Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Tag Archives: Lunch

Parents start the year with the best intentions for lunchtime organization. This is going to be the year that we plan ahead, that lunches are healthy, that our mornings will be stress-free when it comes to getting out the door with well-rounded nutrition in hand. Then, about the third week in September, you find yourself stuck on a Thursday morning when your family has already eaten all of the week’s lunch supplies. You stuff Oreo cookies and Nacho chips in a plastic bag, make a jelly sandwich on the ends of the bread and throw a Hi-C juice box in the lunch box.

This is the year to turn it around. Get organized and skip the Lunchables and the pre-packaged chips and sugar-stuffed granola bars. Being organized can also mean saving money. By planning ahead, you can avoid resorting to expensive pre-packaged portions and instead fill reusable containers at the beginning of the week and have them at hand.

Organizing Tips

I recommend just planning one week at a time to keep things simple and lessen the chance of food spoiling or not getting eaten. Decide on what meals you want to have for the week, create a grocery list and go shopping.

Make lunches the night before. Please don’t save this task for the morning. You have way too much too much to do: dragging those sleepy-eyed kiddos out of bed, feeding them breakfast, brushing their teeth, gathering their backpacks and making sure you get them off to school on time!

Pick meals and snacks that are easy to prepare. Save the complicated meals for dinner time or for the weekends. The important thing is to make the lunches healthy.

Have designated containers that fit in the lunchbox, so you don’t have to dig around the Tupperware drawer at 6 AM trying to find a matching lid. After washing them, place them back in the lunchbox. Use BPA-free containers, to foster a more sustainable lifestyle for the whole family such as:

Organize your lunches

• Buy large packages of baked chips, baby carrots, low sugar canned fruit, cookies, etc., and create individual portions at home. Take time on Sunday to pack for the entire week.

• Use a shallow plastic storage container in the refrigerator to keep all your lunch supplies in one place — juice boxes, yogurt, cheese, fruit, cut vegetables, etc. These foods are off limits except for packing lunch.

• Try to cut down on sugar. Prepackaged foods like granola bars and some yogurts and drinks may seem like healthy choices, but you might as well be giving them cookies and ice cream. A healthy lunch sets the stage for a productive and successful afternoon. Plain yogurt has no added sugar, yet a 6-ounce container has about 12 grams of naturally-occurring sugar in the form of lactose. Fruit-flavored yogurt varies in the amount of sugar added, so it’s important that you read the Nutrition Facts panel. On average, the added fruit and sweeteners contribute about 14 grams of sugar, making the total sugars about 26 grams in a 6-ounce container.

• Let kids help! They are more likely to eat what they help prepare.

• Don’t worry about what anyone thinks. If your child loves the same lunch every day, give them the same lunch.

School Lunch Ideas                                                                                                                                                                                                   

As a former educator, I am well aware that nut allergies are a problem at most schools and nut products should not be sent to school. The majority of schools do not allow peanut butter, almond butter, nutella or any nut products or seeds. Here are some suggestions for school lunches that don’t include nuts or nut products:

  • Veggies – baby carrots, grape tomatoes and/or cucumber slices
  • Protein, such as, slices of lean ham, turkey or leftover meatloaf
  • Leftovers that taste good the next day, such as, pasta (especially if it has been prepared with pesto) or oven fried chicken from last night’s dinner
  • Fruit – apple slices + any seasonal or on-sale fruit, usually, grapes, kiwi, oranges, melon. Put some chopped fruit in a container with a lid and place it in the freezer the night before. It will be partially defrosted by lunchtime and will seem like a slushy.
  • Fruit combinations – mango and strawberries or watermelon with grapes
  • Bread -choose whole grain breads or crackers without nuts or seeds
  • Multigrain or whole-corn tortillas (for example, La Tortilla Factory) spread with reduced fat, flavored cream cheese and chopped peppers, or sliced turkey or chicken with thin slices of cantaloupe
  • Dessert – Homemade popcorn, pretzels, unsweetened applesauce or low fat chocolate pudding

Resource for more school lunch ideas: http://www.bentolunch.net/ which offers a collection of ideas from across the web, from simple embellishments on old standards — such as impressing pictures on sandwiches with cookie cutters — to elaborate lunch sculptures worthy of Food Network competitions.

