Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Tag Archives: lemon

As a child, I remember my father taking me with him when he went shopping on a Saturday morning, in what was, “the little Italy” neighborhood in our city. We would visit the Italian deli for cold cuts, Sorrento’s Bakery for bread, Sacco & Sons for sausage and a quick lunch trip to Spirito’s for a slice of pizza. I didn’t mind the excursion during the warm months because my father always bought me a lemon ice from one of the push cart venders. The neighborhood that I remember is no longer there, but eating lemon ice or sorbetto or gelato is timeless. The recipes for frozen ices and other Italian treats will keep you cool in the coming months, but light enough so you do not have to worry about the calories.

Gelato (Italian Ice Cream) has a very low butterfat content, which makes the flavors more intense on the tongue. In addition, less air is introduced into the mixture before it is frozen, creating a much more dense dessert that adds a surprising richness to the flavor. Gelato may be made with or without eggs, cornstarch or cream in its base and, frequently, has other ingredients such as fresh fruit or coffee added for flavor. I prefer to make gelato without raw eggs yolks, so another thickener, such as cornstarch, is needed.  There are numerous recipes around but the best recipe, I found for this version, is from Mark Bittman in The New York Times.  It is easy, healthy and offers many flavor ideas but does not sacrifice taste.

Gelato

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons cornstarch.

Ice Cream Maker

1. Put 2 cups milk, the sugar and salt in a saucepan over medium-low heat. If using a vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise and scrape seeds into liquid, then add pod. Cook until mixture begins to steam.
2. In a bowl, blend cornstarch and remaining milk; there should be no lumps. Remove bean pod from pot and discard. Add cornstarch mixture to pot. Cook, stirring, until it starts to thicken and barely reaches a boil, about 5 minutes. Immediately reduce heat to very low and stir for 5 minutes or so until thick. Stir in vanilla extract, if using.
3. If mixture has lumps, strain it into a bowl. Chill for 2 hours. When cool or if there are no lumps, pour into an ice cream machine and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Yield: 1 generous pint.

Additions:

  • Honey-Jam Variation –  Substitute honey for half the sugar. Add 1/2 cup good jam to mixture before freezing.
  • Yogurt -Substitute yogurt for half the milk.
  • Cherry-Vanilla -Add 1 cup halved, pitted cherries just before freezing.
  • Strawberry, Blueberry or Peach – Add 1 cup hulled, sliced strawberries, blueberries, or peeled and chopped peaches before freezing.
  • Coffee -Substitute 1/2 cup very strong coffee for 1/2 cup milk.
  • Coconut – Substitute 1 cup coconut milk for 1 cup milk; add 1/2 cup toasted dried coconut.
  • Mint Chocolate Chip- Add 1/2 cup minced mint and 1/2 cup chopped dark chocolate just before freezing.

Fresh Strawberries With Limoncello

Limoncello has long been a staple in the lemon-producing region of the Italian Amalfi Coast, especially in Capri and Sorrento. Authentic Limoncello is made from Sorrento lemons that are grown in that region.  Families in Italy have passed down recipes for generations, as every Italian family has their own Limoncello recipe.
When my son and daughter-in-law returned from a trip to Capri several years ago, they brought me back a bottle.  Until that time, I had never heard of the product. I find it compliments many fruit desserts or adds another dimension to fruity drinks.   Bottles of limoncello should be kept in the freezer until ready to serve.

Ingredients

  • 20 whole large  fresh strawberries, cut into halves
  • 1 tablespoon limoncello
  • 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • fresh ground pepper
  •  Biscotti

Directions

  1. Place cut strawberries in a bowl.
  2. Pour over the liqueur, orange juice and sprinkle over with freshly ground pepper. Allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Serve as is or with biscotti.

Citrus Sorbetto

Makes a perfect palate cleanser.

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice, fresh
  • 1/2 cup orange juice, fresh
  • 4 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • Zest of 1 lime
  • Zest of 1/2 lemon
  • Zest of 1/2 orange

Directions

  1. Combine sugar and water in a small pot.  Bring to a boil reduce and simmer just until sugar is dissolved, let cool.
  2. Stir together all the juices, zests and vanilla and add in the sugar syrup,  
  3. Chill syrup & juice blend in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
  4. Transfer to an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  5. You may serve the sorbetto right away, or store it in the freezer .

Ricotta With Berries

2 servings

Berries

  • 1/2 cup blueberries
  • 1/2 cup raspberries
  • 10 strawberries, hulled and chopped ( or sliced)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon sugar 

Ricotta

  • 6 ounces skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon sugar ( or more)
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon Amaretto
  • Garnish with mint leaves

Directions

  1. Combine berries with lemon juice and sugar. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. 
  2. Mix ricotta ingredients together. This may be done in a food processor, if a finer texture is desired.
  3. Serve berries over a scoop of the ricotta and garnish with mint . Serving it in a martini or other decorative glass makes for a nice presentation.

