Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

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What is Swiss Chard?

It isn’t Swiss, for starters. It’s not clear where it’s from originally, most likely somewhere in the Mediterranean. Chard has gone by so many names over the centuries. A kind of beet green is what chard actually is. The Swiss chard we find in our markets, with its long white stems, is prized by Mediterranean cooks for flavoring soups and rice dishes. Swiss chard is grown abundantly in the districts around the Rhône valley because it can withstand cold weather, and is harvested up until the frost.

Although Swiss chard was known by the ancient Greeks, it is not always recognized in historical literature because of the enormous variety of names, in various languages by which it is and has been called and because of its relation to the beet family. In English it is also known under these names: chard, white beet, strawberry spinach, sea-kale beet, leaf beet, Sicilian beet, spinach beet, Chilean beet, Roman kale, and silverbeet. Originally, chard was a corruption of the French word for cardoon, carde, and the Swiss cardoon, a misnomer that William Woys Weaver, author of Heirloom Vegetable Gardening, likens to another famous misnomer, “Jerusalem artichoke.”

This vibrant, rainbow-hued vegetable is the top leafy green source of iron and manganese, both of which play a key role in balance control — which becomes increasingly important as we age. Manganese is particularly adept at subbing for other minerals in a pinch, but when manganese stores are ransacked, other manganese dependent functions (like healing and balance) may suffer. Harvard scientists examined the effects of this interplay in a basic study that matched mineral intake against balance and coordination. They found that iron deficiency caused a 77% increase of manganese loss in several motor-control brain regions of rats. This compensation depleted manganese stores, causing a 26% decline in balance ability. When additional manganese was added to the diet, balance improved by 33%. One cooked cup provides 22% iron and 29% manganese and 15% of daily fiber — for a mere 35 calories.

Garlicky Sauteed Greens

This is a basic recipe for cooking  greens and it is an excellent side dish for any entree.

8 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 6 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 16 cups (packed) stemmed and roughly chopped swiss chard (about 5 large bunches)
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions:

Heat garlic and oil in large skillet over medium-low heat until garlic begins to turn golden, about 3 minutes. Transfer mixture to small bowl and set aside.

Add greens, red pepper flakes, and salt to skillet. Using tongs, turn greens until wilted enough to fit in pan. Raise to medium, cover, and cook 7 to 10 minutes, tossing a few times during the cooking process. Transfer greens to a colander to drain. Return to pan and toss with reserved garlic and oil mixture.

Meatballs in Swiss Chard-Tomato Sauce

Ground turkey will work just as well as beef and pork in the meatballs.                                           

Makes 6 servings

For the meatballs:

  • 1 cup (2 ounces) fresh breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons skim milk
  • 3/4 pound lean ground pork
  • 3/4 pound lean ground beef
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon dry white wine
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten

For the sauce:

  • 2 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound Swiss chard, rinsed but not dried, stems chopped, leaves shredded crosswise
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 3 cups homemade marinara sauce

Directions:

To make the meatballs, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs and milk and let stand 5 minutes. In a large bowl, combine the pork and veal, soaked bread crumbs, cheese, garlic, parsley, wine, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste. Add the egg and mix thoroughly. Form into 18 medium or 24 small meatballs and arrange them on an ungreased rimmed baking sheet. Bake, turning the meatballs once, until browned on both sides, about 30 minutes.

To make the sauce, in a large frying pan over medium-low heat, warm the garlic in the olive oil, stirring often, until it begins to release its fragrance, about 3 minutes. Stir in the chard stems, raise the heat to medium, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the leaves and any water still clinging to them, cover, and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon and the red pepper flakes and cook, uncovered, until the chard is tender, about 15 minutes.

Stir in the raisins and 1/2 cup water. Cover and cook until the raisins are softened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the meatballs, cover, and simmer gently so the meatballs will absorb some of the sauce, about 10 minutes. Taste and add additional salt if you like.

Scoop the meatballs into a serving bowl or individual bowls, top with the sauce, and serve.

Swiss Chard and Ricotta Tortelli                                                                                                                                 

Tortelli are a stuffed pasta cut into square shapes.

4 to 6 servings

Filling:

  • 2 pounds Swiss chard (1 1/2 to 2 bunches)
  • 8 ounces skim ricotta cheese (about 1 cup)
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for pasta cooking water
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Pasta

  • 2 1/4 cups “00” Italian flour or all purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs

Sauce

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

For Filling:

Bring a large saucepan of generously salted water to a boil.

Cut leaves from stems and center ribs of chard; rinse leaves (reserve stems and ribs for soup or for another use). Add chard to boiling water; simmer until tender, about 4 minutes. Drain in a colander; cool. Using your hands or a kitchen towel, squeeze out all excess liquid from greens, then finely chop (you should have about 1 cup greens).

In a bowl, stir together chard, ricotta, Parmigiano-Reggiano, garlic, salt and pepper. (Filling keeps in an airtight container and refrigerated, for up to 1 day.)