Some Lunch Box Recipes

Alphabet Pasta Salad                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup uncooked whole wheat alphabet pasta, stars, orzo or any shape your child likes
  • 1/2 cup vegetables (whatever your child likes, such as peas, broccoli, corn or green beans
  • 1/2 cup reduced fat shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup diced fresh tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon powdered garlic

Directions:

Cook pasta in salted water according to package instructions (usually about 9- 10 minutes) and add vegetables during the last 5 minutes. Drain.

In a mixing bowl combine lemon juice, oil and seasonings with a whisk. Fold in pasta and vegetables carefully so as not to break up the letters.

Mix in cheese and tomatoes. Chill. Pour into individual lunch box containers.

Can be made up to two days ahead. Makes 2 cups.

Creamy Alouette Spread and Deli Turkey Wrap

Ingredients:

  • 2 whole wheat sandwich wraps or tortillas
  • 2 ounces light Alouette cheese spread
  • 2 ounces deli turkey slices
  • Cucumber, carrot and red bell pepper sticks

Directions:

Spread wraps with Alouette cheese. Place turkey on top of cheese. Place vegetable sticks on top of turkey. Roll up.

Pair mini muffins with yogurt or low fat cottage cheese, veggie sticks and cut up fruit. Store in the freezer and take one out for the lunch box when you pack the lunch.

Pumpkin Applesauce Mini Muffins

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (you can use all-purpose flour also)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degree. Spray a 24 cup mini-muffin pan with non-stick cooking spray.

In a large bowl combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Whisk together to combine. Set aside.

In a smaller bowl, combine applesauce, canola oil, vanilla, and canned pumpkin. Stir until all ingredients are combined.

Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Stir until all ingredients are mixed through.

Using a small spoon or a melon ball scooper, scoop the muffin batter into the muffin tin. Only fill each cup 3/4 full.

Bake for 15-20 minutes rotating pan once halfway through cooking.

Banana Chocolate Chip Mini Muffins

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup mashed banana (2 small, ripe bananas)
  • 3/4 cup plain low fat yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon. baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup sugar or 1/4 cup light sugar alternative
  • 1/4 cup egg substitute
  • 3/4 cup mini chocolate chips

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray a 24-cup miniature muffin tin with vegetable cooking spray.

Mix banana, yogurt, and vanilla in a small bowl.

Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.

Beat oil and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add egg substitute and beat until smooth.

Reduce speed to low and beat in one third of the dry ingredients, then half the yogurt mixture. Add another one third of the dry ingredients, then remaining yogurt, and remaining dry ingredients, beating until batter is just smooth. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until batter light and fluffy, about 30 seconds. Stir in chips.

Completely fill each muffin cup with batter. Bake on oven rack adjusted to middle of oven until golden brown, 12-14 minutes.

Set pan on a wire rack to cool slightly. Remove muffins to a cooling rack.

Easy Low Fat Chocolate Cookies

Make a batch of these cookies and freeze them so they will be handy and fresh for lunch boxes. They will defrost long before lunchtime in the lunch box.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce           
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup egg substitute
  • 3/4 cup sugar or 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons light sugar alternative
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2-2/3 cups all-purpose flour or Eagle Ultra Grain flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened baking cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips

Directions:

In a large bowl of an electric mixer, combine the applesauce, oil and egg substitute. Beat in sugars and vanilla.

Combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl. Gradually add to applesauce mixture and mix well.

Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or until slightly firm.

Drop dough by rounded teaspoons 2 in. apart onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper or coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle each cookie with a few chocolate chips.

Bake at 350° F for 8-10 minutes or until set. Remove to wire racks.

Yield: about 3-1/2 dozen.

About these ads

My husband and I love having our children and their families come for visit and we love visiting them in their homes. Family is important to us and even though none of us live near each other, we keep in touch daily.  When we are together, it is always great fun. So much to do – swimming in the pool, riding the waves at the beach or racing go-karts – brings out the hunger pangs and Grandma has a fix for that.  I am sharing some of my grandchildren’s favorite foods; kid-friendly meals that I have tried to make healthy without sacrificing flavor.

