When you hear it is Mardi Gras time, you probably think of New Orleans and Rio with floats and parades and lots of carnival beads.
But did you know that Mardi Gras is also one of the great Italian holiday traditions? The ancient Romans celebrated the winter solstice with a lot of food, drink and general debauchery. When the Christian religion emerged in ancient Rome, its leaders decided to use the pagan festivals to their advantage rather than try to outlaw them. Ash Wednesday, forty days before Easter, starts a period of Lent fasting and abstinence in the Christian church. Knowing that a period of lean eating was coming, the idea of Carnival or Carnevale was born and it was combined with those ancient Roman feasts to create Mardi Gras, literally “Fat Tuesday”. Originally, Carnevale was just one day – the Tuesday immediately before Ash Wednesday. It was a day when families would cook luxurious, rich food in preparation for the forty days of the Lent.
The tradition was adopted by the French who gave it its present name and added the tradition of dressing up. By the end of the 17th Century, the Mardi Gras festival had come to America. The tradition of Mardi Gras then spread, literally, across the world.
In Italy certain foods are traditional for Carnevale. On the Amalfi Coast and throughout much of southern Italy there’s a migliaccio di polenta made with corn meal, sausages and grated cheese. Naples serves a very rich Lasagne di Carnevale. Throughout much of the Peninsula, however, Carnevale is an occasion for lots of sweet pastries – fried fritters of one kind or another that are quick to make and fun to eat. There are three broad categories made throughout Italy: Lombard’s Chiacchiere, Tuscany’s Cenci and Rome’s Frappe – all sound quite different but look and taste alike.
In America, King Cake and classic Cajun and Creole favorites like Gumbos, Jambalaya, Hurricanes, Beignets, Étouffées, Moon Pies and Fried Po Boy Sandwiches are all traditional Mardi Gras foods. The next few days we will be celebrating Mardi Gras here on the Gulf Coast with lots of parades, parties and much food. The photos above are from the parade on Friday.
Want to celebrate Mardi Gras with delicious food but without all the fat and calories, try some of the makeover recipes below.
BBQ Shrimp with Remoulade
Traditional New Orleans BBQ Shrimp are usually cooked in 1 ½ cups of butter. See original New Orleans’ recipe from Mr. B’s.
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 large celery stalk, finely diced
- 1 small bunch scallions, white and green parts separated and thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 2 teaspoons Creole seasoning
- 1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
- 1 large lemon, sliced into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
- 1 3/4 pounds extra-large shrimp, peeled and deveined
- Chopped parsley
- Remoulade Sauce, recipe below
In a large heavy skillet, melt the butter over medium high. Add celery, scallion whites and garlic and cook until translucent, about 3 minutes.
Add Creole seasoning and cook until fragrant, 1 minute.
Add Worcestershire, lemon and shrimp and cook, stirring occasionally, until the shrimp are pink and coated with sauce, about 4 minutes. Garnish with scallion greens and parsley.
Serve with Remoulade sauce on the side.
- 1/4 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup low-fat plain yogurt
- 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon capers, drained and chopped
- 1 teaspoon cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sweet relish
- 1/4 teaspoon hot sauce
Combine all the ingredients in a small serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate until serving time.
Creole-Style Black-Eyed Peas
This dish gets its smoky flavor from lean Canadian bacon and ground chipotle pepper.
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups dried black-eyed peas
- 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
- 2 cups chopped fresh plum tomatoes
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
- 1 small green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
- 6 ounces sliced Canadian bacon, chopped
- 3 teaspoons minced garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 cup chopped parsley
In a medium saucepan over high heat, add the water and black-eyed peas. Bring to a boil for 2 minutes, cover, remove from heat and let stand for 1 hour.
Drain the water and return the peas in the saucepan. Add the broth, tomatoes, onion, celery, green pepper, Canadian bacon, garlic, mustard, chipotle pepper, Cajun seasoning and bay leaf. Stir together and bring to a boil.
Cover, reduce heat and simmer slowly for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Add water, if necessary, to keep the peas covered with liquid. Add salt and pepper to taste..
Remove the bay leaf, pour into a serving bowl and garnish with parsley. Serve over cooked rice, if desired.
Blackened Catfish with Creole Mustard
Creole mustard is a spicy, hot mustard that you can usually find in the grocery stores.