For Pasta: 

Put flour and eggs in the work bowl of the processor and process until the dough forms a ball.. Begin using dough immediately, or cover completely with a clean dishtowel and let rest for a few minutes.

Divide pasta dough into four pieces. Cover 3 pieces with a clean dishtowel. Flatten dough so that it will fit through the rollers of a hand-cranked pasta machine. Set rollers of pasta machine at the widest setting, then feed pasta through rollers 3 or 4 times, folding and turning pasta until it is smooth and the width of the machine. Roll pasta through machine, decreasing the setting one notch at a time (do not fold or turn pasta), until pasta sheet is 1/8-inch-thick.

Lay pasta sheet on a lightly floured work surface with the long side facing you. Starting from the left end of the dough, about 2 inches from short edge, put 1 level tablespoon filling on to dough. Continue putting tablespoons of filling onto dough, each about 1 1/4 inches apart, until you reach end of pasta sheet. Fold dough over filling, lengthwise, then, using your fingers, gently but firmly press spaces around each mound to eliminate any air pockets. Using a pasta cutter, cut between mounds to form tortelli, then trim the unfolded edges.

Transfer tortelli to a cornmeal or semolina flour coated baking sheet and cover with a clean dishtowel. Repeat with remaining dough and filling to create 40 tortelli. (Tortelli can be boiled immediately, or kept, each layer separated by and covered with a clean dishtowel, in refrigerator for up to 2 hours).

Heat oven to 200º F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, melt butter over low heat; keep warm over very low heat.

When water comes to a boil, add 2 tablespoons salt. Add about 1/3 of the tortelli to the boiling water. Allow water to return to an active simmer (not a full boil), and cook until edges are tender, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer tortelli to a large serving bowl, or to individual bowls. Drizzle with 1/3 of the butter and cheese and put into oven to keep warm.

 Repeat with remaining tortelli, butter and cheese. Once all tortelli are cooked, drizzle with 1 tablespoon pasta cooking liquid to moisten. Serve immediately.

Sirloin Steaks with Garlicky Swiss Chard

Ingredients:sirloin steaks with garlicky swiss chard recipe

  • 2 lb. sirloin steak, 1 inch thick
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons dried rosemary, coarsely chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 cup dry red wine, such as merlot
  • 4 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon. Dijon mustard
  • 2 large bunches Swiss chard (about 1-1/2 lb. total), stems very thinly sliced and leaves roughly chopped
  • 2 oz. Pecorino Romano, thinly shaved with a vegetable peeler (1 cup; optional)

Directions

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 400°F. Trim and cut the steak into 4 portions. Season the steaks all over with the rosemary, 2 teaspoons. salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large ovenproof (12-inch) skillet over medium-high heat. Arrange the steaks in the skillet in a single layer and cook, turning once, until nicely browned, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer the steaks to the oven and roast until medium rare (130°F to 135°F), 4 to 6 minutes more. Set the steaks aside to rest on a serving plate.

Meanwhile, return the skillet to medium-high heat. Carefully add the wine and cook, scraping up any browned bits with a wooden spoon, until reduced by about half, 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the garlic to the skillet and cook until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Whisk in the vinegar, sugar, mustard, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Drizzle in the remaining 1 tablespoon oil while whisking constantly.

Add the chard stems and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to soften, 5 minutes. Add the chard leaves in batches and cook, tossing, until the leaves are wilted enough to fit comfortably in the skillet, about 2 minutes. Cover the skillet and cook, tossing once or twice, until just tender, about 5 minutes.

Place the chard mixture on top of the steaks. Sprinkle with the Pecorino Romano, if using, and serve.

Serve with Roasted Fingerling Potatoes, which can roast right alongside the steak at 400 degrees F. (though they’ll need to begin roasting before the steak goes in).

Potatoes

  • 1-3/4 lb. fingerling potatoes, scrubbed and halved
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons fennel seeds, crushed in a mortar or coarsely ground in a spice grinder
  • Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 large cloves garlic, peeled and trimmed

Directions:

Use the oven temperature set in the recipe above if making the potatoes with the steak.  If not, preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a large bowl, toss the potatoes with the olive oil, rosemary, fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a few generous grinds of pepper. Arrange them cut side down in a well-spaced single layer on a rimmed baking sheet or in a shallow roasting pan, making sure to scrape out and include any herbs and oil stuck to the bowl. Roast for 20 minutes and then stir the potatoes with a spatula and scatter the garlic cloves over them.

Continue roasting, stirring every 15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender enough to pierce easily with a skewer and the skins are browned all over, crisp, and bit shriveled, about 30-40 minutes more. Serve immediately.