The dish that wins, hands down, as the number one favorite, is chicken fingers. They are healthy because they are baked with minimal fat instead of fried. To date, no one has noticed that they are not fried. The steps to prepare this dish are listed below:

Unfried Chicken Fingers

  • 1/2 pound chicken breast tenders (fingers), about 8
  • ¼ cup egg substitute
  • 1/2 cup Progresso Italian bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • olive oil cooking spray   

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Coat an 8”x12” glass baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside.
Place chicken fingers in a shallow dish and pour the egg substitute over them.  Rotate and coat all the fingers.

Chicken Fingers coated in egg substitute.


Place bread crumbs in another shallow dish and dredge fingers in crumbs.

Chicken Fingers coated in bread crumbs


Place in prepared baking dish in a single layer. Drizzle fingers with 1 tablespoon olive oil.

Chicken Fingers drizzled with oil


Bake 15 minutes at 400 degrees F.  Turn fingers over and bake 15 minutes more.

Baked Chicken Fingers


Serve this dish with a healthy ranch dip (recipe below) and apple slices for lunch.
Chicken fingers may be frozen and reheated in a hot oven.  I usually prepare a supply when I know the children are coming, so that they are handy when we need them.

Healthy Ranch Dip

  • ½ cup lowfat Greek yogurt
  • ¼ cup lowfat buttermilk
  • ¼ cup lowfat olive oil mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar 
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • ¾ teaspoon garlic powder
  • dash of Worcestershire
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • freshly ground pepper

Whisk together all the ingredients and chill.

Chicken fingers also make a good dinner option with low-fat macaroni and cheese and a green vegetable.

Low-fat Macaroni and Cheese


Yield: Makes 8 servings

Ingredients:

  • 16 oz. uncooked elbow macaroni ( whole grain pasta is better)
  • 2 cups skim milk
  • 3 oz. Velveeta Light Cheese cut into thin strips
  • 8 oz. reduced-fat Monterey Jack shredded cheese
  • 1 tablespoon Smart Balance light butter
  • 3 tablespoons Wondra all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon. black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons Progresso Italian bread crumbs


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly coat a 13”× 9” baking dish with cooking spray.

Boil macaroni in salted water until tender but firm.
While pasta cooks, whisk together flour and ½ cup milk in small bowl.
Pour remaining 1½ cups milk into large saucepan and heat on low. Once milk is slightly warmed, turn heat to medium-low and add flour and milk mixture, stirring until thick.
Reduce heat slightly and add butter, cheeses and pepper.
Cook until smooth (about 5 minutes).
Drain macaroni, then combine with sauce mixture, stirring thoroughly.
Pour into baking dish. Sprinkle breadcrumbs lightly and evenly on top and bake 25-30 minutes.

Another good dinner option: soup and calzone:

Easy Stracciatella Italian Soup

8 cups low sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup uncooked orzo pasta (very small pasta)
10 oz. package frozen, chopped spinach ( thawed and well-drained)
1 egg (beaten)
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large pot bring chicken broth to a boil on high heat.
Stir in orzo; cook approximately 10 minutes until tender but slightly firm.
Stir in spinach, salt and pepper to taste.
Cook approx 5 minutes.
Add in beaten egg to soup stirring constantly until set and cooked.
Serve in kid- sized bowls.
Sprinkle with cheese before serving.

Tomato and Mozzarella Calzone

  1. Store bought pizza dough or ½ of the recipe for homemade dough, (see post, http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/05/04/its-friday-lets-have-pizza/)
  2. Flour, for dusting
  3. Homemade Tomato Sauce (see post for recipe, http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/04/19/hello-world/
  4. Sliced skim mozzarella cheese
  5. Salt, pepper and dried oregano

Method

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

  • Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces, shape into balls, then flatten and roll out into 6 inch rounds on a lightly floured surface. Brush cold water around the edges.
  • Spread marinara sauce over the dough, spreading evenly and leaving a small border around the edge. Place slices of mozzarella on one side of each dough round and season with oregano and a little black pepper.
  • Enclose the filling by lifting over the other side of the dough. Press the edges firmly together to seal and transfer to a large baking sheet.
  • Cut a couple of tiny holes in the center of each calzone. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the calzone is pale-golden.  Serve with additional sauce.                                                                                                                                                                                               


Vanilla & Chocolate Rocks

Of course we can’t forget dessert. My grandchildren (and children) love these cookies. This recipe can be doubled and the cookies freeze well.