- Olive oil for brushing on the fish
- 1 tablespoon Creole mustard
- 1 tablespoon softened butter
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 4 (4 to 6-ounce) catfish fillets
- 1 medium lemon, cut into 8 wedge
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Place the paprika, cayenne, salt, thyme, black pepper and sugar in a small bowl and stir to evenly combine; set aside.
Brush both sides of the fish lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with the blackening spice mixture. Press on the spices to make them adhere to the fish.
Heat a large nonstick saute pan over medium heat until very hot and add the fish to the dry, hot pan. Cook the fish for 2 minutes.
Remove the fillets from the pan and place the fish, uncooked side down, onto a baking sheet pan. Place the pan in the oven and bake for about 8 minutes or until the fish is cooked.
Mix the mustard and softened butter together. Top each cooked fish with a little mustard butter and serve with lemon.
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 4 stalks celery, cut on the diagonal into 1/4-inch pieces
- 1 large onion, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 lb boneless chicken thighs, skin removed and cut into bite-size pieces
- 2 links pre-cooked Cajun-style andouille sausage or sun-dried tomato chicken sausage (about 6 oz), halved lengthwise, cut on the diagonal into 1/2-inch slices
- 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- One 14 1/2-oz can no salt added diced tomatoes
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 cups long-grain brown rice
- Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/4 cup finely sliced green onions for garnish
In a large saucepan or Dutch Oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Add celery and cook, stirring occasionally for 2 minutes.
Add onion and red pepper and cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are almost tender, about 3 minutes.
Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 minute. Add chicken and cook until browned,
Stir in sausage, broth, 3/4 cup of water, tomatoes, bay leaves, thyme, paprika and cayenne. Stir in rice, increase heat to high and bring to a boil.
Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until the rice is tender, about 50 minutes. Add salt and black pepper to taste and garnish with green onions.
The Province of Campobasso is a province in the Molise region of Italy and is situated in eastern Italy on the Adriatic coast. It is bordered in the north by Abruzzo, in the southeast by Apulia and in the south by Campania. The terrain is varied and extends from the mountainous Apennines, down through hills, lakes and inland rivers to the Adriatic coast.
The province’s mountains offer beautiful views and the forests are a natural habitat for a wide range of wildlife, including wolves and rare birds of prey. The province is also known as the perfect location for mountain climbing and for exploring a network of caves that have been carved into the limestone. Among the province’s most renowned places is Campitello Matese, part of the Municipality of San Massimo and a leading ski resort with outstanding courses and modern lifts.
Campobasso boasts two nature reserves, the LIPU Oasis in Casacalenda and the WWF Oasis of Guardiaregia-Campochiaro. Those who love the seaside will appreciate the 24 miles of Adriatic coastline with its host of resorts.
Beans, potatoes, grapes and olives are primary crops of the region. Durum wheat is also important to the region, so pastas are both hearty and abundant. Polenta dishes are common throughout the region. Because animals have been generally raised for sale, recipes are often vegetarian or use very small amounts of meat. Most dishes are prepared simply and use few ingredients.
Appetizers include soups made with legumes grown in the area, such as lentils, pearl barley and beans, especially fava.
Caponata is the dish that best characterizes Campobasso’s cuisine. It is made with wheat (tarallo) dampened with water and vinegar and flavored with tomatoes, celery, peppers, anchovies, black olives and boiled eggs.
Crioli con le noci is another specialty, dried cod cooked with chopped nuts, as is tacozze e fagioli, homemade pasta sauce with beans and pork rind.
Campobasso is also home to delicious sausages and cured meats: capicola or seasoned pork, ciccioli pork rinds, ham, pork sausage, salami, torcinelli (roulade, essentially of the “rest of the pig”), and pork belly.
The area’s woodlands are ideal for producing a variety of mushrooms, among them porcini, field mushrooms, gallinaccio and, of course, the renowned truffle.
Cheeses include caciocavallo, burrino, mozzarella and pecorino. Among the province’s most famous wines are Biferno (white, red and rosé) and Moscato.
Bread with Broccoli Rabe
- 14 oz (400g) stale durum wheat bread
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 ¼ lbs (1000 g) rapini or broccoli rabe
- Pinch salt
- Black pepper or chili pepper
Slice the bread into ¼ inch (0.5 cm) thick slices.