 

Onion Pizza With Ricotta And Chard

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/4 pounds onions, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 pound chard, stemmed, leaves washed
  • 1 pound whole wheat pizza dough, homemade or store bought
  • 3/4 cup ricotta (6 ounces)
  • 2 ounces Parmesan, grated (1/2 cup, tightly packed)
  • 1/4 cup egg substitute

Directions:

1. Thirty minutes before baking the pizza, preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy skillet. Add the onions. Cook, stirring often, until tender and just beginning to color, about 10 minutes. Add the thyme, garlic and a generous pinch of salt. Turn the heat to low, cover and cook another 10 to 15 minutes, stirring often, until the onions are golden brown and very sweet and soft. Remove from the heat.

2. While the onions are cooking, stem and wash the chard leaves, and bring a medium pot of water to a boil. When the water comes to a boil, salt generously and add the chard. Cook for two minutes, drain and squeeze out excess water. Chop the chard medium-fine.

3. Spread the dough on a pizza pan that has been oiled and dusted with cornmeal.

4. In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, egg substitute, Parmesan and chard. Spread over the pizza dough in an even layer, leaving a 1-inch border around the rim. Spread the onions over the ricotta mixture.

5. Place in the hot oven, and bake 15-20 minutes until the crust and bits of the onion are nicely browned.

Advance preparation: The cooked onions and the cooked chard will keep for three or four days in the refrigerator.

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Gorgonzola is one of the most famous Italian cheeses in the world. It is known for its blue veins and unique flavor, which is both sharp and sweet. Gorgonzola is a member of the blue cheese family of cheeses. The body of gorgonzola cheese is an ivory color. It has pronounced blue-green veins and a gray-gold or a reddish-brown, wrinkled crust. Gorgonzola comes in a circular shape.

This cheese gets its name from the small town of Gorgonzola, located near Milan and the cheese has been produced for centuries. Although, we do not know the exact date it was first produced, we know it was probably around the late Middle Ages. The cheese itself was first produced in the ninth century, although its full blue green-gray color was not fully developed until the 11th century. Gorgonzola was originally aged in caves, where the blue veins in the cheese developed from spores. At one time, Gorgonzola was called “Stracchino” cheese and was used to cure stomach conditions during the Middle Ages. It was also believed to prolong life.

Gorgonzola cheese has special PDO status, which means that it has a Protected Designation of Origin. The quality and authenticity of Gorgonzola is protected by international and Italian law with certain regulations concerning the manufacture and packaging of the cheese. In fact, a consortium was created by the Italian government in order to protect and oversee the production of Gorgonzola. Gorgonzola must be produced with milks from certain provinces in Italy, and it also must be produced in the Piedmont or Lombardy regions in Italy.

Piedmont scene

Gorgonzola, Italy

A centuries-old legend has it that a young boy working as an apprentice in a dairy was given the important job to oversee the production of the cheese. Even though this job required serious attention, the youngster worked attentively until one evening, distracted by a surprise visit from his girlfriend, he forgot to finish making the cheese. When he returned to work the next morning, the boy immediately realized his mistake and found the milk curds covered with mold. Aware of the trouble that he would be in if his master discovered his mistake, the apprentice decided to mix the ruined curds with fresh milk in an attempt to dissolve the mold. The blue-green veins did not go away, however the boy quickly realized that he had invented a creamy cheese that tasted good: without intending to, he created Gorgonzola.

In the past, Gorgonzola could take one year to produce because of the long aging process. Today, the cheese is exposed to more oxygen, which shortens the process to three to six months. The cheese can be of a young or an old variety. Gorgonzola that has not been aged long is called Dolce and is creamier and milder than the aged version. It is good for sauces and spreads. Piccante and  Naturale Gorgonzola are the aged varieties. They are sharper and more crumbly which make them good additions to the tops of prepared dishes or for eating by themselves. In fact, Gorgonzola is most frequently served as a dessert cheese at the end of a meal.

Gorgonzola cheese is an uncooked cheese made from whole cow’s and/or goat’s milk. The milk is added to Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus bacteria along with spores of the mold Penicillium glaucum or Penicillium roqueforti. After the whey is removed from the mixture, it is aged at low temperatures. As it ages, metal rods are inserted to create air channels which allow the cheese greater exposure to oxygen. The increased oxygen causes the mold spores to germinate much more quickly and create the blue-green veins. Gorgonzola is usually aged for three to four months, after which it is wrapped in foil.

Gorgonzola can be used in several ways. It is often served alongside fruit such as pears, grapes and figs and paired with wine at the end of a meal. When used in dishes, it can be served cold (on a salad, for instance) or hot. Gorgonzola sauces can be created for topping vegetables and short pastas such as ziti, and it is sometimes heated and served atop baked oysters. Gorgonzola can also be melted into a risotto or served with Polenta. Gorgonzola is highly perishable so it must be refrigerated. It should be well wrapped in either aluminum foil or plastic wrap. It can be kept this way for a maximum of about 45 days. Gorgonzola cheese is a living food, so it will continue to mature as it is stored. It will develop a stronger flavor and become softer. If, however, the body of the cheese develops a pink or a brown tone, it is too ripe and should be discarded.