adapted from King Arthur
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) Smart Balance® Omega-3 Butter Blend Stick
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon espresso powder
  • ¼ cup egg substitute
  • 1  cup King Arthur unbleached all- purpose flour
  • ½ cup King Arthur whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chunks

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two baking sheets.
Melt the butter blend in a large microwave-safe bowl, add the sugar, and return to the microwave for 30 to 45 seconds, till the mixture is hot to the touch.
Cool slightly, and beat in the vanilla, baking powder, salt, espresso powder, and egg substitute.
Let cool to lukewarm, then add the flours and chocolate chunks, stirring briefly, just until well combined.
Drop the dough by tablespoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheets. (I put 12 cookies on one baking sheet) Bake the cookies for 9 minutes, until they’re barely set.
Remove them from the oven, and cool right on the pan. Yield: 2 dozen cookies.

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.


Mason Disick Eating

Disney’s Lady and the Tramp

Years ago, Italians often took three hour lunch breaks and ate mutli-course meals.  As times have changed, it is more rare for Italian families to gather at the table during lunch and have a full home-made meal. Italy’s economical situation is such that many mothers have had to take on full-time jobs, children are in school until mid-afternoon and most people do not have time to go home during lunch time.  Typically, people working in offices have a 1-hour break and eat lunch at a bar or pasticceria, that offers foods to go, such as fresh made sandwiches, prepared salads, or square slices of pizza or stuffed focaccia.    Italian sandwiches aren’t multi-layered, American style sandwiches but, usually,  just  simple focaccia bread with a few lean slices of prosciutto, some sliced tomatoes with mozzarella or pecorino cheese.  Italian pizzas are very thin. have limited toppings and are usually vegetarian.   Bread without butter and salads are also very common at lunch. Pastas are also popular and usually full of vegetables.  One exception is on Sundays, many families will have a large, 2-3 hour lunch and often eat this meal out in a restaurant.

As a child growing up in an Italian-American home, I remember Sundays were pretty much reserved for family. My father would take us to visit our grandparents or other relatives while my mother prepared the Sunday meal.  Sunday lunch was really dinner but held early in the afternoon. After my grandmother died, when I was quite young, my grandfather would often join us for Sunday dinner. As my children were growing up. I tried to make meals an important time to be together and we kept some of the traditions built around meals. Lunch, however, was lunch – a quick meal. Through the years I have gravitated toward lighter and healthy selections for lunch.

Antipasto

My favorite food for lunch is soup, so I keep a number of containers in the freezer to pull out when I feel like soup for lunch.  Salads or typical items found on an antipasto tray are also a favorite.

Below are two soup recipes that are substantial enough for lunch and two salad recipes that I hope you will enjoy.

        Tortellini Soup with Escarole

  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2-32 oz. cartons low sodium chicken broth (8 cups)
  • 1 bunch escarole (or 8 cups spinach) washed and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1-9 oz. pkg. fresh tortellini
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Parmesan Cheese

Escarole is a leafy green vegetable and member of the chicory family, along with frisée, endive and Belgian endive. You can find it in the lettuce department of your supermarket.

Directions

In soup pot, heat oil and saute shallots for two minutes.

Add both containers of chicken broth and bring to a boil.

Add tortellini, return to boiling, reduce heat to low, cover the pan, and simmer about 5 minutes.

Add the escarole and simmer until the greens are wilted.

Add parsley and salt and pepper to taste.  Serve soup with shaved Parmesan cheese strips.

Lentils are a small but nutritional member of the legume family and are a very good source of cholesterol-lowering fiber.
Lentil colors range from yellow to red-orange to green, brown and black

Lentil Soup

  • 1 lb. dried brown lentils ( about 2 1/2 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup chopped carrot
  • 1 large potato, diced
  • 1/2 cup medium pearl barley
  • 8 cups water
  • 4 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1-16 oz can diced tomatoes, no salt added
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Cover the lentils with water in a large bowl.  Let soak for 1 hour. Drain and rinse.

Heat oil in a large soup pot and add garlic, onion, celery, carrots and potato.

Cook, stirring several times, for 10 minutes.

Add water, chicken broth, lentils and barley. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover pot and simmer 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Check the lentils and barley, to see if they are tender, after 45 minutes.

Add tomatoes, oregano salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes.

