Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Monthly Archives: January 2014

My favorite Italian chefs are my favorites because they prepare classic recipes that reflect the true spirit of Italian cooking. No gimmicks or including ingredients just because they are trendy. Italian cuisine is characterized by a simplicity that relies on the quality of the ingredients rather than on elaborate preparation. As immigrants from different regions of Italy settled in different regions of the United States, they brought with them the recipes that were identified with their regional origins in Italy and infused them with the characteristics and ingredients of their new home locale in America.

Much of the Italian food that we choose to eat isn’t always conducive to a healthy eating diet, partly due to the adaptations made to traditional recipes in the U.S., such as loading our pizzas with extra cheese and adding cream to carbonara sauce – a sacrilege in many parts of Italy. But cooked correctly, Italian cuisine is actually one of the healthiest diets you can eat. Like most Mediterranean cuisines, traditional Italian food uses simple, natural ingredients and aims to enhance these flavors naturally, without overdosing on salt, fat, and sugar. I have learned to modify recipes I like from some of my favorite Italian American chefs to make use of healthier ingredients and better cooking procedures. So in this post, I am sharing some of my favorite recipes from some of my favorite chefs with my version on how to make the recipes with a more healthful approach.

Biba Caggiano

Born in Bologna, her first exposure to professional cooking was through her mother, who owned and operated a trattoria in Bologna. Biba grew up cooking the food of her native Emilia-Romagna region. In 1960 she moved to New York, the hometown of her husband, Vincent. In 1969 the family moved to Sacramento and in 1986 she opened the Biba Restaurant, which went on to become very successful.

Cookbooks:

  • Trattoria Cooking
  • Biba’s Taste of Italy
  • From Biba’s Italian kitchen
  • Italy al dente
  • Biba’s Italy
  • Northern Italian Cooking
  • Spaghetti Sauces

Bow Ties with Prosciutto Sauce

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

  • 1 cup fresh peas
  • Salt
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup finely minced yellow onion
  • 1/4 cup finely minced carrots
  • 1/4 cup finely minced celery
  • 1/4 pound prosciutto, in 1 thick slice, minced
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups tomato puree (preferably canned Italian plum tomatoes, with their juice, put through a food mill to puree them and remove their seeds)
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon coarse salt
  • 1 pound imported dried bow ties, garganelli, or tagliatelle
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions

Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Add a pinch of salt and the peas. Cook, uncovered, until tender, 5 to 10 minutes, depending on their size. Drain and set aside.

To make the sauce, heat the oil and 2 tablespoons butter together in a large skillet over medium heat. As soon as the butter begins to foam, add the onion, carrots, and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden and soft, 8 to 10 minutes.

Add the prosciutto and stir for a minute or 2, then raise the heat to high and add the wine. Stir until almost all the wine has evaporated. Add the tomato sauce and season lightly with salt. As soon as the sauce comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered until the sauce has a medium-thick consistency, about 15 minutes. Stir the milk and peas into the sauce and simmer for 2 to 5 minutes longer. Turn off the heat. (Makes approximately 2 1/2 cups.)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the coarse salt and pasta and cook until the pasta is tender but still a bit firm to the bite.

Scoop out and reserve about 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water. Drain the pasta and place it in the skillet with the sauce. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter and a handful of the Parmigiano. Stir quickly over medium heat until the pasta and sauce are well combined. Add a bit of the reserved cooking water if the pasta seems dry. Taste, adjust the seasoning and serve with the remaining Parmigiano.

My Version: Pasta with Prosciutto Sauce

In my version, I have reduced the fat and added whole grains for a healthier pasta dish while keeping the flavor of the original.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup thawed frozen peas
  • Salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup finely minced yellow onion
  • 1/4 cup finely minced carrots
  • 1/4 cup finely minced celery
  • 1/4 pound prosciutto, in a 1 thick slice, minced
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 26 oz container Pomi strained tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup low-fat milk
  • 1 pound imported dried whole wheat pasta
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions

To make the sauce:

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the onion, carrots, and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally, until golden and soft, 8 to 10 minutes.

Add the prosciutto and stir for a minute or two, then raise the heat to high and add the wine. Stir until almost all the wine has evaporated. Add the tomatoes and season lightly with salt. As soon as the sauce comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered until the sauce has a medium-thick consistency, about 15 minutes. Stir the milk and peas into the sauce and simmer for 2 to 5 minutes longer. Turn off the heat. (Makes approximately 2 1/2 cups.)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add salt and pasta and cook until the pasta is tender but still a bit firm to the bite.

Scoop out and reserve about 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water. Drain the pasta and place in the skillet with the sauce. Add 1/4 cup of the Parmigiano. Stir quickly over medium heat until the pasta and sauce are well combined. Add a bit of the reserved cooking water, if the pasta seems dry. Serve with the remaining Parmigiano.

Michael Chiarello

Michael was born in Red Bluff, California to an Italian-American family. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in 1982 and Florida International University in 1984, he opened The Grand Bay Hotel and Toby’s Bar and Grill in Florida. He was honored as 1985’s, Chef of the Year, by Food & Wine Magazine. In the late 1980s, Chiarello moved back to California, making his home in Napa Valley, where he opened the Tra Vigne restaurant, creating a menu influenced by the cuisine of his family’s native Calabria. Chiarello currently owns a winery – Chiarello Family Vineyards, Bottega Ristorante in Napa Valley and Coqueta in San Francisco.

Cookbooks:

  • Michael Chiarello’s Live Fire: 125 Recipes for Cooking Outdoors” (May 1, 2013)
  • Michael Chiarello’s Bottega (2010)
  • At Home with Michael Chiarello (2005)
  • Michael Chiarello’s Casual Cooking (2002)
  • Napa Stories (2001)
  • Tra Vigne Cookbook (1999)
  • Flavored Oils and Flavored Vinegars (1995; revised edition 2006)

Red Wine Poached Pears with Mascarpone Filling

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 6 firm Bartlett pears
  • 1 bottle of dry red wine
  • 1 vanilla bean, whole
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 (8 ounces) containers mascarpone cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Pinch cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Directions

Peel pears and leave the stem intact. In a large saucepan, bring wine and an equal amount of cold water to a simmer. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and add to wine and water mixture. Add cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, and sugar, to taste. Add pears to liquid and simmer for about 20 minutes or until tender. Cool pears in wine mixture to room temperature. You can refrigerate them in the poaching liquid until you’re ready to fill them.

Remove stems from pears and set stems aside. Core pears with an apple corer, leaving pear whole.

Whisk together mascarpone cheese, heavy cream, pinch cinnamon, and powdered sugar until smooth. Transfer to a pastry bag, or if you do not have one, use wax paper tightly wrapped into a cone with the corner snipped off. Pipe filling into cored pears and finish by putting the stems gently into the mascarpone filling on top of the pears.

Bring the sauce up to a simmer and reduce by half. Add butter to reduced sauce and stir until combined. Spoon generously over pears. Cool to room temperature before serving.

My Version: Red Wine Poached Pears

This is an impressive dessert, especially for entertaining, but the original recipe has too much sugar for my taste. I have reduced the amount of sugar and dairy fat in my version and simplified the procedures a bit.

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 6 firm Bartlett pears
  • 1 bottle of dry red wine
  • 1 vanilla bean, whole
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup granulated sugar or sugar alternative
  • 1 (8 ounces) container reduced-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 -1/2 cup half & half or evaporated milk
  • Pinch cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Directions

Peel the pears. In a large saucepan, bring wine and an equal amount of cold water to a simmer. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and add to the wine and water mixture. Add the cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, and sugar. Add pears to the liquid and simmer for about 20 minutes or until tender.

Cool pears in the wine mixture to room temperature. You can refrigerate them in the poaching liquid until you’re ready to fill them.

Remove pears from the cooking liquid and reserve the liquid. Cut pears in half and core.

Whisk together the cream cheese, yogurt, 1/4 cup half & half, a pinch of cinnamon and powdered sugar until smooth. Add more half & half if the mixture seems too thick.

Fill each side of the cored pears with the cream cheese mixture and arrange on a platter with a rim.

Bring the sauce up to a simmer and reduce by half. Add butter to reduced sauce and stir until combined. Spoon generously over pears. Cool to room temperature before serving.

Serve 2 pear halves per person.

Lidia Matticchio Bastianich

Born in 1947, in Pula now in Croatia, but at one time, a city in Italy and then a city in Yugoslavia. In 1956 the Matticchio family escaped to Trieste, Italy, joining other families who had asked for political asylum. Two years later, the 12-year-old Bastianich and her family moved to North Bergen, New Jersey and later to Queens, New York. She married in 1966 and the couple opened their first restaurant, Buonavia, in the Forest Hills section of Queens. The success of Buonavia led to the opening of a second restaurant, Villa Secondo. It was here that Lidia gained the attention of local food critics by giving live cooking demonstrations, a prelude to her future career as a TV chef. In 1998, PBS offered Lidia her own TV series which became Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen. Since then she has hosted four additional public television series.

Cookbooks:

  • La Cucina di Lidia
  • Lidia’s Family Table
  • Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen
  • Lidia’s Italian Table
  • Lidia’s Italy
  • Lidia’s Italy in America
  • Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy
  • Lidia’s Italy in America
  • Lidia’s Favorites
  • Lidia’s Commonsense Italian Cooking

Osso Buco

Serves: 6

Ingredients

  • 4 fresh bay leaves, or 6 dried bay leaves
  • 1 large sprig fresh rosemary
  • 3 cups chicken broth, or more as needed
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 2-to-3-inch thick veal shanks, cut in half, tied around the circumference
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 large onion, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 2 stalks celery, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 2 small oranges, 1 peeled with a vegetable peeler, 1 zest grated
  • 2 medium carrots, cut into 1-inch chunks

Directions

Tie the bay leaves and rosemary together with string. Pour the chicken broth into a small pot and keep warm over low heat.

Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Season the osso buco with the salt. When the oil is hot, add the osso buco and brown on all sides, about 6 to 7 minutes in all. Remove browned osso buco to a plate.

Add the onion, carrots, and celery to the Dutch oven. Cook until the onion begins to soften and all of the vegetables are caramelized about 5 minutes. Push aside the vegetables to clear a dry spot in the pan, and add the tomato paste. Let it toast for a minute or two, then stir it into the vegetables. Add the wine and the herb package. Bring to a boil, and cook until the wine is reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Drop in the cloves and the orange peel (reserve the zest from the other orange for later). Return the osso buco to the pot in one layer, and pour the chicken stock over the top until it is almost, but not quite, covering the osso buco. Adjust heat so the liquid is simmering, cover, and cook until the osso buco is tender about 1 ½ hours.

Once the meat is tender, uncover, and remove the vegetable chunks to a platter. Put the osso buco on top of the vegetables. Discard the bay-leaf/rosemary package. Bring the liquid in the Dutch oven to a boil, and cook down until saucy, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the strings from the osso buco. Pour the sauce through a strainer directly over the osso buco on the platter, pressing on any remaining vegetable solids with a wooden spoon. Sprinkle the orange zest over the top, and serve.

My Version: Pork or Turkey Osso Buco

I have had success with using either pork shanks or turkey thighs in serving this entree to my guests.

Serves: 6

Ingredients

  • 6 dried bay leaves
  • 1 large sprig fresh rosemary
  • 3 cups low sodium chicken broth or more as needed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 6 organic pork shanks or turkey thighs, tied around the circumference with kitchen twine
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 large onion, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 2 stalks celery, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 2 medium carrots, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste (from the tube)
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 2 small oranges, 1 peeled with a vegetable peeler, 1 zest grated

Directions

Tie the bay leaves and rosemary together with string.

Pour the chicken broth into a small pot and keep warm over low heat.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Season the pork shanks or turkey thighs with salt. When the oil is hot, add half the pork or turkey pieces and brown the meat on all sides, about 6 to 7 minutes in all. Remove to a plate. Repeat browning with the remaining meat. If the pan needs more oil to brown the remaining pieces of meat then add the remaining olive oil. I often don’t need it.

Add the onion, carrots, and celery to the Dutch oven. Cook until the onion begins to soften about 5 minutes. Push aside the vegetables to clear a dry spot in the pan and add the tomato paste. Cook for a minute or two, then stir it into the vegetables. Add the wine and herbs. Bring to a boil and cook until the wine is reduced by half, about 3 minutes.

Drop in the cloves and the orange peel (reserve the zest from the other orange for later). Return the meat to the pot in one layer and pour the chicken stock over the top until it is almost, but not quite, covering the meat. Adjust heat so the liquid is simmering (do not let the liquid boil when the meat is in the pot or the meat will get tough), cover and cook until the meat is tender about 2-2 1/2 hours.

Once the meat is tender, uncover, and remove the meat and vegetables to a bowl. Discard the herbs and bring the liquid in the Dutch oven to a boil and cook for 5 minutes.

Remove the strings from the meat. Pour the sauce through a fine strainer directly over the bowl with the meat and vegetables pressing on any remaining solids with a wooden spoon. Sprinkle the orange zest over the top and serve. This dish is traditionally served with risotto.

Micol Negrin

micol300

Milan born, Micol Negrin graduated from Canada’s premier culinary academy and moved to New York City, where she became the Editor and chief writer for The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana. For six years, Micol wrote and edited full-time, but in her heart, she knew she wanted to be cooking for people who wanted to experience a true taste of Italian cooking. So, in January 2005, she opened a cooking school in Midtown Manhattan.

Cookbooks:

  • Rustico: Regional Italian Country Cooking
  • The Italian Grill

Fried Mozzarella in a “Carriage”

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 8 slices white bread, crusts removed
  • 1 pound fresh Mozzarella, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

Place 4 slices of bread on the counter. Top with the Mozzarella, being careful not to allow the Mozzarella to protrude beyond the edges of the bread (trim as needed). Cover with the 4 remaining slices of bread, making 4 sandwiches in all.

Spread the flour on a plate. Dip the four edges of each “sandwich” in the flour.

Pour 1/2 cup of water into a bowl. Dip the four edges of each sandwich in the water, being careful to moisten only the edges and not the inside of the sandwiches. The purpose of dipping the flour-dipped sandwiches in the water is to form a sort of glue that will prevent the Mozzarella to leak out once it is melted in the hot oil.

Arrange the four sandwiches on a platter in a single layer.

In a small bowl, beat the eggs with the salt. Pour over the sandwiches and set aside for 10 minutes. Delicately flip the sandwiches over and set aside for another 10 minutes. The purpose is to allow the bread to soak in the egg as much as possible.

Heat the olive oil in a deep pot until it registers 350°. Deep-fry 1 or 2 sandwiches at a time until golden on both sides, turning once, about 3 minutes per batch. Remove with a slotted spoon to a platter lined with paper towels and blot dry. Cut each of the sandwiches in half and serve hot.

My Version: Mozzarella in Carrozza

Deep frying adds many calories, so my version is first browned on the top of the stove and then baked in a hot oven.

4 Servings

Ingredients

  • 8 1/2 -inch-thick slices whole-grain Italian bread, crusts removed
  • 8 oz. fresh mozzarella, cut into 8 thin slices
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup low-fat milk
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups marinara sauce

Directions

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Divide the mozzarella slices among 4 slices of bread. Top with the remaining bread to form sandwiches.

Whisk egg and milk in a small shallow dish. Combine flour and cayenne in another small shallow dish.

Dip each sandwich into the egg mixture and turn to coat on all sides including the edges, letting the excess drip off. Dredge lightly in flour and dip again in the egg mixture.

Brush a heavy ovenproof skillet, preferably cast-iron, with oil. Heat over medium-high heat. Add the sandwiches and cook until the underside is golden about 1 minute.

Turn the sandwiches over and transfer the pan to the oven. Bake until golden and heated through, 8 to 10 minutes. Serve immediately with heated marinara sauce.

Marcella Hazan

(1924 –2013) Marcella’s cookbooks are credited with introducing the public in the United States and Britain to the techniques of traditional Italian cooking. She was widely considered by chefs and fellow food writers to be one of the foremost authorities on Italian cuisine. Hazan was born in the village of Cesenatico in Emilia-Romagna. In 1955 she married Victor Hazan, a New Yorker, and the couple moved to New York City. Hazan began giving cooking lessons in her apartment and later opened her own cooking school, The School of Classic Italian Cooking, in 1969. In the early 1970s, Craig Claiborne, who was then the food editor of The New York Times, asked her to contribute recipes to the paper. She published her first book, The Classic Italian Cook Book (1973).

Her other cookbooks include:

  • More Classic Italian Cooking (1978)
  • Marcella’s Italian Kitchen (1986)
  • Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (1992)
  • Marcella Cucina (1997)
  • Marcella Says: Italian Cooking Wisdom from the Legendary Teacher’s Master Classes With 120 of Her Irresistible New Recipes (2004)
  • Amarcord: Marcella Remembers (Gotham Books, 2008)

Eggplant Parmesan

Serves 6

What You’ll Need:

  • Large colander
  • Large skillet
  • Oven-to-table baking dish, approximately 11 x 7 inches, or the equivalent

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds eggplant
  • Salt
  • Vegetable oil
  • Flour for dredging
  • 2 cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, well-drained and chopped coarsely
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 pound mozzarella, preferably buffalo mozzarella
  • 8 to 10 leaves of fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • Butter for greasing baking dish

Directions

Cut off the spiky top and peel the eggplant.

Cut eggplant lengthwise into slices about 3/8-inch thick.

Stand one layer of slices upright against the inside of a colander and sprinkle with salt. Stand another layer of slices against the first and sprinkle with salt. Repeat until you have salted all the eggplant slices.

Set the colander in a dish or pan to collect the drippings and let the eggplant “steep” for 30 minutes or more. Before proceeding, pat each slice thoroughly with a paper towel.

Pour enough oil into a large skillet to reach a depth of 1½ inches. Heat over high until the oil is hot. When you have wiped the eggplant, test the oil by dipping the end of one of the slices into it. If the oil sizzles, it’s ready.

Dredge the eggplant slices in flour, coating both sides. Coat only as many slices as will fit in the skillet at one time, without overlapping. Cook to a golden brown color on one side, then turn to brown the other side. Do not turn them more than once. When both sides are done, use a slotted spoon or spatula to transfer eggplant slices to a cooling rack or a platter lined with paper towels to drain.

Repeat the procedure until all the eggplant is done.

Put the tomatoes and olive oil in another skillet. Add salt to taste and cook, stirring, over medium-high heat until the tomato mixture is reduced by half.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut the mozzarella into the thinnest possible slices.

Wash the basil and tear each leaf into pieces.