Many dishes prepared with Gorgonzola cheese are very fattening because they usually include heavy cream. The smart way to use this cheese is with moderation and low fat ingredients.  Since it is a strong flavored cheese a little goes a long way.  The recipes for the first and second courses below are less than 350 calories per serving and the appetizer and dessert courses are less than 200 calories per serving.

Some Typical Ways Italians Serve Gorgonzola Cheese – Made Healthy

Antipasto Course

Arugula and Pear Salad with Pomegranate

4 Servings                                                                                                                                                              

Ingredients:

  •  1/2 cup balsamic vinegar syrup
  • 4 oz. arugula, washed well and dried
  • 3 Seckel pears, peeled and sliced
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked
  • black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 2 tablespoons toasted walnut pieces
  • 4 tablespoons Gorgonzola cheese
  • 1 pomegranate, seeded

Directions:

Make balsamic syrup by placing vinegar in a small saucepan and cooking over low heat until thickened (or until it starts bubbling). Cool. Place the arugula and pears together in a mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Dress with olive oil and lemon juice. Divide salad onto four cold plates and garnish with walnuts, cheese (1 tablespoon per plate) and pomegranate seeds. Drizzle a spoonful of balsamic syrup over each salad.

First Course 

Pasta with Swiss Chard and Gorgonzola

You can use 12 cups of spinach instead of Swiss Chard. Do not add the spinach to the boiling water with the pasta until the last 2 minutes of pasta cooking time.

4 Servings      

Ingredients:

  • 12 cups Swiss chard leaves, cut into 1 inch strips, stems reserves for another use
  • 6 ounces dried angel hair pasta
  • 2 teaspoons salt free garlic & herb seasoning
  • 4 ounces low fat/skim ricotta cheese
  • 2 ounces Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons chopped sun dried tomatoes
  • 1½ tablespoons finely chopped sage
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnut halves, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup fat free milk warmed slightly

Directions:

1. Bring 2 quarts water to a boil over high heat in a large pot. Add in the Swiss chard and pasta, lower heat to medium high and cook until pasta is tender, about 3-4 minutes; drain.

2. In a large bowl add all of the remaining ingredients except for the milk, add in the cooked pasta and Swiss chard, stir until cheese is melted and all ingredients are well combined.

3. Slowly stir in milk.

Second Course

Gorgonzola & Prune Stuffed Chicken

Serve over quick-cooking barley with broccoli or artichoke hearts on the side.

4 servings

Ingredients:

Gorgonzola & Prune Stuffed Chicken Recipe

  • 1/2 cup chopped prunes, divided
  • 1/3 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
  • 1/4 cup plain dry breadcrumbs
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme, divided
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, (1-1 1/4 pounds)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 4 teaspoons all-purpose flour

Directions:

Combine 1/4 cup prunes, Gorgonzola, bread crumbs and 1/2 teaspoon thyme in a small bowl. Cut a horizontal slit along the thin edge of each chicken breast, nearly through to the opposite side. Stuff each breast with about 2 1/2 tablespoons filling. Use a couple of toothpicks to seal the opening. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook until golden, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.

Add the remaining 1 teaspoon oil, shallot and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon thyme to the pan; cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add wine and the remaining 1/4 cup prunes. Reduce heat to medium; cook, scraping up any browned bits, until most of the wine evaporates, about 2 minutes. Whisk broth and flour in a small bowl until smooth; add to the pan and cook, stirring, until thickened, about 2 minutes.

Reduce heat to low, return the chicken and any juices to the pan and turn to coat with sauce. Cover and cook until the chicken is cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes more. Remove toothpicks, slice the chicken and top with the sauce.

 Dessert Course

Vanilla Scented Poached Pears with Gorgonzola Cheese and Toasted Pine Nuts                                                                   

Servings: 4

Ingredients:

  • 2 large ripe but firm Bosc pears
  • 2 cups sweet wine such as Riesling or Gewurztraminer
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 teaspoons whole allspice berries or 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

Directions:

Peel pears, if desired and cut lengthwise in half. (If you like, leave the stems attached to two of the halves for an attractive  appearance.) Use a melon baller or grapefruit spoon to scoop out the seeds. Bring wine, water and allspice to a boil over high heat in a large saucepan or Dutch oven just large enough to arrange pear halves in one layer. Add pear halves. Reduce heat so as to maintain a gentle simmer. Simmer pears uncovered, turning over each 5 minutes with a large spoon until pears are almost tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, 15 to 20 minutes.

Use a slotted spoon to transfer pears to a shallow bowl; cover tightly with foil to keep warm. Turn heat to high; boil juices in a saucepan until reduced to 1/3 cup, 16 to 18 minutes. Stir in vanilla. Transfer pears to serving dishes. Drizzle syrup over pears; top with cheese and pine nuts.