Wash and clean the broccoli rabe.
Boil for 3 minutes in water to cover, add the bread and drain immediately.
Arrange the bread in layers along with the broccoli rabe. Dress with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper (or red chili flakes).
- 1 ham bone
- 1 cup bite-sized ham pieces
- 2 large onions, halved
- 1 whole large garlic, skinned and cloves smashed with the side of knife
- Fresh or dried basil or both (to taste)
- 5 large bay leaves
- 5 large carrots, sliced
- 2 whole celery stalks and 4 stalks sliced
- 3 medium potatoes, cubed
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 lb dried navy or great northern beans, soaked overnight
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- Salt & Pepper
Simmer in large soup pot approximately 1 1/2 hours: the ham bone with enough water to cover, onions, garlic, basil, bay leaves, 2 whole celery stalks, salt & pepper to taste.
Drain beans and place in a large pot covered with water by three inches. Add the baking soda. Simmer for 45 minutes, then drain and change the water. Simmer for 45 minutes. Add more water if necessary. When the beans are almost cooked add 1 teaspoon of salt, drain and set aside.
Strain the ham broth and discard the bone and vegetables. Add the broth to the cooked beans, ham pieces and all the remaining ingredients. Simmer for approximately one hour.
Season with salt and pepper.
Pork is preferred in the mountains, while the coastal areas are mainly characterized by seafood dishes.
- 10 ½ oz (300g) fresh egg pasta, Tagliolini
- 3 oz (80g) ham, julienne or peeled medium shrimp
- 1 hot chili pepper, minced
- 1 bunch parsley
- 1 ¾ oz (50g) olive oil
- Salt and black pepper
Cook the pasta al dente and reserve some of the pasta cooking water. Drain
In a skillet, heat the oil and fry the chili with the onion. Cook at moderate heat till soft, stirring often with a wooden spoon.
Add the ham or the shrimp and heat it quickly.
Add a few tablespoons of the pasta cooking water, the minced parsley and a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper.
Add the cooked pasta and mix well. Serve.
Old Style Ricotta Pie
- 12 eggs
- 2 cups white sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3 pounds ricotta cheese
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 5 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup shortening plus 1 tablespoon shortening, chilled
- 4 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon milk
For the filling:
Beat the 12 eggs, the 2 cups sugar and vanilla extract together in a large bowl. Stir in the ricotta cheese. Set aside.
For the crust:
Combine the flour, baking powder and the 1 cup sugar together. Cut in the chilled shortening with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Mix in the 4 beaten eggs and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.
Divide dough into 4 balls, wrap in plastic, and chill for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Grease two deep-dish 9 inch pie plates.
Roll out 2 of the balls to fit into the pie pans. Do not make the crust too thick, as it will expand during cooking. Do not flute the edges of the dough.
Roll out the other 2 balls of dough and cut each into 8 narrow strips for the top of the crust.
Pour the ricotta filling evenly into the two pie crusts. Top each pie with 8 narrow strips of dough. Brush the top of the pie with milk. Place foil on the edge of the crust.
Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes; remove foil. Rotate pies on the rack so they will bake evenly. Continue to bake until a knife inserted in the center of each pie comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes more.
Cool completely on wire racks. Refrigerate until serving.
One of the best things about cooking seafood is its versatility — it can be grilled, broiled, poached, baked or cooked in a skillet. Seafood is actually one of the easiest ingredients to cook with and can be one of the fastest to prepare. Fish is also healthy.
Health studies show that eating fish at least once a week, especially cold-water species high in omega-3 fatty acids, reduces the risk of heart problems. Other research suggests that regularly eating omega-3–rich fish may prevent or relieve depression, joint problems, Alzheimer’s disease and several cancers. Even seafood low in omega-3s, like scallops and crab, are rich in other key nutrients.