Grease the bottom and sides of a baking dish with butter. Line the bottom of the dish with a single layer of fried eggplant slices. Spread some of the cooked tomatoes over the eggplant. Cover with a layer of mozzarella slices, sprinkle liberally with grated Parmesan and distribute a few pieces of basil of the cheese. Repeat the procedure, ending with a layer of fried eggplant. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan and place the dish in the upper third of the preheated oven. Bake for 35 minutes.

My Version: Making Healthy Eggplant Parmesan

This eggplant is not fried, so I have reduced much of the fat found in traditional Eggplant Parmesan. My family has come to prefer this version over the traditional.

First Stage

I usually prepare 4-1 pound eggplants at once and freeze them in one pound packages for future use.

For each one pound of eggplant, you will need:

  • 1 pound eggplant, peeled
  • 2 or 3 eggs or1/2 to 3/4 cup egg substitute (such as Egg Beaters)
  • 1 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat two large baking sheets with nonstick olive oil cooking spray.

Cut peeled eggplants crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices (no thicker). You want them to be thin.

Place the eggs in one shallow dish and the breadcrumbs in another.

Dip the eggplant slices into the egg substitute, then coat with the breadcrumbs. Arrange the eggplant slices in a single layer on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 15 minutes, turn the eggplant slices over and bake until crisp and golden, about 10-15 minutes longer.

If you are not going to assemble the eggplant dish at this time, wrap each batch of eggplant in aluminum foil with foil sheets between the layers and place the packages in a ziplock freezer bag. Store in the freezer until you need it. Defrost a package overnight in the refrigerator, when you want to make the casserole.

Second Stage

Spray an 8 inch or 9 inch or 8-by-11 1/2-inch baking dish with olive oil cooking spray.

Preheat the oven to 375 °F.

Spread 1/2 cup of the sauce in the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Arrange half of the eggplant slices over the sauce, overlapping slightly. Spoon 1 cup of the remaining sauce over the eggplant and sprinkle with half of the cheese. Add a layer of the remaining eggplant slices and top with the remaining sauce and cheese. Cover the dish with foil and bake until the sauce bubbles and the cheese is melted about 25 to 30 minutes.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Cooking healthy doesn’t mean you suddenly start counting calories, checking your cholesterol or monitoring your sodium intake. It means making better food choices. More whole grains, less white flour; more leafy, hardy greens; more heritage-breed pork instead of plastic-wrapped supermarket meat; more sustainable fish and organic chicken. When we build our meals around these ingredients, we don’t think “health,” we think “delicious.” Celebrate what good food has always been about: the best possible ingredients, prepared well and consumed with portion restraint. For many of us, learning to develop healthy eating habits takes a little more discipline than it does for others. By making small changes with every meal, you can start developing healthier eating habits in no time.

Here are a few small steps that can lead to giant leaps for you and your family’s health.

Start by changing the “snack ratio” in the house. Slowly and gradually have more fruit and healthier choices around, rather than the typical, higher-calorie junk food. For instance, have three types of fruit (apples, oranges, grapes) to replace some of the small bags of chips or candy bars. Start replacing unhealthy snacks with alternative choices, such as oatmeal bars, granola bars or peanuts and yogurt.

Easy snacks:

  • Toss sliced apples, berries, bananas and a tablespoon or two of whole-grain cereal on top of fat-free or low-fat yogurt.
  • Put a slice of low-fat cheese on top of whole-grain crackers.
  • Make a whole-wheat pita pocket with hummus, lettuce, tomato and cucumber.
  • Pop some low-fat popcorn.
  • Microwave or toast a soft whole grain tortilla with low-fat cheese and sliced peppers and mushrooms to make a mini-burrito or quesadilla.
  • Drink fat-free or low-fat chocolate milk (blend it with a banana or strawberries and some ice for a smoothie).

When shopping at the grocery store, spend more of your time in the outer aisles. That’s where you’ll find the healthier foods, such as fresh fruits, fish and vegetables, which are naturally lower in fat and cholesterol and do not have added sugar, salt and other preservatives that add on the pounds.

A better choice because these chips contain just corn, oil and salt and less than 150 calories per serving.

Begin reading the labels of the foods that you eat. Foods that are labeled “low in fat,” or “light,” are not always the healthiest choice. Many times, if a product is lower in fat, it may be higher in sodium, or, if it’s lower in sugar, it may be high in fat. Read the “Nutrition Facts” chart on the back of the box, can or bag, so you know what you are eating. Reading the label of every food item while you’re shopping is not easy. A better way to start is with your favorite packaged foods and snacks at home. Notice the differences in the amounts of sodium, carbohydrates, sugar and calories per serving between the different foods that you have in your pantry. The next step is to slowly begin making adjustments in your shopping choices by looking for alternatives with fewer calories, sodium and fats.

Don’t get caught up in the calories. Instead look at the portions and calories per serving. Most consumers read the number of calories and assume that’s the number of calories for the entire package, rather than the number of calories per serving – buyer beware.

Comparison of Portions and Calories 20 Years Ago to Present Day
20 Years Ago Today
Portion Calories Portion Calories
Bagel 3” diameter 140 6” diameter 350
Cheeseburger 1 333 1 590
Spaghetti
w/meatballs
1 cup sauce
3 small
meatballs
500 2 cups sauce
3 large
meatballs
1,020
Soda 6.5 ounces 82 20 ounces 250
Blueberry
muffin
1.5 ounces 210 5 ounces 500

Develop a healthy habit of selecting sensible-sized food portions. If your plate has a serving of rice that can’t fit into the cupped palm of your hand, then, in most cases, the amount of food you’ve chosen is too much. Using this “cup of your hand” technique is a good way to mentally measure the amounts of foods that go onto your plate. Some people use the size of their fist as a measurement. The size of your fist, or a cupped hand, is about the same size of one measuring cup. You can also use the Healthy Eating Plate pictured at the top of this post as a guide to portion control.

Retrain your taste buds and attitude toward better food choices. The natural sweetness of an orange or apple can’t compete with the sugary taste of a candy bar. You can retrain your palate to like foods that are good for you. Eat more fruits and vegetables as snacks or as replacements for some of the fats that you would tend to add onto your lunch tray or dinner plate and your taste buds will get used to it.

The more color on your plate, the better. Not only does this keep things interesting and exciting for you and your taste buds, but it’s healthier. The nutrients that create the different colors in our fruit and vegetables, represent different nutrients for your body. Feed your body as many varieties as possible. The fight against the common cold, cancers and other illnesses can be prevented by having variety in your diet. Don’t skip meals (especially breakfast). Skipping meals, or starving your body will cause it to go into a starvation mode – it will start to hold on to fat rather than burn it. In fact, allow yourself to snack a little more, just make them healthy snacks. Your metabolism will actually pick up steam and start to burn more of what you’re giving it – especially with an accompanying daily exercise program.

Basic alternatives to fattening foods.

  • Choose mustard instead of mayo (mustard naturally has less calories/fat).
  • Choose brown rice, whole wheat, rye or oat bread over white bread (brown foods don’t have extra fats added to them to change their color).
  • Choose the white meat of turkey or chicken over dark meat, red meat or pork (most of our fat intake comes from animal fat; white meat contains less fat).
  • Choose baked or broiled instead of fried, battered or breaded.
  • Choose water over juice and soda. Some juices contain just as many carbs and calories as a small bag of potato chips. Try slowly weaning yourself off caffeinated soda with tea or water – have two glasses of water or cups of tea for every can of soda you drink. (Also, don’t drink your calories – those 100 calories of juice could be two pieces of fruit or a cereal bar, a more filling feeling for you and your stomach.)
  • Choose low-calorie sauces and ask to have sauces and dressings served on the side when dining at a restaurant. (Usually more sauce is poured on than is needed. Dip your fork into the sauce, then dip your fork into the food. This will give you the flavor with every bite, but without the extra, unnecessary fat.)
  • Choose fat-free milk and skim milk cheese, as opposed to whole milk (again, most of our fat intake comes from animal fat).
  • Choose vegetables as side orders over fries and chips. Oven roasted or stir fried veggies are preferable over creamed veggies (vegetables naturally carry less fat).
  • Choose to pack fruit and nuts to hold you over to the next meal, rather than opting for fast food or snacks from a vending machine. Fruit snacks will help you get to the next meal without the extra fat intake). Fruits like bananas and oranges are convenient and have their own protective packaging.

Italian Sausage Soup

This soup stores well in the refrigerator for easy reheating. If you use a slow cooker, combine everything together except the cabbage, kale, beans and tomatoes; add those during the last 30-45 minutes of cooking. Serve with rustic bread.

10 servings

Ingredient

  • 1 (20-ounce) package pre-cooked, all-natural Italian chicken or turkey sausage, sliced diagonally
  • 1 cup chopped red onion
  • 1 stalk celery with leaves, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 5 cups low-sodium stock or broth (chicken, beef, or a mixture)
  • 1 1/2 cups peeled, cubed potatoes (about 2 medium potatoes)
  • 1 cup peeled, chopped carrots
  • 1 small fennel bulb, chopped (about 7 ounces)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried fennel seed
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • 4 cups thinly sliced green cabbage
  • 3 cups thinly sliced kale leaves, tough center stems removed
  • 1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes in juice
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish
  • 1/4 cup sliced fresh basil leaves

Directions

Brown sausage in a Dutch oven or large saucepan for 5 minutes. Add onion, celery and garlic and sauté for 5 minutes more. Drain off any fat in the pot.

Add stock or broth, potatoes, carrots, fennel, fennel seed, Italian seasoning and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, covered, for 35-40 minutes or until vegetables are nearly tender.