Tip: It’s not necessary to peel the pears. Many of the vitamins are just beneath the skin, and leaving the skin on helps keep the pear from becoming mushy.

Gorgonzola ripening

Gorgonzola Ripening


When I was growing up, veal dishes were on our dinner table regularly and I know I did not even think about where veal came from in those days. My father would go to the butcher shop and bring home a couple of pounds of veal cutlets, proclaiming “how beautiful they were”. My mother usually breaded and fried the veal in oil; the basis for veal parmesan.  We usually just ate it as fried cutlets but occasionally with tomato sauce.  Most of the Parmesan style dishes are not found in Italy but have developed, over the years, into Italian-American cuisine.

In the first few months of my marriage, I decided to experiment with one of the veal scallopini dishes from my Ada Boni book. I made the Veal Scallopine with mushrooms and wine. My husband loved it; so I added it to my recipe box. Shortly after, we invited my in-laws for dinner and my husband wanted me to make this dish. I knew his mother liked Italian food but I wasn’t sure about his father. I asked what he liked to eat and my husband said he was “a meat and potatoes man”.  I thought, well, this will work. I always served it over pasta with 2 small cutlets per person, but I made a little extra that day and thought “just in case”.   When we sat down at the table for dinner, we passed the serving plates and my father-in law said he didn’t eat pasta. I said to my self, UH OH, as he proceeded to take several helpings of the veal and said , “it wasn’t bad.”  I was glad I made enough pasta for the rest of us.

Scallopine is an Italian dish made with thin ¼ inch slices of meat (traditionally veal) that are pounded with a mallet to approximately 1/8 of an inch. The veal used is generally taken from a muscle and is cut across the grain and trimmed of any fat. This makes veal scallopine a very low calorie cut of meat. Scaloppine is a fairly quick dish to prepare, since the thin slices of meat require very little cooking time. The classic veal scallopine is often dredged in flour with a few Italian herbs, salt and pepper, and then cooked in a skillet in oil and butter. There are a few traditional additions, such as capers and parsley and sometimes cooked mushrooms. White wine is added to the pan, once the meat is removed, to make a light sauce.

If lemon juice is added to scaloppine dishes then the dish would be called  piccata. Adding Marsala wine to scaloppine dishes is traditionally referred to as Veal Marsala. Using chicken or turkey breasts instead of veal can further reduce the fat content of veal scallopine; and if you reduce the amount of fat you cooked the meat in, you will have a healthy entree. Scallopini dishes are good quick fix dinners for busy weeknights. 

I know that veal is the traditional type of meat used in scallopini dishes in Italian cuisine but I prefer to use chicken, turkey, pork or fish in my recipes.  Animals were once confined to limit their movement; hence, the meat would be more tender and pale. In the past, Milk-fed veal came from calves up to 12 weeks old that had not been weaned from their mother’s milk, but veal of this quality is rare in today’s supermarket. Animal rights activists made the public aware of such practices in the 1980s.  For that reason, the consumption of veal was a source of controversy. In recent years, veal producers have attempted to make their system of production more humane.

Today, shoppers are more likely to find calves fed a nutritionally balanced milk or soy-based diet that is fortified with essential nutrients.  Many producers of veal are committed to animal friendly housing and humane treatment of their animals. The calves feed on a combination of milk and nutrient rich grains free of antibiotics. New facilities in America sometimes surpass strict European humanely raised standards. While the old veal was white and bland, the new veal is pink and flavorful.  Although veal is supposed to be leaner and more tender than beef, not all veal is made equally, and not all cuts carry the same level of quality.

According to the website, Organic: Love to Know, “A good way to tell if veal is humanely raised is simply by looking at it. If it’s pink, that most likely means the calf had an adequate supply of iron.” They conclude that this pink veal is sometimes called Meadow, Rose, Pastured, Free-range, and Grass-Fed.  The New York Times adds that you should look for the label “certified humane. ”These “Certified Humane” calves are now given abundant space free from harsh weather and given good, dry bedding. Furthermore, calves are kept in small groups with others of similar size and age, allowing each to receive the full care from the veterinarian or the farmer.  The pinker the meat, the older the animal was at slaughter and, therefore,  the meat may be tougher and stronger-flavored. If the meat is a reddish tone but still marked as veal, it may be a calf between 6 and 12 months and should more appropriately be called baby beef. Or, the calf may have been allowed to eat grains or grasses, which also darken the meat.  The choice is yours.

Anything you can make with veal, you can make with chicken, turkey, fish or pork. I will describe below the different preparations for the type of meat or poultry that you choose to use. To prepare the cutlets, you will need is a meat mallet with a smooth side. The flouring process is quite important.  The flour helps brown the meat, but also lends more texture to any sauce produced at the end. Without flour, the addition of canned tomatoes or fresh tomatoes is likely to result in a watery sauce. In the wine deglazing process of a traditional scallopine dish, the collection of flavorful bits that accumulate in the middle of the pan while cooking the meat, is made easier when the meat is flour coated.