Fish is delicate so it needs gentle techniques to make sure that it is tasty, cooked and yet retains all the benefits. Any way you choose to cook fish, remember that its flesh cooks quickly. The best way to cook fish and not lose its health benefits is to steam, bake, poach or grill the fish. Frying fish can cause fatty fish rich in healthy omega-3 fatty acids, to lose its beneficial oils; those oils get replaced with unhealthier oil in which the fish is fried. Evidence from Harvard researchers on a study of more than 4,700 older people indicates that eating fried fish or fried fish sandwiches was associated with a higher risk of stroke. Conversely, the study also found a direct relationship between consumption of broiled or baked fish and a reduced incidence of stroke. When you bake fish, you can use herbs to accentuate the flavors. On the grill, the fire lends a smoky flavor to the flesh of the fish.
Following are some of my favorite fish recipes.
Garlicky Baked Shrimp
- Olive oil cooking spray
- 1 1/4 lbs medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3 garlic cloves, finely minced or grated
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 4 teaspoons olive oil
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Coat 4 individual gratin dishes with cooking spray or a 13 x 9 inch baking dish.
Divide shrimp among dishes; set aside.
Combine breadcrumbs and the next 4 ingredients; stir in juice and oil.
Sprinkle breadcrumb mixture over shrimp.
Place dishes on a baking sheet.
Bake for 15-18 minutes or until shrimp are done and breadcrumbs are lightly browned.
Baked Salmon with Red Wine and Honey
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 8 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 pound salmon fillet, cut into 4 pieces (skin left on)
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed with the flat side of a knife
- 1/2 cup light red wine, such as Beaujolais or Pinot Noir
- 1 tablespoon honey
- Salt and pepper (to taste)
Preheat oven to 350°F.
In the bottom of a glass or ceramic baking dish, drizzle olive oil and scatter thyme sprigs. Lay salmon on top of the thyme, skin side up. Arrange garlic cloves around salmon.
In a small bowl, whisk together red wine and honey and pour over salmon.
Bake 15-20 minutes and remove the dish from the oven. Peel off the salmon skin, if desired, and arrange fillets on a warm serving dish.
Pour dish juices into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce until syrupy, about 10 minutes. Season sauce with salt and black pepper, spoon over the salmon and serve.
- 1 cup low-fat milk
- 6 drops hot sauce
- 4 catfish fillets (about 6 ounces each) or any other thin white fish fillets
- 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1/4 teaspoon blackened spice mix, see recipe below
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Lemon wedges (for garnish
Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a shallow dish, mix milk and hot sauce. Add catfish, turn to coat well and marinate for 10 minutes.
In a pie plate, mix nuts, breadcrumbs and spices. Dip fillets into crumb mixture, pressing crumbs onto each fillet. Place fish on the prepared baking sheet.
Drizzle a 1/2 tablespoon olive oil over each fillet. Bake fish for 12-15 minutes until crispy, depending on thickness. Remove fish to a serving platter and serve with lemon wedges.
3 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon dried ground thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Spicy Rainbow Trout Fillets
- 4 (6 ounce) rainbow trout fillets (1/2-inch thick)
- 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning, recipe below
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 1 green onion, sliced thin
- Lemon wedges
Preheat the broiler. Pat fillets dry and lightly brush both sides with oil. Sprinkle both sides evenly with Cajun seasoning.
Place skin side down on an oiled broiler pan. Broil 4-6 inches from the heat for 4-5 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.
Arrange on a warmed serving platter and sprinkle with parsley and sliced green onion. Serve with lemon wedges.
Combine 1 tablespoon paprika, 2 teaspoons sea salt, 1½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, a pinch of cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon each dried oregano, chili powder and dry mustard.
Halibut Packets with Artichokes and Tomatoes
- One 6-ounce boneless, skinless halibut fillet
- 1 1/2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 lemon slices
- 6 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
- 1/3 cup water-packed artichoke hearts, drained
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley or basil
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Parchment paper
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Arrange halibut in the middle of a 12 x 12-inch piece of parchment paper. Drizzle both sides of the fish with the oil.
Top with lemon and arrange tomatoes, artichoke hearts and parsley over the top and around the sides. Season all over with salt and pepper.
Fold up parchment like a package, making sure the seam is at the top to seal the ingredients inside; tuck under the ends.
Transfer to a baking sheet and bake until the fish is just cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes.
Place package on a plate and carefully open the parchment paper to release the steam before serving.
Risotto is a hearty, warming rice dish, rich in flavor, of which any of a hundred different ingredients can be added to it. Risotto is not only versatile, but easy to make.