Salads

My favorite salad is made of fresh tomatoes and fresh mozzarella cheese.

Tomato and Mozzarella Salad

4 servings

  • 1/2 pound fresh mozzarella cheese sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 2 large vine-ripened tomatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick

    Tomato Mozzarella Salad

  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
  • Freshly-ground black pepper and salt to taste
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

Alternate fresh mozzarella slices with sliced tomatoes, overlapping, in a circular design on a serving plate.  (See photo)

Tear fresh basil leaves and sprinkle liberally over the slices. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Just before serving, drizzle with top-quality extra-virgin olive oil.

Chickpea Salad

4 servings

  • 1/4 cup slivered red onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped celery
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas (or 1- 19-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed)
  • 8 ripe cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon drained capers, rinsed and coarsely chopped
  • Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions

Chickpeas are a legume used in many Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines. Round and tan colored, chickpeas have a mild, nutty flavor. They are also known as garbanzo beans.

Whisk olive oil and lemon in a salad bowl. Add remaining ingredients and toss well. Chill.

Serve over tender lettuce leaves (such as, Bibb).

I like to top this salad with leftover shrimp or grilled tuna.  Roasted red peppers are also a good addition


fagioli misti (mixed beans)

Popular Italian Beans

The region of Tuscany is famous for its bean production.  Cannellini or white kidney beans, are, perhaps, its most popular bean.  Borlotti is a bean of northern Italy. Borlotti is also considered to be the healthiest due to its high iron concentration. This bean, in particular, is a popular meat substitute. These red, tan and brown speckled beans turn a dark brown on the outside and yellow on the inside when cooked. They add a creamy consistency to any recipe.

Fresh or dried fava beans are a staple of Abruzzo, Puglia, Campania and Sicily. A staple of southern Italian cuisine, fava beans are hardy and widely available. Purchasing beans that are already skinned and split is the preferred method for ease of preparation. Buying whole beans in their protective skins calls for hours of soaking as well as a tinge of bitterness when they are cooked. Lentils, or lenticchie, are eaten all across Italy. With their nutty taste, lentils are ideally small and brown. The most select lentils are grown in Umbria, Abruzzo and Sicily. Although lentils do not require soaking previous to cooking, they are best when soaked for about an hour.

With the exception of a few types of beans, like lentils, most should be soaked at least eight hours or longer. Some cooks add a bit of baking soda during the soaking, which seems to help the beans remain intact during cooking. Be sure to discard the water, the beans soak in, before cooking with them.

Also, when cooking beans, be generous with the water – a good rule of thumb is six cups for every cup of beans. One cup of dry beans will yield two cups of cooked beans. Try adding a bit of olive oil to the water the beans cook in because it will add flavor and keep them from sticking to each other. Cooking times will vary, of course, but generally Borlotti take about an hour, chickpeas require about an hour and a half of cooking time and lentils may be ready after a half hour.

Some of the most popular Italian dishes that call for beans include minestrone,  bean soup, lentil soup, pasta with red bean sauce, fava beans and pasta, lentil stew with sausage and penne with chickpeas. Beans are used in spreads, soups, sauces and main courses. Beans are a great source of fiber, antioxidants and protein. Many people choose the simplicity of canned beans over cooking dried beans. However, canned beans are more expensive per serving and also have added sodium. With a little bit of planning, you can work with dried beans. You will taste the difference in fresh cooked dried beans.

Soaking the Beans

The night before serving, rinse the beans, picking out any bad ones and place them in a large bowl. Cover with about 2 inches of water, add a pinch of baking soda and let soak overnight. The next day, drain well. Place the beans in a heavy soup pot with 1 carrot, cut in half, 1 celery stick, cut in half,  1/2 onion, peeled and quartered, 1 sprig of rosemary and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Bring to a boil; reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until the beans are tender. Drain and discard the vegetables. Adding salt to beans at the beginning of cooking toughens the skins and increases cooking time, so add it to taste toward the end of the cooking time.  Most types of beans cook in about an hour but taste for tenderness. You can serve the beans as a side dish or refrigerate the beans to use in recipes on another day.

Here are some recipes I recommend using cooked beans.