Scallopini Preparation

Chicken Scallopine.

To serve four, start with four 6-ounce boneless and skinless chicken-breast halves.  Cut each breast crosswise on the bias into two equal pieces. Place the pieces between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound them with the smooth side of a meat mallet to a thickness of about ¼ inch. Proceed with the recipe.

Pork Scallopine.

To serve four, start with eight 3-ounce slices of boneless pork tenderloin completely trimmed of fat. Place the slices between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound them several times with a meat mallet to a thickness of about ¼ inch. Proceed with the recipe.

Turkey Scallopine.

To serve four, start with eight 3-ounce turkey cutlets. (Most turkey cutlets are sold pre-cut in supermarket meat cases; if not, use boneless turkey breasts and cut then into slices and come as close as you can to these weights.) Place the slices between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound them with the smooth side of a meat mallet to a thickness of about 1/ 4 inch. Proceed with the recipe.

Fish Scallopini

Fish is not pounded, so buy thin fillets (4 small white fish fillets (such as tilapia, flounder or sole), about 1 pound total).  Salt & pepper the fish.  Put them into a shallow dish and cover with milk. (Soaking in milk helps to freshen the fish). Set aside.  Lift out of milk and proceed with the recipe.

Technique

Use a small skillet that fits 2-3 cutlets at one time.  This way very little fat will be needed.  It is better to repeat the process with a second batch of cutlets. Cutlets are removed to a dish to be kept warm and the sauce is made in the pan after the cutlets are removed.  The sauce is then poured over the cutlets on the serving platter.

For each batch of 3 cutlets:

Flouring

  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Season the scallopine with salt and pepper. Dredge in flour to coat both sides lightly and tap off excess flour.

Cooking

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a small skillet.  Cook the cutlets until golden brown on the underside, about 3 minutes. Flip and cook until the second side is lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Remove to a platter and cover with foil. Repeat with remaining scallopine.

You will need the following ingredients for the sauce:

Number of Servings: 3

  • 1/2 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • If you like the taste of Marsala, you can use that instead of white wine.  You may like red wine in the sauce for pork scallopini.
  • 2 teaspoons capers, rinsed and drained
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 1 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
If you like the taste of lemon, you can add 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice. The resulting dish is called Piccata.
Double the ingredients if you are making 6 cutlets.

Completing the Sauce                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Add all the sauce ingredients to the skillet, except the parsley.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer about 30 seconds.  Pour sauce over cutlet that are on the platter and sprinkle with parsley.  I like to serve scallopini with a green vegetable.


With over 500 different types of pasta available, it is not only, one of the most popular foods in the world, but it  can be served in hundreds of different ways. The drying process is also a key to the flavor of pasta. Slow drying at low temperatures helps to preserve the nutty flavor of the durum wheat. This method of slow drying pasta is an art as well as a science, since drying times vary depending on the shape of the pasta and outdoor relative humidity levels and temperatures. This subtle difference of a slow-dried pasta can be tasted best before you add the sauce.

There is archeological evidence that noodles existed in China about 4,000 years ago. Spanish colonists brought pasta to the U.S, but it wasn’t until the large immigration by Italians in the last half of the 19th century that pasta gained popularity. By the 1920’s, pasta was a comfort food throughout America.

Pasta is a healthy food.  It is a source of complex carbohydrates, thiamin, folic acid, iron, riboflavin and niacin, and it contains only negligible amounts of fat, cholesterol, or sodium. Fettuccine Alfredo is high in calories from heavy cream, butter and Parmesan cheese.  Make pasta healthier by serving it with a tomato-based sauce that contains clams, shrimp, peppers, mushrooms, chickpeas, or other low fat foods and flavorings.

A one cup serving of cooked pasta contains about 40 grams of carbohydrates. And in the context of a balanced diet, 40 grams of carbohydrates is not over doing it. It is the same amount of carbs as in a cup of rice, for example. The problem is that, when it comes to pasta, we seem to think that a larger portion is the norm. For example, a one-cup serving of rice looks perfectly appropriate to us—actually generous, but put one cup of pasta in front of us and it doesn’t look right at all.  

If you’re trying to figure out how much to cook, a serving of dried pasta is about two ounces. For long, thin shapes, that’s a bundle the size of a dime. For smaller shapes, it’s about a half cup.  You can also mentally divide up the box. Each one pound box contains about eight servings.  Once it’s cooked, a serving of pasta equals one measuring cup, or about the size of your fist.

Italian Portion of Pasta

American Portion of Pasta

 

Different Types of Pasta

You can vary the type of pasta you serve based on your nutritional needs or what other ingredients you are going to combine with the pasta.

Alternative Grain Pastas: This category includes Kamut® (a whole grain pasta), spelt pasta (made with 100% spelt flour) and quinoa (an ancient grain pasta similar to rice).