Stir in cabbage, kale, beans and tomatoes. Return to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 10-15 minutes more. Ladle into bowls and serve with grated Parmesan cheese, fresh basil and crusty bread.

png;base64327f74f4922a29ca

Quinoa-Stuffed Winter Squash

This vegetarian dish can be prepared up to three hours ahead and reheated just before serving time.

8 servings

Ingredients

  • 4 small acorn squash
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 3/4 tablespoon sea salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons allspice, divided
  • 1 red onion, cut in 1/4-inch dice
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 cups cooked quinoa
  • 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts or slivered almonds
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Directions

Preheat oven to 375˚F. Cut squash in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds. Place halves, cut side down, in a lightly greased, large baking dish. Bake for 35 minutes, until just tender.

Turn cut side up, brush each half with olive oil and place 2-3 tablespoons of vegetable broth into each of the eight cavities. Season tops with ¼ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper and ¼ teaspoon allspice. Return squash to the oven and bake until browned on the edges, another 5–10 minutes. Remove from oven and drain any broth from the squash into a bowl with the unused broth. Set baking dish and bowl with broth aside.

Place 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large saucepan over high heat and add onions. Stir until they begin to soften and then reduce the heat to medium. Add garlic, cranberries, remaining salt, pepper and allspice. Cook, stirring often, for another 5–10 minutes, until the onions are tender. Add cooked quinoa and reserved broth; mix well.

Remove saucepan from the heat and stir in nuts, mint, parsley and salt to taste. Divide mixture among squash halves. Return to the oven and warm through.

Chicken and Gnocchi with Squash Sauce

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 pound shelf-stable potato gnocchi
  • 1 small acorn (or butternut) squash, halved and seeded
  • 1 pound chicken breast tenderloins
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 3/4 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
  • 2 tablespoons low fat milk
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Tiny whole sage leaves
  • Grated nutmeg

Directions

Prepare gnocchi according to package directions. Drain. Cover and keep warm.

While the gnocchi are cooking, place squash, cut sides down in a microwave-safe baking dish with 2 tablespoons water. Cook in the microwave, covered, on high (100 percent power) 7 to 10 minutes; rearrange once. Let stand, covered, 5 minutes.

Sprinkle chicken with Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. In large skillet cook chicken in 1 tablespoon hot oil over medium heat 4 minutes on each side, until no longer pink. Remove; cover, keep warm.

Scrape flesh from the squash; mash. Transfer to the hot skillet where the chicken was cooked; stir in broth and chopped sage. Bring to boiling; simmer 1 minute. Stir in milk. Add gnocchi and stir carefully.

Spoon gnocchi with sauce into 4 serving bowls. Top with chicken and sprinkle each with Parmesan cheese, sage leaves and nutmeg.

Creamy Spinach Lasagna

8 Servings

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 1/4 cups chopped onion (about 2 medium)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (16-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained and squeezed dry
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour (about 1 1/2 ounces)
  • 3 cups reduced-fat milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 1 (26-ounce) jar or 3 ½ cups homemade marinara sauce
  • Cooking spray
  • 12 cooked whole wheat lasagna noodles
  • 1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • Chopped parsley

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Heat oil in a large skillet with a cover over medium heat. Add onion; cook 10 minutes or until onion is browned, stirring occasionally. Stir in garlic and spinach. Reduce heat, cover, and cook 3 minutes or until spinach is tender. Set aside.

Combine flour, milk, salt, black pepper and red pepper in a small saucepan, stirring with a whisk. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat and simmer 1 minute, stirring frequently.

Add 2 cups of the milk mixture to the spinach mixture. Cover remaining milk mixture and set aside.

Spread 1/2 cup marinara sauce in the bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Arrange 3 lasagna noodles over the sauce; top with half of the spinach mixture.

Top with 3 lasagna noodles, 1 cup marinara sauce and 3/4 cup of the mozzarella cheese.

Layer 3 more lasagna noodles, remaining spinach mixture and remaining 3 lasagna noodles.

Top with remaining marinara sauce. Pour reserved milk mixture over the top and sprinkle with remaining 3/4 cup cheese.

Bake at 375° for 50 minutes or until lasagna is browned on top. Garnish with parsley.

Raspberry Tiramisu Parfaits

2 Servings (recipe is easily doubled)

Ingredients

  • 1/4 ounce ladyfingers, cubed (6 halves)
  • 2 tablespoons espresso or strong coffee
  • 1/4 cup reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchatel)
  • 1/4 cup light dairy sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup frozen raspberries, defrosted
  • Fresh mint sprigs and additional raspberries for garnish

Directions

Divide half of the ladyfinger cubes between two 5- to 6-ounce dessert dishes. Drizzle ladyfinger cubes with half of the espresso. Set aside.

In a medium bowl stir cream cheese to soften. Stir in sour cream, sugar and vanilla. (Beat smooth with a wire whisk, if necessary.) Stir in the defrosted raspberries with a spoon, mashing slightly.

Spoon half of the cream cheese mixture over the ladyfinger cubes. Add remaining ladyfingers and drizzle with remaining espresso.

Top with remaining cream cheese mixture. Cover and chill for 1 to 24 hours. Garnish with fresh mint sprigs and a few raspberries before serving.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Gian Carlo Menotti (1911 – 2007) was an Italian-American composer and librettist. He wrote the classic Christmas opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors, and two dozen other operas intended to appeal to popular taste. He won the Pulitzer Prize for two of them: The Consul (1950) and The Saint of Bleecker Street (1955). “Amahl” was the first opera ever televised, while “The Consul,” “The Medium” and “The Telephone” were produced on Broadway.

Born in Cadegliano-Viconago, Italy, near Lake Maggiore and the Swiss border, Menotti was the sixth of eight children of Alfonso (a coffee merchant) and Ines Menotti. Menotti began writing songs when he was seven years old and at eleven wrote both the libretto and music for his first opera, The Death of Pierrot. He began his formal musical training at the Milan Conservatory in 1923.

Following her husband’s death, Ines Menotti went to Colombia in a futile attempt to salvage the family’s coffee business and, while there, she enrolled Menotti at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. She returned to Italy after the business failed. Armed with a letter of introduction from the wife of Arturo Toscanini, Gian Carlo studied composition at Curtis under Rosario Scalero. Fellow students at Curtis included Leonard Bernstein and Samuel Barber. Barber became Menotti’s lover and partner in life and in work; with Menotti crafting the libretto for Barber’s most famous opera, Vanessa, which premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 1958. After graduation, the two men bought a house together in Mount Kisco, New York, which they named “Capricorn” and shared for over forty years.

It was at Curtis that Menotti wrote his first mature opera, Amelia Goes to the Ball (Amelia al Ballo), in his own Italian text. The Island God and The Last Savage were the only other operas he wrote in Italian, the rest being in English. Like Wagner, he wrote the libretti of all his operas. His most successful works were composed in the 1940s and 1950s and he also taught at the Curtis Institute of Music.

Menotti founded the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy in 1958 and its companion festival in Charleston, South Carolina in 1977. Menotti also wrote several ballets and numerous choral works. Notable among these is his cantata, The Death of the Bishop of Brindisi, written in 1963 and the cantata, Landscapes and Remembrances, in 1976 – a descriptive work of Menotti’s memories of America written for the United States Bicentennial. In 1984 Menotti was awarded a Kennedy Center Honor for achievement in the arts and in 1991 he was chosen Musical America’s “Musician of the Year”. In addition to composing operas Menotti directed most productions of his work. He died on February 1, 2007 at the age of 95.

John Corigliano was born in New York to a musical family. His father, John Corigliano Sr., was concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic for 23 years and his mother, Rose Buzen, was an accomplished pianist. Corigliano attended school in Brooklyn and studied composition at Columbia University and at the Manhattan School of Music. Before achieving success as a composer, Corigliano worked as assistant to the producer on the Leonard Bernstein Young People’s Concerts and as a session producer for classical artists such as André Watts.

Most of Corigliano’s work has been for symphony orchestra. He employs a wide variety of styles, sometimes even within the same work, but aims to make his work accessible for a relatively large audience. He has written symphonies, as well as works for string orchestra and wind band. Additionally, Corigliano has written concerts for clarinet, flute, violin, oboe, and piano; film scores; various chamber and solo instrument works and the opera, The Ghosts of Versailles, which enjoyed success at the premiere.

Corigliano first came into prominence in 1964 when, at the age of 26, his Sonata for Violin and Piano (1963) was the only winner of the chamber-music competition of the Spoleto Festival in Italy. Support from Meet the Composer, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation followed, as did important commissions. For the New York Philharmonic he composed, Vocalise (1999), Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra (1977) and Fantasia on an Ostinato (1986).  For the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, he wrote Poem in October (1970). For the New York State Council on the Arts, he composed the Oboe Concerto (1975). For flutist James Galway he composed Promenade Overture (1981), as well as the Symphony No. 2 (2001).  The National Symphony Orchestra commissioned Corigliano’s evening-length, A Dylan Thomas Trilogy (1960, rev. 1999) and also composed Chiaroscuro, for two pianos. In 2011, Corigliano’s “One Sweet Morning” premiered at Avery Fisher Hall for the New York Philharmonic, a commission commemorating the 10th anniversary of the September 11th Attacks.

Dominick Argento (born 1927) is an American composer, best known for his lyric operatic and choral music. Among his best known pieces are the operas, Postcard from Morocco, Miss Havisham’s Fire, The Masque of Angels, The Aspern Papers, as well as the songs, “Six Elizabethan Songs” and “From the Diary of Virginia Woolf” for which he earned the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1975.