Rice was first introduced into Italy and Spain by the Arabs during the Middle Ages. The humidity of the Mediterranean was found to be perfect for growing shorter-grained rice. The popularity of rice grew throughout Italy and then the outside world discovered it.
It was in Milan where the rice met its future destiny. Milan had been under Spanish rule for almost two centuries where rice was a staple. The technique for making risotto probably evolved from trying to cook the rice as porridge—boiling it in milk, water or broth until soft. A fourteenth-century manuscript known as the “Libro per cuoco” by an anonymous Venetian contains the recipe, “rixo in bona manera” or rice cooked in sweet milk.
Antonio Nebbia in “Cuoco Maceratese” introduces a revolutionary method where he suggests letting the rice soak in cold water for two hours, then frying the rice in a little butter and adding cabbage broth.
A more complete preparation appears in the early 19th century, in the anonymous “Cuoco Moderno”, printed in Milan in 1809, where the recipe “Yellow Rice in a Pan” says to cook the rice in a sauté of butter, cervellata (an Italian pork sausage), marrow, onion and gradually adding hot broth in whicj saffron had been dissolved.
And finally” the” classic recipe as described by Felice Luraschi, a celebrated chef from Milan, in his “Nuovo cuoco milanese economico” manuscript of 1829, a recipe titled “Risotto alla Milanese”.
Today the dish is served extensively, almost unchanged, in the kitchens and restaurants of the world. Ingredients as varied as scallops, lobster, truffles, veal, mushrooms, squid ink, snails, asparagus, duck, sausage, pumpkin and almost anything else you can think of are paired with this classic dish.
All rice is a member of the grass family. What makes Risotto special is it’s high amount of starch. This starch is what makes Risotto “creamy” without any cream. Risotto rice is a round medium- or short- grain white rice with the ability to absorb liquids and to release starch, so they are stickier than the long grain varieties. The principal varieties used in Italy are Arborio, Baldo, Carnaroli, Maratelli, Padano, Roma and Vialone Nano. They all have slightly different properties. For example, Carnaroli is less likely than Vialone Nano to get overcooked, but the latter, being smaller, cooks faster and absorbs condiments better. Other varieties like Roma, Baldo, Ribe and Originario may be used but will not have the creaminess of the traditional dish. These varieties are considered better for soups and other non-risotto rice dishes and for making sweet rice desserts. Rice designations of Superfino, Semifino and Fino refer to the size and shape (specifically the length and the narrowness) of the grains, and not the quality.
Basic Technique for Making Risotto
Risotto recipes recommended not washing the rice prior to cooking as that will make it lose its starch which is an essential ingredient of the dish. The rice and vegetables are toasted lightly in butter. Herbs, spices and a little wine are added. The rice is cooked gradually over a low flame and broth is added to the rice and stirred until absorbed. More broth is added in several steps until the rice is tender.
Popular Italian Risottos
• Risotto alla Milanese – is cooked in beef stock and beef bone marrow with lard in Italy. Cheese and saffron are added. This dish is popularly served with osso buco (a dish consisting of braised veal shanks).
• Risotto al barolo – is made with borlotti beans and sausage meat and is cooked with red wine.
• Risotto al nero de seppia (black risotto) – is a specialty from Veneto and is made with cuttlefish.
This is probably the best tasting risotto I have ever made, with much of the credit going to the Meyer lemons from my tree. You may recall that we planted the tree last April and it has rewarded us with about 20 large lemons in its first year.
Meyer Lemon Risotto with Basil and Grilled Shrimp
- 6 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 celery rib, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 1/2 cups arborio rice (10 ounces)
- 1/2 cup white vermouth or dry white wine
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
- 1 tablespoon finely grated Meyer lemon zest
- 2 tablespoons fresh Meyer lemon juice
- 1/4 cup julienned basil leaves
- 18 large shrimp, shelled and deveined
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- A pinch of kosher salt or to taste
- 2 tablespoons julienned basil leaves
For the risotto:
Bring the stock to a boil in a medium saucepan, cover and keep hot. Melt the butter in a second large saucepan. Add the onion and celery. Season with salt and pepper and cook over low heat, stirring, until softened, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the rice and cook, stirring until glossy, about 1 minute.