Durum Semolina Pasta: This is the best choice for wheat-based pasta. Durum wheat is a high-gluten, exceptionally hard wheat, while “semolina” refers to the milling texture (that of fine sand). If your pasta has a rich ivory color approaching yellow, you can be sure it is made with durum semolina.

Egg Noodles: They may be delicate, but egg noodles absorb sauces more readily than regular durum noodles. These are best eaten with light sauces.

Gluten-free Pasta: The primary ingredients used as flour in gluten-free pasta are brown rice, corn, a combination of corn and quinoa, potato and soybeans.

Whole Wheat Pasta: This pasta choice offers nutrition and a rich, nutty flavor that stands up to robust sauces. Since production varies, if your first experience with whole grain pasta doesn’t meet expectations, try another brand before giving up on this healthy pasta choice. Vegetable combinations are best used with this type of pasta.

Spaghetti Fork

How To Cook Pasta

The term “al dente” in Italian  literally means “to the tooth” and can be best translated as “chewy” or pasta that is boiled just to the point of being cooked through, yet remains firm. Americans prefer their pasta to be cooked longer. This is unfortunate, because the length of time pasta is cooked can have quite substantially different effects on blood glucose and the softer the pasta, the higher the glycemic index.  (The Glycemic Index (GI) is a numerical scale used to indicate how fast and how high a particular food can raise our blood glucose (blood sugar) level.)

For 1 pound of pasta, use a pot that’s at least 8 quarts. When the water has boiled, salt it generously—about 2 tablespoons.

  1. Add the pasta; stir it right away so it doesn’t stick. Push longer pasta down into the water with tongs or a spaghetti fork to make sure it’s totally submerged. Stir occasionally to keep the pasta from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
  2. When the pasta begins to soften, try tasting it. If you bite into a piece and see a thin, starchy line inside, keep boiling.
  3. To achieve the al dente texture, cook the pasta a minute or two under the recommended cooking time.
  4. Drain the pasta in a colander. Don’t rinse, the starch that remains on the pasta will help the sauce adhere.

Save a cup of the boiling water before you drain the pasta. The starch in the water will help thicken the sauce and help it coat the pasta.

Pasta Pot with Built in Strainer

I have an oval Dutch oven that I like to use to cook spaghetti.

My family certainly likes pasta with a tomato based sauce and we always have plenty of that on hand. In order to eat less meat and less fat, I have also accumulated a number of recipes that utilize vegetables, fish, citrus flavorings and low-fat sauces. Here are some recipes that are good for you:

Penne with Artichokes

Ingredients

  • 1-9 oz package frozen artichokes, defrosted
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 oz sun-dried tomatoes, in oil, drained and sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup Progresso Italian bread crumbs
  • 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan
  • 12 ounces penne, cooked and drained ( or any short pasta of your choice)
Directions

Combine artichokes, water and lemon juice in medium saucepan and cook over medium heat until tender. Cool artichokes, then cut into thick slices. Reserve the artichoke cooking liquid.

Cook and stir 3 tablespoons garlic and 1 tablespoon oil in skillet over medium-high heat until golden. Reduce heat to low. Add artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes; simmer 1 minute. Stir in artichoke liquid, red pepper flakes, parsley, salt and pepper. Simmer 5 minutes.

Stir together the bread crumbs and grated Parmesan cheese.
Pour artichoke sauce over pasta in large bowl; toss gently to coat.
Sprinkle with bread crumbs and cheese mixture.

Pasta with Asparagus and Shrimp

Pasta with Asparagus and Shrimp in Lemon Sauce

This recipe can be adapted to whatever vegetables are in season and your protein or herbs of choice.

Servings: 6

Ingredients

  • 1 pound asparagus, cut into 2-inch lengths
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 1 lb large ( any size is fine) shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound short curly pasta, such as corkscrews, fusilli, chiocciole (small snails) or small shells
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Zest of 2 lemons, finely grated and the juice from the lemons (should be about 4 tablespoons)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • Lemon slices for garnish

Directions

  1. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, drop in the asparagus and cook until tender but firm. Remove the asparagus with a slotted spoon to a bowl and reserve.
  2. Bring the water back to a boil, drop in the pasta and cook until al dente.  Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid.
  3. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook about 1 minutes.  Add the shrimp and garlic, season with salt and pepper and cook for 1 minute. Add the asparagus and cook until the shrimp are cooked through (just pink) and the asparagus are warmed, about 2 minutes more.  Add the lemon juice and toss. Remove from heat.
  4. Return the pasta to the pot and toss it with 1/2 of the Parmesan, 1/2 of the parsley, lemon zest, remaining olive oil and reserved cooking liquid. Season with salt and a generous sprinkling of coarsely ground fresh pepper.  Pour into a serving bowl.
  5. Arrange the shrimp and asparagus on top and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese and parsley. Garnish with lemon slice.