Argento, the son of Sicilian immigrants, grew up in York, Pennsylvania. Upon graduating from high school, he was drafted into the Army and spent some time as a cryptographer. Following his discahrge from the military, Argento studied piano performance at the Peabody Conservatory on the G.I. Bill but, soon after decided, to switch to composition. He earned a bachelor’s degree (1951) and a master’s degree (1953) from Peabody, where his teachers included Nicholas Nabokov, Henry Cowell and Hugo Weisgall. While there, he was briefly the music director of Weisgall’s Hilltop Musical Company, which Weisgall founded as a venue for local composers to present new work. This experience gave Argento broad exposure and experience in the world of new opera. Hilltop’s stage director was writer John Olon-Scrymgeour with whom Argento would later collaborate on many operas.

During this time period he also spent a year in Florence on a Fulbright Fellowship and has called the experience “life-altering.” Argento went on to receive his Ph.D. from the Eastman School of Music. Following completion of this degree, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship and spent another year in Florence. As a student in the 1950s, Argento divided his time between America and Italy and his music is greatly influenced both by his instructors in the United States and his personal affection for Italy, particularly the city of Florence. Many of Argento’s works were written in Florence, where he spends a portion of every year.

He has been a professor (and, more recently, a professor emeritus) at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Argento frequently remarks that he finds that city to be tremendously supportive of his work and that he thinks his musical development would have been impeded had he stayed in the high-pressure music world on the East Coast.

In 1984, the Minnesota Opera commissioned Argento’s opera, Casanova’s Homecoming, with text by the composer. It went on to a well-received run at New York City Opera, where at the insistence of Beverly Sills, it became the first opera performed in New York in English to have English subtitles, to ensure the audience would understand all the jokes. The opera won the 1986 National Institute for Music Theatre Award. Argento was one of the founders of the Center Opera Company (now the Minnesota Opera) and Newsweek Magazine once referred to the Twin Cities as “Argento’s town.” Argento has written fourteen operas as well as major song cycles, orchestral works and choral pieces, many of which were commissioned for and premiered by Minnesota-based artists. He has referred to his wife, the soprano Carolyn Bailey, as his muse, and she was a frequent performer of his works until her death in 2006.

Laura Nyro (1947 – 1997) was an American songwriter, singer and pianist. She achieved critical acclaim with her own recordings, particularly the albums Eli and the Thirteenth Confession (1968) and New York Tendaberry (1969), and had commercial success with artists such as Barbra Streisand and The 5th Dimension recording her songs. Her style was a hybrid of pop, jazz, gospel, rhythm and blues, show tunes, rock and soul.

Between 1968 and 1970, a number of artists had hits with her songs: The 5th Dimension with “Blowing Away”, “Wedding Bell Blues”, “Stoned Soul Picnic”, “Sweet Blindness”, “Save the Country” and “Black Patch”. Blood Sweat & Tears and Peter, Paul & Mary with “And When I Die”. Three Dog Night and Maynard Ferguson with “Eli’s Comin'” and Barbra Streisand with “Stoney End”, “Time and Love” and “Hands off the Man”. Nyro’s best-selling single was the recording by Carole King and Gerry Goffin singing, “Up on the Roof”.

Nyro was born in the Bronx, New York, the daughter of Gilda Mirsky Nigro, a bookkeeper, and Louis Nigro, a piano tuner and jazz trumpeter. Laura had a younger brother, Jan Nigro, who has become a well-known children’s musician. As a child, she taught herself piano, read poetry and listened to her mother’s records by Leontyne Price, Billie Holiday and classical composers such as Ravel and Debussy. She composed her first songs at age eight. With her family, she spent summers in the Catskill Mountains, where her father played the trumpet at the resorts.

She attended Manhattan’s High School of Music and Art. While in high school, she sang with a group of friends in subway stations and on street corners. She said, “I would go out singing, as a teenager, to a party or out on the street, because there were harmony groups there and that was one of the joys of my youth.” She also commented: “I was always interested in the social consciousness of certain songs. My mother and grandfather were progressive thinkers, so I felt at home in the peace movement and the women’s movement and that has influenced my music.”

Her father’s work brought him into contact with record company executive, Artie Mogull and his partner Paul Barry, who auditioned Laura in 1966. They became her first managers. She sold her first song “And When I Die” to Peter, Paul and Mary for $5,000 and made her first extended professional appearance, at age 18, singing at the “hungry i” coffeehouse in San Francisco. Mogull negotiated a contract for her and she recorded her debut album, More Than a New Discovery, for the Verve Folkways label. The album provided material for other artists, notably the 5th Dimension and Barbra Streisand.

The new contract allowed Nyro more artistic freedom and control. In 1968, Columbia released Eli and the Thirteenth Confession, her second album. This received high critical praise for the depth and sophistication of the performance and arrangements, which merged pop structure with creative imagery, rich vocals and avant-garde jazz, and is widely considered to be one of her best works. It was followed in 1969 by New York Tendaberry, another highly acclaimed work which cemented Nyro’s artistic credibility. The record’s “Time and Love” and “Save the Country” emerged as two of her most well-regarded and popular songs, sung by other artists.

She had a relationship with singer/songwriter Jackson Browne in 1970 – 1971 but married Vietnam War veteran, David Bianchini, in 1972 after a whirlwind romance and spent the next three years living with him in a small town in Massachusetts. The marriage ended after three years, during which time she grew accustomed to country life as opposed to the city life where she had recorded her first five records. She had one son, Gil Bianchini, also known as musician Gil-T, from a short-lived relationship with a man named Harindra Singh, but gave him the surname of her ex-husband.

In 1975, following the split from Bianchini, Nyro suffered the trauma of the death of her mother from ovarian cancer at the age of 49. In a twist of fate, Nyro was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1996. After the diagnosis, Columbia Records prepared a double-disc CD retrospective of material from her years at the label. Together Columbia Records and Nyro selected the tracks and approved the final project. She lived to see the release of Stoned Soul Picnic: The Best of Laura Nyro (1997) and was reportedly pleased with the outcome. She died of ovarian cancer in Danbury, Connecticut, on April 8, 1997, at 49, the same age at which the disease had claimed the life of her mother. In 2012, Nyro was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Enrico Nicola “Henry” Mancini (1924 – 1994) was an American composer, conductor and arranger, who is best remembered for his film and television scores. He won a record number of Grammy Awards, plus a posthumous Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995. His best-known works include the theme to The Pink Panther film series and the theme to the Peter Gunn television series. Mancini had a long collaboration with the film director Blake Edwards and won numerous Academy Awards for the songs in Edwards films, including “Moon River” from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, “Days of Wine and Roses” and for the score to Victor Victoria.

Mancini was born in the Little Italy neighborhood of Cleveland and was raised near Pittsburgh, in the steel town of West Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. His parents emigrated from the Abruzzo region of Italy. Mancini’s father, Quinto (born in Scanno, Italy) was a steelworker, who made his only child begin piccolo lessons at the age of eight. When Mancini was 12 years old, he began piano lessons. Quinto and Henry played flute together in the Aliquippa Italian immigrant band, “Sons of Italy”. After graduating from high school, Mancini attended the renowned Juilliard School of Music in New York. In 1943, after roughly one year at Juilliard, his studies were interrupted when he was drafted into the United States Army. In 1945, he participated in the liberation of a concentration camp in southern Germany.

In 1946, he became a pianist and arranger for the newly re-formed Glenn Miller Orchestra, led by Tex Beneke and in 1952, Mancini joined the Universal Pictures music department. During the next six years, he contributed music to over 100 movies, most notably The Creature from the Black Lagoon, It Came from Outer Space, Tarantula, This Island Earth, The Glenn Miller Story (for which he received his first Academy Award nomination), The Benny Goodman Story and Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil. During this time, he also wrote some popular songs. His first hit was a single by Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians titled, “I Won’t Let You Out of My Heart”.

Mancini left Universal-International to work as an independent composer/arranger in 1958. Soon after, he scored the television series, Peter Gunn, for writer/producer Blake Edwards. This was the beginning of a relationship in which Edwards and Mancini collaborated on 30 films over 35 years. Along with Alex North, Elmer Bernstein, Leith Stevens and Johnny Mandel, Henry Mancini was a pioneer of the inclusion of jazz elements in film and TV scoring at the time. Mancini scored many TV movies, including The Thorn Birds and The Shadow Box. He wrote many television themes, including Mr. Lucky, NBC Mystery Movie, What’s Happening!!, Tic Tac Dough and Once Is Not Enough. In the 1984–85 television season, four series featured original Mancini themes: Newhart, Hotel, Remington Steele and Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

Songs with music by Mancini were staples of the easy listening genre from the 1960s to the 1980s. Mancini recorded over 90 albums, in styles ranging from big band to light classical to pop. Eight of these albums were certified gold by The Recording Industry Association of America. He had a 20-year contract with RCA Records, resulting in 60 commercial record albums that made him a household name among artists of easy-listening music

Mancini died of pancreatic cancer in Los Angeles on June 14, 1994. He was working at the time on the Broadway stage version of Victor/Victoria, which he never saw on stage. Mancini was nominated for an unprecedented 72 Grammy’s, winning 20. Additionally he was nominated for 18 Academy Awards, winning four. He also won a Golden Globe Award and was nominated for two Emmys.

Recipe from the Abruzzo Region

The Abruzzo is a wild and craggy region with small fishing hamlets along the Adriatic and pastures in the highlands inland where, until quite recently, shepherds lived with their flocks for much of the year. The cooking is frugal, simple peasant food but wholesome.