Add the wine to the rice and simmer over moderate heat until almost absorbed, about 3 minutes. Add the hot stock, 1 cup at a time, and cook, stirring constantly between additions, until most of the stock has been absorbed before adding more. The rice is done when it’s tender and most of the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes total. The best way to see if the rice is cooked, is to taste it. Risotto should be creamy and thick. It’s best al dente, which means it should be fully cooked, yet still retain some firmness when you chew it. If it is mushy, it has cooked too long.
Stir in the Parmesan cheese, the lemon zest and juice, the salt and pepper and the basil. Mix well but gently.
For the grilled shrimp:
Mix the shrimp with the remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl. Refrigerate until cooking time.
Heat a stovetop grill until very hot. Place the shrimp on the grill and cook for about 3 minutes on each side.
Spoon the risotto into individual bowls, top each with grilled shrimp and serve, passing additional Parmesan at the table.
Yes, pasta is healthy!
Pasta makes the perfect delivery system for the healthy foods you should have each day. Pair pasta with a variety of nutrient-dense foods and create meals that you can feel good about. Fiber-filled vegetables and beans, heart healthy fish and monounsaturated oils, antioxidant-rich tomato sauce and protein-packed cheeses, poultry and lean meats are all nutrient dense foods.
Carbohydrates like pasta provide glucose, the crucial fuel for your brain and muscles. Pasta is an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, which provide a slow release of energy. Unlike simple sugars that offer a quick boost of energy, pasta helps sustain energy.
Pasta is very low in sodium and enriched varieties provide a good source of several essential nutrients, including iron and several B-vitamins. Whole wheat pasta can provide up to 25% of daily fiber requirements in a one cup portion. Enriched pasta is also fortified with folic acid – essential for women of child-bearing age. FDA regulations require enriched grain products to contain this important vitamin. A serving of dry pasta supplies the equivalent of roughly 100 micrograms of folic acid or 25% of the recommended daily intake.
Pasta meals are central to the Mediterranean Diet, not only because they are tasty, inexpensive and easy to prepare, but because they are the perfect way to highlight and complement many of the other healthy foods in this diet. The New England Journal of Medicine reported that the Mediterranean Diet reduces the risk of death from heart disease and cancer and it is one of the most recognizable successful diets.
So here is how to keep your pasta healthy:
Farfalle with Zucchini and Butternut Squash
This pasta dish makes a great meatless Monday dinner option.
- 1 lb farfalle (bow-ties) pasta
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 teaspoons fresh oregano, chopped
- 1 butternut squash, diced into 1 inch pieces
- 2 zucchinis, sliced into half moons
- 1/3 cup grated Pecorino cheese
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta al dente according to the package directions. Reserve one cup of the pasta water.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and oregano and sauté for 1-2 minutes.
Add the butternut squash and sauté for another 6-8 minutes, or until lightly browned and softened.
Add the zucchini and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Add 1 cup of the pasta cooking liquid to the vegetables and bring to a simmer.
Toss the drained pasta with the sauce and cheese.
Chicken Fettuccine in Parmesan Cream Sauce
- Non-stick olive oil spray
- 10 ounces skinned and boned chicken breast, cut into 1-inch long strips
- 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons butter
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups reduced fat milk
- 1 1/2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated
- 1/4 teaspoon each salt, white pepper and ground nutmeg
- 8 oz. dried fettuccine
- 2 cups broccoli florets, blanched or frozen florets, defrosted and drained on paper towels
Cook pasta al dente according to package directions. Drain.
Spray a 10-inch nonstick skillet with nonstick olive oil spray, add the 2 teaspoons of butter and heat over medium-high heat for 1 minute; add chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until cooked through, about 3 minutes. Remove chicken from the skillet; set aside and keep warm.
In the same skillet melt remaining butter over medium-high heat; add garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 1 minute. Sprinkle butter with flour and cook, stirring constantly with wire whisk, for 1 minute. Continuing to stir, slowly add the milk; cook until bubbly and thickened, about 3 minutes.
Add cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg to the milk mixture; stir until the cheese is melted. Add cooked fettuccine, broccoli and reserved chicken; reduce heat to low and toss until all ingredients are evenly coated with the sauce and heated through.