Strawberry and Ricotta Crepes

Serves 4

The crepes can be prepared in advance and stored in the freezer, so that you can pull this dessert together quickly. This recipe also makes more crepes than you’ll need for the servings below.  Allow the extra crepes to cool, place waxed paper between them, stack, and place in ziplock bag in the freezer. Other fresh seasonal fruits can be used instead of strawberries.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 ½ teaspoons powdered sugar
  • 2 cups (about 10 ounces) cleaned and sliced fresh strawberries
  • 2 teaspoons agave syrup
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh mint
  • Small pinch of salt

Crepes

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup nonfat milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons agave syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  1. Measure all crepe ingredients into a blender; blend for 30 seconds. Scrape down sides. Blend for 15 seconds more. Cover and let sit for 30 minutes. (This helps the flour absorb more of the liquids.)  Heat crepe pan (or use a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet). Lightly grease.
  2. Measure about 1/4 cup batter into pan. Tilt pan to spread batter. Once crepe has lots of little bubbles, loosen edges with spatula and flip crepe over.  The second side cooks quickly, so after about 15 seconds, slide crepe from pan to plate. Repeat with remaining batter (yield: about 20 crepes).
  3. Mix ricotta with powdered sugar. Set aside.
  4. Mix strawberries gently with sugar, mint, and salt. Set aside.
  5. If the crepes were prepared earlier in the day or frozen and defrosted overnight, reheat them in the microwave for a minute or two until warm. Spread 1 tablespoon ricotta mixture on one half of each of 8 warm crepes and fold to cover. Place two crepes on each serving plate. Top with strawberries, dust with powdered sugar and serve.

Lemon Biscotti With Lemon Drizzle

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2  cups all-purpose flour 
  • 1  cup unsalted pistachio nuts
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
  • 1 tablespoon lemon extract
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • cooking spray
  • 2/3 cup powdered sugar

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, sugar, and baking powder in a large bowl. Combine zest, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, lemon extract, oil, and eggs, and add to flour mixture, stirring until well-blended
  2. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead lightly 7 to 8 times. Divide dough in half. Shape each portion into an 8-inch-long roll. Place rolls 6 inches apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, flatten each roll to 1-inch thickness. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes.
  3. Remove the rolls from baking sheet; cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack. Cut each roll diagonally into 15 (1/2-inch) slices. Place the slices, cut sides down, on the baking sheet. Reduce oven temperature to 325°; bake for 10 minutes.
  4. Turn cookies over; bake an additional 10 minutes (the cookies will be slightly soft in center but will harden as they cool). Remove from baking sheet, and cool completely on wire rack.
  5. Combine 1 tablespoon lemon juice and powdered sugar, and drizzle over the biscotti.

If you’re making enough to freeze, store them in the freezer without the drizzle, then make it just before serving.

Tangerine and Prosecco Sorbet

“Italian Champagne” – Prosecco is a sparkling wine made from late-ripening white grapes from the Veneto – Conegliano – Valdobbiadene region of Italy.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 cups chilled tangerine juice  or tangerine orange juice
  • 1 cup chilled Prosecco
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated tangerine peel

Directions

  • Combine sugar and water in small saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and bring to boil. Transfer syrup to medium bowl and chill until cold, about 2 hours.
  • Add strained tangerine juice and Prosecco to syrup; whisk to blend well. Transfer mixture to ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Transfer sorbet to freezer container. Cover tightly with lid and freeze until firm, at least 8 hours or overnight. 6-8 servings
  • DO AHEAD:  Can be made 3 days ahead. Keep frozen. Divide sorbet among wine goblets or dessert glasses.

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.


Authentic Italian cooking is not just pasta, as many people think, here in the States. In Italy, portion sizes are much smaller and pasta is generally served as a first course, separate from the main entree. Family meals are important events and diners are encouraged to savor their food. Italian cuisine places emphasis on the quality and freshness of ingredients and most Italian cuisine originates from frugality. Locally grown and regional products are the basis for meals. Vegetables and fruits are used to enhance and accompany the flavors of the main course.  Vegetables, such as, eggplant, asparagus, artichokes, peppers, fennel, spinach, beans and escarole are most commonly used. 

The dish featured here, will demonstrate how vegetables flavor and support the main dish protein. This dish features fennel, which is a vegetable that is not well know, but is showing up more and more in food magazines and on cooking shows. Fennel is a bulbous vegetable with a tall, wispy, frond top that looks rather like dill. The fronds can be used in salads or to dress a serving plate, but the main attraction of fennel is the bulb itself. It’s very firm and crunchy and it tastes a bit like anise. It has a fresh taste and is excellent for salads or slaws. It can also be grilled or braised until it becomes tender and sweet, mild and delicious.

Fish Braised With Fennel, Artichokes and Lemons

In this recipe you can use any firm white fish fillets that are found in your region, such as, halibut, cod, grouper or bass. I also prefer fresh or frozen artichoke hearts to bottled types because I think the frozen taste much fresher. This is a typical Italian preparation for fish fillets and includes many mediterranean flavors. Give this recipe a try for your next meal.

You will need:

  • 2 lemons
  • 1-9oz. package frozen artichokes, defrosted and cut in half
  • 1/2 large onion, halved crosswise and thinly sliced (about 1 cup

    Fennel

  • 1 fennel bulb, trimmed, halved crosswise, core removed and cut into 1/4-inch-thick strips
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Flour for dredging
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4  fillets (each weighing about 6 ounces and 1 inch thick)
  • Fennel fronds

Directions

Squeeze juice from 1 lemon; cut the remaining lemon into very thin slices.

Put onion, fennel, artichoke hearts, oregano, lemon juice and lemon slices, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 cup water and 2 tablespoons olive oil into a large saute pan.  Cover pan.

Bring to a low boil. Reduce heat and gently simmer, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.  Remove to a bowl. Set aside.

Season both sides of the fish fillets with salt, pepper and a light coating of flour.

In the same skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat until very hot but not smoking. Add fillets. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook fillets, without moving them, until bottoms are golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Carefully turn; cook until fish is opaque and flakes easily, 2 to 3 minutes more.

Return artichoke mixture to the pan and warm for a minute or two.  Spoon 1/2 cup artichoke mixture over each fillet. Garnish with fennel fronds.

Servings:  4

fish



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