Fava Bean Soup with Peas and Artichokes

Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces (300 g) fresh fava beans (use frozen; its easier)
  • 10 ounces (250 g) freshly shelled or frozen peas (if you buy unshelled, double the weight)
  • 4 artichokes, (use defrosted frozen artichoke hearts; its easier)
  • 1 shallot
  • 2 ounces (50 g) guanciale (cured pork; or use pancetta)
  • 4 potatoes, peeled and diced
  • A small bunch of parsley, minced
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Hot water

Directions

Prepare the artichokes if using fresh, trimming the tips, slivering them, and eliminating any fuzz there may be in the hearts. Put the pieces in a bowl of acidulated (lemon) water to keep them from discoloring. If using frozen artichokes, just cut in half.

Mince the guanciale or pancetta and the shallot and sauté them in the oil in a large saucepan; when the shallot has become translucent (don’t let it brown), drain the artichokes and add them, together with the diced potatoes.

Cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes, then add the fava beans and peas. Season the pot with salt and pepper and add hot water just to cover. Simmer for about 20 minutes or until the peas and beans are tender. Sprinkle the parsley over the soup , cook it a minute more, and serve.

Recipe from the Lombardy Region

Lombardia is landlocked and, therefore, one might not expect to find much in the way of fish. However, the region does boast Italy’s most important lakes and many waterways. Coregonus lavaretus, or the common European white fish, is one of the more abundant European fresh water fish. White fish are a collection of closely related fish, each of which has adapted to its particular habitat. Those in the major Italian lakes are quite popular because they are carnivorous and therefore don’t have those muddy flavors common to bottom feeders. If you visit Lake Garda, you will find grilled white fish and also White Fsh alla Gardesana, with a sauce that includes capers and can include either tomato or anchovies.

White Fish Filets Gardesana Style

Ingredients:

  • 2 European whole white fish (American white fish is quite similar), weighing 1 1/3 pounds (600 g) each and cut into fillets
  • 2 ripe plum tomatoes or 2 anchovy filets packed in oil, mashed
  • 4 fresh basil leaves
  • 3 tablespoons salted capers, rinsed and patted dry
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • The juice of a lemon
  • Finely chopped chives, to serve as a garnish
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • Salt to taste

Directions

Set the filets on a plate, drizzle the lemon juice over them and lightly salt them.

If you are including the tomatoes, heat a small pot of water to a boil, blanch them, peel them, seed them, draining away the water they contain and dice them finely.

Finely chop the capers and the basil leaves.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet large enough for the filets to lie flat and cook them for 3-5 minutes over high heat turning them carefully. When they are golden, remove them to a serving platter and keep them warm.

Return the skillet to the heat and add either the diced tomato or the anchovy filets, together with the chopped capers. As soon as the mixture begins to cook add the dry white wine and boil until the sauce is slightly reduced. Spoon it over the fish and serve at once, with the vegetable of choice, or if you want to be traditional, with a fairly soft polenta.

Recipe from the Sicilian Region

Sicily is the only Italian region where pistachio trees are growing and the town of Bronte is the largest producer in the region. Bronte pistachios are preferred for their delicate aroma and their nutty and sweet-sour taste.

Pistachio Cookies

  • 5 cups all purpose flour (1 lb)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 1 cup shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped, 5 oz. 
  • 1 cup sugar, 8 oz.
  • 1 cup unsalted butter (at room temperature) ½ lb
  • 1 egg
  • 3 yolks, lightly beat
  • 1 tablespoon of honey
  • 2 oz. shelled pistachios, finely ground, and granulated sugar for garnish

Directions

Making the dough

Into a large bowl, sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and cloves. Add the lemon zest and the chopped pistachios.

In an electric mixer bowl, cream the sugar and butter.

Add the flour mixture and the eggs and honey and mix thoroughly.

If mixture is too dry add a few tablespoons of milk.

Do not over mix

Transfer onto a flat floured surface and briefly knead to bring dough together.

Do not handle dough more than necessary.

Over mixing would build up gluten, which is good if you are making pasta or bread however it is incompatible to these cookies whose characteristic is crumbliness.

Divide the dough into 2 parts.

Place each piece on a sheet of wax paper and roll dough into 1 ½” wide log. Wrap it tightly and refrigerate.

Follow the same procedure for the other piece of cookie dough. Refrigerate until dough is firm, at least for 2 hours, or store until ready to use.

Forming the cookies

Take the dough roll out of refrigerator, one log at a time, and use a sharp knife to cut it into ½” disks. Place each disk onto sheet pans lined with parchment paper, about 1 ½ inch apart.

Garnish each cookie with a good pinch of ground pistachios and sprinkle with granulated sugar.

Repeat process with the other log.

Instead of forming logs, you can roll out the dough to ¼” thick and use a cookie cutter, or cut with a sharp knife into any shape; decorate any way you prefer.

Baking the cookies

Bake in batches at 350 degrees F for 10 to 12 minutes; bake cookies until they are a light golden brown. Be careful not to overcook these delicate cookies.

Enhanced by Zemanta

snow in rome

The national capital of Italy, Rome, is a sophisticated city full of international political emissaries and wealthy travelers. These visitors naturally expect some of Italy’s best food.

Dinner often begins with a lavish antipasti that features fresh seafood, preserved meats, ripe produce, baked goods and fragrant olives and olive oils. Brothy soups are offered, though rarely are they plain. Pasta e ceci is a rosemary and garlic scented broth with pasta and chickpeas. Hot beef broth is flavored with nutmeg and has ragged strips of egg stirred throughout before garnishing with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Stewed white beans, flavored with prosciutto, pork rind, garlic, onions and rosemary are also popular.

Roman cooking uses fresh produce abundantly. Artichokes may be served raw or fried, either with garlic and mint or deep fried according to the traditions of the Jewish community. Local rocket (arugula) is prized for fresh salads. Puntarella, or endive, is seasoned with anchovies and garlic before serving cold. Another popular vegetable dish is pomodori ripieni, tomatoes that are stuffed with rice or potatoes, seasoned with garlic and basil and baked.

Recipes may use fresh or dried pasta in many different shapes. Fresh pasta is eaten in lasagna or Rome’s famous, Fettuccine al Burro. This dish takes strips of pasta egg dough and gently coats them in butter. Cream and freshly grated Parmesan cheese are then added. Roman recipes for pasta often call for tubes, as this shape is more effective for holding onto hearty sauces. Bucatini all’amatriciana tosses thin tubed spaghetti with a spicy pork sauce and grated Pecorino cheese, sometimes garlic or tomatoes are added for flavor. Penne all’arrabbiata is topped with a tomato sauce seasoned with chili peppers and garlic. Chunky tubes are served with a filling meat sauce that contains beef intestine and is flavored with herbs, garlic and salt pork to make rigatoni con la pajata. Simple spaghetti is dressed with extra virgin olive oil that has been heated with garlic, parsley and chili peppers for spaghetti all ‘aglio olio e peperoncino.

Other starchy dishes are made from wheat, potatoes, rice and polenta. Potato or semolina gnocchi dumplings are popular foods. Suppli al telefono are hand held balls of rice stuffed with mozzarella cheese and sometimes flavored with liver, veal or anchovies. When they are eaten, the cheese is said to stretch out in strings resembling telephone wires.

Some of Rome’s best dishes are the sautéed, braised, boiled or roasted vegetables that are served with most meals. Called contorni, these flavorful dishes round out meat and fish main courses. They are also served as antipasti, before meals. Trattorie all over town serve braised cardoons (a cousin of the artichoke) with mixed local greens. Classic contorni are common in home cooks’ repertoires as well, though many Romans like to purchase them by weight at a tavole calde (literally “hot table” shops).

Hopefully this dinner menu will make you feel like you are in Rome.

Appetizer Course

Beet and Onion Salad

Insalata di barbabietole e cipolle

Serves 8

Usually served as an antipasto in Rome. A variation of the salad can be made by slicing the beets thin and marinating them for 2 hours with 10 fresh basil leaves, salt and vinegar. Mix with sliced fennel and olive oil.

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs beets with stems and leaves
  • 1 medium white onion
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4-cup extra virgin olive oil, or more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons wine vinegar, or more to taste

Directions

Leave about 2 inches of stem on the beets. Wash, then place the beets in cold water to cover, bring to a boil and gently boil for about 1 hour, or until tender. Or cook in a pressure cooker with cold water to cover for 10 minutes or in a 325°F oven until tender, 1 to 2 hours, according to size. Test with a fork to be sure they are cooked through.

Cool and slip off the skins. Slice the beets and onion thinly and place them in a salad bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and dress with the oil and vinegar.

NOTE: This can be prepared several hours in advance.

First Course

Pasta e Ceci (Pasta with Chickpeas)

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 stalk of celery, trimmed and finely chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • A sprig of fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 2 – 14-oz. cans of chickpeas
  • 2 1/4 cups of chicken stock
  • 3 1/2 oz. ditalini or other small Italian “soup” pasta
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Fresh basil or parsley leaves for garnish

Directions

Place the finely chopped onion, celery, rosemary and garlic into a saucepan with a little extra virgin olive oil and cook as gently as possible, with the lid on, for about 15-20 minutes, until all the vegetables are soft. Do not brown.

Drain the chickpeas well, rinse them in cold water and add them to the pan with the chicken stock. Cook gently for half an hour and then, using a slotted spoon, remove half the chickpeas to a bowl.