Beans and Greens

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
  • 1 bunch Swiss Chard, cut into one inch pieces or any greens of choice
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried Italian herbs
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups cooked cannellini beans
  • Grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish

Directions

In a large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, 2 minutes. Add garlic, and cook 1 minute more. Add Swiss Chard, and stir slowly, allowing it to wilt slightly.  Add chicken broth, herbs, and salt; reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the beans, and continue to simmer until most of the liquid is absorbed and the greens are tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Serve warm, garnished with grated Parmesan cheese.

Tuscan Country Bean Soup

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped fennel
  • 2 cups chopped celery
  • 2 cups chopped carrots
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (2-3 cloves)
  • 3 cups cooked dried cannellini beans
  • 1 carton (32 oz)  low sodium chicken broth
  • 2 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large pan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the fennel, celery and carrots and saute for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add the drained beans, chicken broth and tomatoes to the pan along with the thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 to 40 minutes. Serve with the grated cheese.



dreamdiscoveritalia

Discovering Italia one trip at a time

From Alfredo's With Love

A passion for food in words, pictures and recipes...

CrandleCakes

Recipes, stories, tips, and other adventures from a culinary Texan.

Joe Gande's Blog

Music, Food, Family, Italy, Thoughts, Life...

Young and Hungry

delicious doesn't have to be difficult

Eating Well Diary

A vegetarian's notes on healthy cooking

Lovely Delight Bite

For delicious moments......Find out about my secret special treats for yourself, family and friends

Family Life Is More

Think Confidently. Love big. Perform well. Manage all. Real-ly!

Mirror of Health & Natural Beauty

Where healthylicious tips create the healthy lifestyle

Poem and Dish

Poetry and Food Lover's site...

News Anchor to Homemaker

From deadlines...to diapers and delicious dishes

Piglove

Adventures of Bacon and Friends

Shivaay Delights

Sharing my passion for cooking and baking ♡

Dolly Rubiano Photography

Wellington-based food photographer. Blogs about her experiments in the kitchen and doesn't cook anything that has four legs.

Andrews' Family Cookery & Household Management

Households that create happiness, and Foods that celebrate life

Back Road Journal

Little treasures discovered while exploring the back roads of life

Tuscas värld

Smaker, dofter och gömställen kring Medelhavet

Eating My Feelings

Because food just makes life so much better.

LauraLovingLife

Lover of cooking ~ Wanting to share my adventures in the kitchen!

Il mondo di Macdelice

Il blog rosa di Maria Cavallaro

Good Food Everyday

From the heart of the Mediterranean ....

Culinary Adventures of The Twisted Chef T

Recipes from My Kitchen to Yours!

therapy bread

no, not just bread: crafting edible creations as a way to feed the spirit, body, friends and family <3

healthy.yogi.mama

Fitness, recipes and babies in NYC

The Good, the Bad and the Italian

food/films/families and more

SOLE Food Kitchen

SUSTAINABLE. ORGANIC. LOCAL. ETHICAL. THAT'S HOW WE ROLL.

vinicooksveg

Amazing & fun.........Indian cooking!!

What's Cooking

Fine dining my way

LOVE-the secret ingredient

Like to cook? Like to eat? Be a part of the conversation.

Chocolate Spoon & The Camera

A clumsy newbie in the kitchen. Una principiante ai fornelli.

An eye for food

Food is to be admired as well as desired. It should speak to you visually and make you want to taste it!

mycookinglifebypatty

Adventures in Healthy Living

Things My Belly Likes

Where eating to live and living to eat are not mutually exclusive

Our Growing Paynes

A journey about gardening, cooking, and knitting.

gotta get baked

musings of a baking fiend

thewhitedish

Just another WordPress.com site

on the road with Animalcouriers

pet transport through Europe and beyond

jittery cook

recipes worth sharing

soulofspice

delicious nourishing energizing spice

pattytmitchell

site for Patricia Mitchell, author

Something Sweet Something Savoury

Family friendly recipes from a chaotic kitchen

Simply Sophisticated Cooking

Effortless home cooking recipes, tips and methods for busy lives to encourage fine eating in instead of out.

FARMINISTA'S FEAST with Karen Pavone

Farm to Table Adventures in California's Beautiful North Bay

Blue Heron Writes

Sharing to Inspire through Words and Pictures www.wendiedonabie.com

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,497 other followers

%d bloggers like this: