a mild, buttery flavor and served with fruity wines. It is excellent as a snack or dessert cheese and melts easily for use on pizzas or in casseroles. It can be used as a substitute for mozzarella cheese.

Fontina Val d’Aosta is one of the oldest cheeses in Italy. Fontina cheese has been made in the Aosta Valley since the 12th century. Made from cow’s milk, Fontina melts well and is often used as a dessert cheese and in fondue. It is excellent on pizza as well.

Hard Cheeses

Parmigiano-Reggiano is a grana, or a hard, granular Italian cheese, cooked but not pressed, named after the producing areas of Parma and Reggio Emilia, in Emilia-Romagna, Italy.

Grana Padano is one of the most popular cheeses of Italy. The name comes from the noun grana (‘grain’), which refers to the distinctively grainy texture of the cheese, and the adjective Padano, which refers to the river Po. Grana Padano is a semi-fat, hard cheese which is cooked and ripened slowly (for up to 18 months). Today it is made in the regions of Piedmont, Lombardy and Veneto, and in the province of Trento.

Pecorino is the name of a family of hard Italian cheese made from sheep’s milk. The word pecora, from which the name derives, means sheep. Most are aged and sharp. Of the four main varieties of mature pecorino, all of which have Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status under European Union law, Pecorino Romano is probably the best known outside Italy, especially, in the United States which has been an important export market for the cheese since the nineteenth century.
Pecorino Romano is most often used on pasta dishes, like the better-known Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan). It also needs to be bought whole and grated fresh to enjoy its wonderful flavor. Its distinctive, strong, very salty flavor goes well with pasta dishes with highly-flavored sauces.

Asiago is a hard cheese from the Veneto region and develops a strong flavor as it ages. It is grated and perfect for sauces or for slicing over salads.

Recipes That Use Cheese in a Healthy Way

Spinach Stuffed Lasagna Rolls

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 8 uncooked lasagna noodles
  • Nonstick olive oil cooking spray
  • 2 pkgs. 10 oz. frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
  • 1/2 cup skim ricotta cheese
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ¼ cup egg substitute
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 cups prepared marinara sauce, (see post for recipe, http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/04/19/hello-world/)
  • 1/2 cup shredded skim mozzarella

Filling:
Combine spinach, ricotta, parmesan cheese, egg substitute and salt and pepper. Refrigerate while cooking the pasta.

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Spray  a 9”x13” baking dish with cooking spray.  Spread 1 cup marinara sauce on the bottom of the dish.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add noodles and cook until al dente, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain well and gently transfer to a clean dish towel.

Working with one noodle at a time, spread with about Spread a heaping 1/3 cupful over each noodle.. If you have any filling leftover, divide it evenly among the rolls.
Starting at one end, roll up the lasagna noodle tightly; then arrange in pan either seam-side down or with the rolls close enough together to hold each other closed.
Pour remaining marinara over assembled rolls then sprinkle with mozzarella and bake until golden and bubbly, 20 to 25 minutes.

Grilled Eggplant with Ricotta and Tomato-Basil Relish

4 servings

For the grilled tomato-basil relish:

8 ripe plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small red onion, diced fine
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil plus fresh leaves, for garnish

Heat your grill to high.
Place the tomatoes in a bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons of the oil and season with salt and pepper. Place tomatoes on the grill and cook until charred on all sides, and just cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove from the grill and coarsely chop.

DO NOT TURN OFF THE GRILL.

Put the chopped tomatoes in a bowl, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil, onion, vinegar and basil and gently mix until combined. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving. Can be made 4 hours in advance and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before serving.

For the eggplant:

  • 8 slices (1 large eggplant, ends trimmed, peeled and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch thick slices)
  • olive oil for brushing on eggplant slices
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 15 ounces skim milk ricotta
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Lightly brush eggplant slices on both sides with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the slices on the grill and cook until golden brown and slightly charred, 4 to 5 minutes. Turn them over and continue grilling until just cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes.

Stir together the ricotta and parsley in a medium bowl and season with salt and pepper.

Place the grilled eggplant on a large platter and top each slice with a heaping tablespoon of the ricotta and a heaping tablespoon of the tomato relish.

Beef Tenderloin Steaks with Asiago Cheese

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 4  beef tenderloin steaks, cut 3/4 inch thick (about 5-6 oz.each)(organic, grass-fed beef is healthier)
  • 1  teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1  tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4  cup lower sodium beef broth
  • 1- 8-ounce package sliced button mushrooms
  • 1  ounce Asiago cheese, shaved
  • 4 cups arugula dressed with Orange Balsamic Vinaigrette, to taste

Directions

  • Trim fat from steaks. Rub both sides of steaks with pepper.
  • In a large skillet heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms; cook, uncovered for 5 minutes. Remove to a bowl and keep warm.
  • Add steaks to skillet; reduce heat to medium. Cook to desired doneness, turning once halfway through the cooking time. Allow 7 minutes for medium rare (145 F) to 9 minutes for medium (160 F). Transfer steaks to a plate and keep warm.
  • Add beef broth to skillet. Cook and stir until bubbly to loosen any browned bits in bottom of skillet. Return mushrooms to the skillet and heat.
  • Place 1 cup of arugula dressed with the Orange Balsamic dressing to taste on each of four dinner plates.
  • Place a steak on top and spoon mushroom sauce over steaks. Sprinkle with shaved cheese.

Orange Balsamic Vinaigrette

  • 1 medium garlic clove
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1/4 cup white or red balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard


Peel garlic clove and smash with the side of a chef’s knife. Using a fork, mash the garlic with salt in a small bowl to form a coarse paste. Whisk in oil. Add juice, vinegar and mustard; whisk until well blended.
Cover and refrigerate for up to 5 days. The oil will solidify, so bring to room temperature and whisk before using.