Puree the soup remaining in the pan using a handheld immersion blender. If you don’t have one, you can use a food processor instead, then pour it back into the pan. Add the reserved whole chickpeas and the pasta, season the soup with salt and pepper and simmer gently until the chickpeas are tender and the pasta is cooked.

Serve drizzled with good-quality extra virgin olive oil and garnish with basil or parsley.

Second Course

porkribroast

Fennel and Garlic Crusted Pork Roast

Ingredients

  • 1 small head fennel with 2 inches of fronds attached, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped onion
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh sage
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh oregano
  • 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
  • 1 1⁄2 teaspoon coarsely ground white pepper
  • One 4 1/2-lb. pork rib roast, tied with kitchen twine
  • Coarse salt to taste

Directions

In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine the fennel and fennel fronds, onion and garlic. Process to a paste. Add the thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, fennel seeds and pepper and pulse to combine.

With a small, sharp knife, make shallow crosshatch cuts in the skin of the pork roast. Season it all over with salt, rubbing it in well. Rub the fennel–garlic paste over the roast to cover it with a layer about 1⁄4” thick. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 8 hours.

About 20 minutes before cooking, remove the roast from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 500° F. Transfer the pork to a roasting pan. Roast the pork for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 325°F. Continue roasting the pork for 35-40 minutes longer or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the meat registers 155°. Remove the roast from the oven and cover it loosely with foil. Let it rest for 15 minutes before removing the butcher twine and slicing it into thick chops.

 

Broccoli Strascinati (Broccoli with Garlic and Hot Pepper)

This Roman dish, which pairs beautifully with pork, can be made with regular broccoli or broccoli rabe.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 bunch broccoli (about 1 lb.), stemmed and cut into florets
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red chile flakes
  • Kosher salt, to taste

Directions

Heat oil in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat. Add broccoli; cook, turning occasionally, until lightly browned, 6–8 minutes. Sprinkle in 2 tablespoons water; add garlic; cook until golden, 2–3 minutes. Add chili; cook 2 minutes. Season with salt.

 

Stewed Bell Peppers (Peperonata)

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 assorted red, yellow and orange bell peppers, cored, seeded and cut into ¼” strips
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced crosswise
  • 1/2 medium white onion, thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup flat leaf parsley (chopped)

Directions

Heat oil in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Add peppers, garlic, onions and ½ cup water. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until the peppers are soft, about 1 hour. Stir in vinegar and transfer to a serving bowl. Garnish with parsley.

Dessert Course

Apple-Apricot Crostata

Ingredients

  • 4 Granny Smith or other good cooking apples
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter or pareve margarine
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup apricot preserves
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F and grease a 10-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom.

Peel, core and slice the apples into crescents about a fourth to an eighth of an inch thick. You should have about 24 pieces.

Place the sugar, butter, egg yolks, flour and salt in a large bowl and press everything together with your fingers or combine the ingredients in a food processor fitted with a metal blade and process until the dough forms a ball. Either way, do not overwork the dough.

Take the ball of dough in your hands and flatten it in the center of the tart pan. Working with your fingers, spread the dough evenly around the pan and up the sides. The dough should be about 1/2 inch thick on the sides. Press the dough into the flutes and make sure the dough is spread evenly across the bottom of the pan.

Starting on the outside and working toward the center, lay the apple slices in an overlapping, concentric circle.

Place the apricot preserves in a saucepan and heat on low until liquefied. Using a pastry brush, glaze the apples and the visible crust. Sprinkle the almonds evenly over the top.

Place the tart pan on a cookie sheet and bake in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven to 350 degrees F and continue cooking until the crust is deep golden brown, about 45 minutes. Cool to room temperature, unmold, and place on a platter or serving dish.

Enhanced by Zemanta

As you are reading this post today, the chances are that it is cold outside is true for most areas in the United States. Believe it or not, even down here on the Gulf Coast the temperature was 17 degrees this morning. If just looking out the window makes you shiver, the best way to battle freezing temperatures outside is to warm yourself up on the inside. How do you do that? Foods that keep you warm will make a huge difference in your ability to stay cozy through the winter.

Here are some of the best foods for doing just that.

Hot Drinks

It might seem a little too simple, but you can sometimes overlook the obvious answers. Holding the mug is warming enough, but the hot liquid into your system gives you instant internal warmth. Tea, warm apple cider or hot cocoa are favorites.

Soups And Stews

When the temperature dips, a hearty soup or stew with lots of well-cooked root vegetables and spices will warm you up.

Whole Grains

Eaten hot, whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, oats, barley, buckwheat, millet, etc) give you instant warmth along with complex carbohydrates to give your body the energy and fuel it needs to keep warm.

Spices

Cinnamon and other spices boost your metabolism which generates body heat. Include more spices in your meals, even just a little bit sprinkled on top. Cumin, coriander, turmeric, cloves, paprika, pepper, nutmeg and allspice are other good ones to incorporate as well. Fresh or ground ginger is another great spice to warm you up. Try using it in salad dressings, soups, cookies or muffins.Try ginger tea. Not only does it help warm you up, but it boosts your digestive and immune systems to keep you nourished and strong in the face of winter bugs.

Here are some dinners to warm you up.

Italian Beef Stew

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 pounds boneless chuck roast, trimmed and cut into cubes
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 26-28 oz container of canned Italian plum tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups lower-sodium beef broth
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 (8-ounce) package cremini mushrooms, quartered
  • 1/2 lb small new potatoes, cut in half
  • 2 large or 3 small carrots, sliced 1/4-inch-thick
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Directions

Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil to the pan. Place 1/4 cup flour in a shallow dish. Sprinkle beef with 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper; dredge in flour. Add half of the beef to the pan; sauté 6 minutes, browning on all sides. Remove from pan to a bowl and set aside. Repeat procedure. You may need a little more oil, if the meat starts to stick to the pan.

Add onion; sauté 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic; sauté another minute, stirring constantly. Add wine to the pan and bring to a boil, scraping pan. Return meat to the pan. Add tomatoes and next 5 ingredients; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Uncover and stir in mushrooms, sliced carrots and potatoes. Simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour or until meat is very tender, stirring occasionally. Discard bay leaf. Stir in remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, basil and parsley.

Lasagna Rolls

Makes: 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 12 spinach or plain lasagna noodles
  • 4 ounces provolone cheese, shredded (1 cup)
  • 4 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely shredded (1 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup lowfat milk
  • 2 tablespoons snipped fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 Recipe Bolognese Sauce, below

Directions

Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions; drain and set aside on kitchen towels. In a small bowl combine provolone and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses; set aside.

For bechamel sauce:

In a small saucepan melt butter over medium heat. Add flour, stirring until combined. Add milk all at once. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Stir in basil, lemon peel, salt and pepper. Cool slightly.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spoon 3/4 cup of the Bolognese Sauce into the bottom of a 3-quart rectangular baking dish.

Spoon about 1 tablespoon of the bechamel sauce onto each lasagna noodle. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the cheese mixture over the bechamel sauce on each noodle. Spoon 1/3 cup of the Bolognese Sauce onto each noodle. Roll up noodles and arrange in the prepared baking dish, seam side down.

Spoon the remaining Bolognese Sauce over the noodles. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese mixture. Cover baking dish with foil. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until heated through.

Bolognese Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casing removed
  • 1 cup onion, chopped (1 large)
  • 1/2 cup carrot, finely chopped (1 medium)
  • 1/2 cup red sweet bell pepper, chopped (1)
  • 1/4 cup celery, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • Two 14.5-ounce cans diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 16 ounce can tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine or beef broth
  • 2 tablespoons snipped fresh basil, or 1-1/2 teaspoons dried basil, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon snipped fresh oregano, or 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons snipped fresh marjoram, or 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram, crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup evaporated canned whole milk (not sweetened)
  • 2 tablespoons snipped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley

Directions

In a Dutch oven cook sausage, onion, carrot, sweet pepper, celery and garlic over medium heat until meat is brown and onion is tender, stirring occasionally. Drain off any fat.

Stir tomatoes, tomato paste, wine, herbs, salt and black pepper into meat mixture. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

IUncover and simmer 10 minutes more or until thickened, stirring occasionally. Stir in milk and parsley; heat through.

Fall Vegetable and Orzo Casserole

Vegetarian Orzo Casserole

Ingredients

  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound orzo pasta
  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 2 small bulbs fennel, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 small red onion, julienned
  • One 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
  • 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a medium bowl, mix together panko, 2 tablespoons olive oil and parsley; season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Divide butternut squash between two baking sheets, spreading in an even layer. Drizzle each baking sheet with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to the oven and roast until tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add orzo and cook for 5 minutes; drain and transfer to the bowl with the squash.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add fennel and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Transfer fennel to the bowl with the squash and orzo.

Return skillet to medium heat and add onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and caramelized, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, garlic, crushed red pepper and 1 cup water;  simmer 8 minutes. Transfer mixture to the bowl with the orzo, squash and fennel. Fold in sage, cheese and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Transfer orzo mixture to a 3-quart baking dish; cover and transfer to the oven. Bake for 15 minutes; uncover and sprinkle top with panko mixture. Return baking dish to the oven and bake, uncovered, until panko is toasted, about 10 minutes more.