This recipe is under 350 calories per serving.


images-q=tbn-ANd9GcTGXjRYrjl1Y-cAm6AIbCFQ8Cz7ZWNXrRKYsKElmETUJlWTm1nh

 

Suggested Dinner Menu For Entertaining

Appetizer: Marinated Roasted Red Peppers, Artichoke Hearts, Olives, Celery Sticks, Fresh Mozzarella Slices and Bread Sticks.

Entree: Italian Pot Roast; Spaghetti and Green Salad.

Dessert: Sicilian Ricotta Cheesecake.

How To Make Pot Roast:

I developed this recipe for family get-togethers and special occasions many years ago. Gradually, through the years, I worked on the ingredients until they came together the way I wanted this recipe to taste.  This dish became a family favorite and was requested for birthdays, christenings, and parties. Pot roast is an excellent choice for a company dinner because it can be made several days ahead of time.  The roast actually tastes better a day or two later and preparing the main dish ahead of time, gives the host time to prepare other menu items.

The Italian name for this dish is Stracotto, a recipe common in most regions of Northern and Central Italy. “Stracotto” means overcooked in Italian. The important part of the recipe is the slow cooking of the meat at a very low temperature to tenderize even the toughest cut of beef. The recipe starts with a soffritto of onion, carrot, celery, and pancetta, finely diced, and continues with the addition of red wine and sometimes fresh tomato or tomato paste. Pancetta, Italian bacon, can be substituted with un-smoked bacon, but most delis carry pancetta now.

In order to keep this recipe healthy, it is important to choose the right cut of beef – one that is lean and benefits from long, slow cooking.  Many pot roast recipes call for a chuck roast but this is a very fatty piece of meat. Chuck cut can be used if the fat can be removed from the sauce after the meat is chilled.  For the Italian pot roast, the sauce contains a vegetable base and removing the fat would be difficult. This sauce is served with the meat and over a side course of pasta.  As you can see in the photo below, the chuck roast contains a lot of fat.

Chuck Roast

I have found that any one of the following roasts are perfect for this recipe because they are a solid, lean  piece of meat, that does not break up or shred during the long cooking process.

Top Round Roast

 

 

Eye of the Round

Rump Roast

 

Italian Pot Roast

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 4 pound rump, eye of the round or top round beef roast
  • 1 teaspoon salt plus more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Flour for coating meat
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 ounce pancetta, diced
  • 1 large carrot, diced (about 1 cup)
  • 1 large celery stalk, diced (about 1 cup)
  • 1 medium onion, diced (1 cup)
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 cups medium-bodied Italian red wine
  • 2 cups low sodium beef broth
  • 1 28-32 ounce container Italian plum tomatoes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 lb. spaghetti

Directions

Trim most of the fat from the meat. Pat dry with paper towels. Season generously with the salt and pepper and lightly rub with all- purpose flour. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot,  but not smoking, add the roast and brown on all sides, 10-12 minutes. Transfer the meat to a platter.

Reduce the heat to medium and heat 1 tablespoon olive oil.  Add the pancetta, carrot, celery, and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, 10-12 minutes. Add the garlic, parsley, tomato paste and rosemary and stir about 1 minute.

Add the wine and stir to incorporate the vegetables.  Add the beef stock, the tomatoes, the bay leaf and the roast with any juices accumulated on the plate.  Bring to a boil. Cover the pot, reduce the heat, and simmer on very low, turning and basting the meat every half hour or so, until the meat is very tender, about 4 hours.  (You can also put the pot into a 300°F oven and turn the roast every hour.)

Boil the water for the spaghetti.

Remove the meat from the pot and place it on a cutting board, covered loosely with aluminum foil to rest for 10 minutes. Taste and adjust sauce seasoning, remove bay leaf and keep the sauce hot.

Cook the spaghetti.

Cut the meat into thick slices and place in a deep serving dish. Spoon some of the sauce over the meat and reserve the rest to add to the cooked pasta.

You can certainly serve this roast with mashed potatoes or polenta, but my family likes spaghetti with this dinner.

Sicilian Ricotta Cheesecake

Ingredients

  • Butter for the pan
  • 2 pounds ricotta cheese, drained overnight in the refrigerator
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour, plus extra for the pan
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    Sicilian Ricotta Cheesecake
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 teaspoons Amaretto liqueur or rum
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.  Set rack in the middle of the oven. Butter and flour a 9 1/2 inch springform pan, and tap out excess flour.
  2. Place the ricotta in a large mixing bowl, and stir it as smooth as possible with a rubber spatula. Stir the sugar and flour together and thoroughly mix into the ricotta. Stir in the eggs 1 at a time. Blend in the vanilla, cinnamon, orange and lemon zest, Amaretto and salt. Pour batter into the prepared pan.
  3. Bake in the center of the oven for about 1 1/2 hours to 1 3/4 hours, until a light golden color. Make sure the center is fairly firm, and the point of a sharp knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. It will sink slightly as it cools. Cover, and chill overnight in the refrigerator. Remove from pan before serving.


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