Pasta with Eggplant Olive Sauce
- 1 medium eggplant
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- One 28 – ounce can Italian-style tomatoes, cut up, undrained
- One 6 – ounce can Italian-style tomato paste
- One 4 – ounce can (drained weight) sliced mushrooms, drained
- 1/4 cup dry red wine or beef broth
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano, crushed
- 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives or pitted ripe olives, sliced
- 2 tablespoons snipped fresh parsley
- Ground black pepper
- 8 oz. penne pasta
- 1/3 cup grated or shredded Parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
Peel eggplant, if desired; cut eggplant into 1-inch cubes.
Heat oil in a large saucepan and add the eggplant, onion and garlic. Cook until the eggplant begins to brown.
Add undrained tomatoes, tomato paste, mushrooms, wine or broth, the water and oregano.
Bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer with the saucepan cover ajar and cook for about an hour or an hour and a half or until the sauce thickens.
Stir in olives and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Cook pasta al dente according to package directions. Drain.
Mix the cooked pasta into the eggplant sauce; add the Parmesan cheese and toasted pine nuts. Serve.
Herbed Shrimp Linguini
- 1 pound fresh or frozen peeled, deveined medium shrimp
- 8 ounces dried linguini or spaghetti
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons snipped fresh rosemary, plus additional for a garnish
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
Thaw shrimp, if frozen. Rinse shrimp and set aside.
Cook pasta al dente according to package directions. Add the shrimp to the pasta water the last 3 minutes of cooking.
Drain well and place in a large pasta bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of the cheese, the garlic, olive oil, snipped rosemary, salt and black pepper and toss until well coated.
Sprinkle evenly with the 2 tablespoons remaining cheese and garnish with additional rosemary leaves. Serve immediately.
Rigatoni With Roasted Cauliflower and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
- 12 oz rigatoni pasta
- ½ medium head cauliflower (about 1 pound), cut into florets
- ½ cup sliced sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil and drained
- 1 medium red onion, cut into 1/4-inch wedges
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 tablespoons sun-dried tomato oil from the jar
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 2 ounces grated Pecorino cheese (about 1/2 cup), plus more for serving
Heat oven to 450° F.
On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss the cauliflower and onion with the thyme, sun-dried tomato oil and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper.
Roast, tossing the vegetables once halfway through cooking, until golden brown and tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
Cook the pasta al dente according to the package directions. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water; drain the pasta and return it to the pot.
Add the roasted vegetables, sun-dried tomatoes, Pecorino cheese and ½ cup of the reserved pasta cooking water to the pasta.
Toss to combine (add more cooking water if the pasta seems dry). Serve sprinkled with additional Pecorino cheese.
For a great tasting dinner, without a lot of cleanup, look no further than a one-pot meal. The recipes for these comforting and healthy dishes below are complete meals that use ingredients that are in seasons. Add a salad, if you like, and some great tasting bread.
One of the best features of one-pot cooking is that the recipes often include vegetables, meat, rice, pasta, fresh herbs and spices all in one pot, making it a great way to cook a convenient and nutritious meal the whole family. One-pot meals can be steamed, sautéed, braised or baked and the “one pot” can be a saucepan, skillet, crock pot, pressure cooker or baking dish.
I find a large ovenproof skillet with a cover, the best pot to have in your kitchen. It can do the work of several pans in one.
Eggs Over Roasted Vegetables
- 3 cups small broccoli florets (about 1 inch in size)
- 12 ounces yellow potatoes, such as Yukon Gold, cut into 1/2 to 3/4 inch pieces (about 2 cups)
- 1 large sweet potato, cut into 1/2 to 3/4 inch pieces (about 1 cup)
- 1 small red onion, cut into thin wedges
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for the baking dish
- 6 eggs
- 2 ounces Italian Fontina cheese, shredded (1/2 cup)
- 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Coat a 3-quart rectangular baking dish with olive oil. Add broccoli, potatoes, onion, olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt, tossing to coat all the vegetables.
Spread the vegetable mixture evenly in the dish. Roast for 10 minutes. Stir vegetables; roast about 5 minutes more or until the vegetables are tender and starting to brown. Remove the baking dish from the oven and reduce the heat to 375 degrees F.
Make six wells in the layer of vegetables. Break an egg into each well. Bake for 5 minutes. Sprinkle evenly with the shredded cheese and bake for 10 minutes more or until the egg whites are set and the yolks start to thicken. Sprinkle with pepper. Serve with some crusty Italian bread.
Roasted Chicken With Beans
- Two 15-ounce cans rinsed and drained Great Northern beans, or other white beans
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 6 chicken thighs (about 2-1/4 pounds total), skin removed
- Coarse sea salt and coarse black pepper for the chicken
- 2 medium carrots, thinly sliced
- 1 medium onion, cut into thin wedges
- 1 stalk celery, sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- One 14 1/2 – ounce diced tomatoes, undrained
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Sprinkle the chicken with the coarse salt and pepper.
In a large ovenproof skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken; reduce heat to medium-low. Brown the chicken about 10 minutes, turning once to brown both sides. Remove chicken from the skillet to a plate and set aside.
Add carrots, onion, celery and garlic to the drippings in the skillet. Cover and cook about 10 minutes or until the vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in drained beans, undrained tomatoes, thyme, 1/4 teaspoon salt and cayenne pepper.
Bring to boiling. Arrange chicken thighs on top. Place skillet in the oven and bake, uncovered, about 25 minutes or until the chicken registers 180 degrees F on an instant read thermometer.
Spicy Braised Pot Roast And Vegetables
Coffee adds a rich, deep flavor to beef roasts.
- 3 pound beef chuck pot roast
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon instant espresso coffee powder
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large onion, cut into eighths
- 1 green bell pepper, cut into 2-inch pieces
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 cups beef broth
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red (chili) pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 2-inch pieces
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Trim fat from the meat. Rub meat with the espresso powder, salt and black pepper.
In a 6-quart Dutch oven brown roast on all sides in the olive oil over medium-high heat. Transfer to a plate.
Add onion, bell pepper and garlic to the Dutch oven. Cook and stir for 4 to 5 minutes or until the onion and garlic are tender. Return roast to the Dutch oven. Add broth, crushed red pepper and allspice. Bring to boiling.
Bake, covered, for 1 3/4 hours. Add squash. Bake, covered, for 45 minutes to 1 hour more or until the meat and vegetables are tender.
Transfer meat and vegetables to a platter; cover to keep warm. Bring liquid in the Dutch oven to boiling. Reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes until slightly thickened.
Serve sauce over meat and vegetables.
Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 lb. homemade or store-bought pizza dough
- 2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
- 1 cup frozen chopped broccoli, defrosted and dried on paper towels
- 2 roasted red peppers, cut into thin slices
- 1/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives and cut in half
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 can chopped Italian tomatoes
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
Let the dough come to room temperature about an hour before you are ready to make the pizza.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Coat a 12-inch cast iron or other heavy ovenproof skillet or baking pan with the 1 tablespoon of oil.
Stretch the dough into a 14 inch circle on a floured board or counter.
Carefully transfer the dough to the skillet and then turn the dough over, so both sides are evenly coated with oil. Gently press the edges of the dough 2 inches up the side of the skillet.
Sprinkle mozzarella evenly over the dough; top with broccoli, peppers, olives, tomatoes, garlic, basil and Pecorino cheese.
Bake pizza 45 minutes or until the dough is puffed and golden brown. Let rest for 5 minutes before cutting the pizza into slices.
Risotto With Shrimp And Peas
Technically this is not a one-pot meal because the broth needs to be heated before it can be added to risotto. At least it will be an easy pan to wash.
- 4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 medium shallots, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt, plus extra for the shrimp
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for the shrimp
- 1 cup Arborio rice
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 cup frozen green peas
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- 1 pound jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
Heat broth in a saucepan and turn the heat down to low.
Heat oil in a second saucepan over medium-high heat. Add shallots, salt and pepper; sauté 2 minutes.
Add rice and stir to coat in the oil. Cook, stirring constantly, 2 minutes.
Add wine and cook until the wine is absorbed, about 2 minutes.
Reduce heat to medium and add 1 cup warm broth. Cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid is mostly absorbed. Continue adding broth 1 cup at a time, cooking and stirring, until the rice is al dente, about 25 minutes.
Sprinkle the shrimp with salt and pepper. Add green peas and shrimp to the risotto and cook, stirring gently, until the shrimp are just until firm and bright pink.
Add butter, cream and cheese, stirring until incorporated. Serve immediately.