Barley Soup with Meatballs

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 leeks, white and pale green parts, chopped
  • 3/4 cups chopped carrots
  • 3/4 cups chopped celery
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups pearl barley
  • 8 cups low sodium chicken broth

Meatballs

  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup dried Italian bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley, plus 1/2 cup chopped parsley for garnish
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions

In a large, heavy pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add the leeks and garlic and saute until very soft, about 5 minutes. Add the carrots and celery and cook, stirring often, until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes.

Add the 2 tablespoons of tomato paste and wine, stir to combine and cook for 4 minutes. Add the barley and broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the barley is tender, about 45 minutes.

To make the chicken meatballs:

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.

In a bowl, combine the chicken, Parmesan, bread crumbs, 2 tablespoons parsley and the 1 tablespoon tomato paste. Add 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and stir to combine. Roll into one inch meatballs and transfer it to the prepared sheet. Bake until the meatballs are cooked through and no longer pink in the center, 10-12 minutes.

Add the meatballs to the soup, stir in gently, and simmer for ten minutes. Garnish soup with the 1/2 cup parsley before serving.

Healthy Chicken and Dumplings

Ingredients

Serves 4.

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 5 medium carrots, cut crosswise into 1 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 cup (spooned and leveled) all-purpose flour
  • 1 can (14.5 ounces) reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried dill weed
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons lowfat milk
  • 1 package (10 ounces) frozen peas

Directions

In a Dutch oven (or a 5-to-6-quart heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid), heat butter and oil over medium. Add onion, carrots and thyme. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Whisk in 1/4 cup flour and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Add broth and bring to a boil, stirring constantly; season with salt and pepper. Nestle chicken in pot; reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, 20 minutes.

To make dumplings:

In a medium bowl, whisk together remaining 3/4 cups flour, dill, baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt. With a fork, gradually stir in the 1/2 cup milk to form a moist and soft batter. It should be just a little thicker than pancake batter and should easily drop from the tip of a spoon. (Add additional 2 tablespoons milk if too thick.) Set aside.

Stir peas into pot. Drop batter into the simmering liquid in 10 heaping tablespoonfuls, keeping them spaced apart (dumplings will swell as they cook). Cover, and simmer until chicken is tender and dumplings are firm, 20 minutes.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Fish has a high level of protein, is easy to digest and is considered an important part of a healthy diet. Some fish have an added bonus because they contain omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids – docosahexaeonic acid (DHA) – occur mostly in fatty fish like herring, salmon and mackerel. They are thought to lower blood pressure, to strengthen the immune system and to have positive effects on the development of the nervous system and the cardiovascular system.

Two newly published articles in the March 2013 science journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, describe how the researchers analyzed the impact of omega-3 fatty acids at a systemic level and they also described their underlying molecular mechanisms for the first time. The teams working at Jena University Hospital in Germany and at the University of Pennsylvania examined the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on the cardiovascular system and were able to show, for the first time, that DHA directly influences blood pressure.

According to the Mayo Clinic, Omega-3 fatty acids may decrease triglycerides, lower blood pressure, reduce blood clotting, boost immunity and improve arthritis symptoms and, in children, may improve learning ability. Eating two servings a week of fish, particularly fish that’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids, appears to reduce the risk of heart disease and sudden cardiac death.

Fatty fish, such as salmon, herring and tuna, contain the most omega-3 fatty acids and, therefore, offer the most benefit, but many types of seafood contain small amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Most freshwater fish have less omega-3 fatty acids than do fatty saltwater fish. However, some varieties of freshwater trout have relatively high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

Look for seafood rich in omega-3s, such as:

  • Halibut
  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Mussels
  • Oysters
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Swordfish
  • Trout
  • Tuna (fresh)

Only buy fish that is refrigerated or properly iced. Fresh fish should smell fresh and mild, not fishy, sour or ammonia-like. Whole fish and fillets should have firm, shiny flesh and bright red gills free from slime. When buying frozen fish, avoid packages placed above the frost line or top of the freezer case. If the package is transparent, look for signs of frost or ice crystals. These could mean the fish has been stored a long time or thawed and refrozen — in which case, choose another package.

Healthy Ways to Cook Fish

Baked Fish

Baking fish allows you to get the satisfying crunch of fried fish without all the fat. Just because it’s baked, though, doesn’t mean it’s healthy: Watch the amount of butter, oil, mayonnaise, or cheese called for in the recipe.

It’s easy and delicious to cook fish fillets in packets of parchment paper, a technique called “en papillote”. The fish is cooked by the trapped steam. If you don’t have parchment paper on hand, use aluminum foil to make the packets. The fish needs to bake for only 10 to 15 minutes at 400 degrees F.

Broiled Fish

When the weather’s not right for grilling, try broiling instead. Broiling is great when you want a fast, simple, hassle-free preparation with delicious results.

It gives fish a nicely browned exterior with the convenience of a temperature-controlled heat source.  For easy cleanup, line the broiler pan with a piece of greased foil.

Poached Fish

This gentle cooking method is perfect for seafood. Poaching keeps fish moist and won’t mask the delicate flavor of the fish.

To poach fish: use vegetable or chicken stock or a homemade broth of aromatic herbs and spices.

Use a pan big enough to lay each piece of fish down flat.

Pour in enough liquid to just barely cover the fish.

Bring the liquid to a simmer and keep it there.

If you see any bubbles coming up from the bottom of the pan, it’s too hot–the liquid should “shimmer” rather than bubble. The ideal poaching liquid temperature is between 165 and 180 degrees F (74 to 82 degrees C).

Steamed Fish

Steaming is another gentle cooking method. It produces a mild-tasting fish that is often paired with a flavorful sauce.

Rub the fish with spices, chopped herbs, ginger, garlic and chili peppers to infuse flavor while it cooks.

Use a bamboo steamer or a folding steamer basket with enough room for each piece of fish to lie flat.

Pour about 1½ inches of water into the pan.

Place the steamer over the water, cover the pot, and bring the water to a boil.

Begin checking the fish for doneness after 10 minutes.

Grilled Fish

When you’re grilling fish, keep a close watch. Fish only takes a few minutes per side to cook. If the fillets are an even thickness, they may not even require turning–they can be cooked through by grilling on one side only.

Brush the fish lightly with oil and spray the grill with nonstick cooking spray.

Place fish near the edge of the grill, away from the hottest part of the fire. (Don’t try to lift up the fish right away; it will be stuck to the grill).

Turn the fish over when you see light grill marks forming.

Fish should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees F. If you don’t have a food thermometer, you can determine whether fish is properly cooked by slipping the point of a sharp knife into the flesh and pulling it aside. The flesh should be opaque and separate easily.

White Wine and Garlic Steamed Clams

This dish makes a great appetizer.

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds manila or littleneck clams
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 cup thinly sliced shallots
  • 1½ cups dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 large slices sourdough or country bread, each about ½-inch thick

Directions

Scrub the clams and rinse them in four rounds of cold water to remove any sand and grit.

Heat a 12-inch skillet with a cover over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. Add the garlic and shallots and sauté until fragrant and tender, about 1 minute.

Add the wine and cook for about 1 minute more. Add the clams and cook covered until the clams open wide, 5 to 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes.

Add the 2 tablespoons butter, the parsley and season with pepper. Toast the bread on a stovetop grill or in the broiler about 1 minute, turning once.

Discard any unopened clams and serve right away in bowls with the bread and pan juices.

 

Shrimp with Oregano and Lemon

This is another great appetizer. You can turn it into a main dish by serving the shrimp and sauce over rice or pasta.

The sauce is also delicious spooned over grilled swordfish or any other meaty fish.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup salted capers—rinsed, soaked for 1 hour and drained
  • 1/2 cup fresh oregano
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 1/2 pounds large shrimp, shelled and deveined

Directions

On a cutting board, finely chop the drained capers with the oregano and garlic. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir in 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, along with the lemon zest and lemon juice. Season the sauce with pepper.

Heat a stove top grill.

In a large bowl, toss the shrimp with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and season lightly with salt and pepper.

Grill shrimp, turning once, until the shrimp show grill marks and are cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Remove the shrimp to a platter.

Spoon some the sauce on top and serve. Pass the remaining sauce with the shrimp platter.

MAKE AHEAD The sauce can be refrigerated overnight. Bring it to room temperature before serving. Serve with crusty bread.

fish5

Red Snapper Livornese

Serve with rice or couscous and a salad or steamed broccoli.

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup homemade or store-bought marinara sauce
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons capers, chopped
  • 1/2 cup sliced black olives, drained
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 pound red snapper fillets

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).

In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil and saute onion until tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute for 1 minute. Stir in marinara sauce, wine, capers, black olives, red pepper flakes and parsley. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

Spread 1/2 cup of the sauce in an 11 x 7 inch baking dish and arrange the snapper fillets in a single layer in the dish. Pour the remaining sauce over all.

Bake for 15 minutes for 1/2 inch thick fillets or 30 minutes for 1 inch thick fillets. Baste once with the sauce while baking. Snapper is done when it flakes easily with a fork.

Salmon Rolls

4 servings

Ingredients

1 ¼ pounds center-cut salmon fillet, skinned and cut lengthwise into 4 strips

Stuffing

  • 1/2 cup plain panko crumbs
  • 1/4 cup chopped herbs (basil, parsley, oregano)
  • 1 garlic, minced
  • 1 small shallot, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon each salt & pepper
  • 1 tablespoon truffle oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Coat a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.

Mix the stuffing ingredients together in a medium bowl. Working with one piece of salmon at a time, spread about 3 tablespoons of the breadcrumb mixture over the salmon.

Starting at one end, roll the salmon up tightly, tucking in any loose filling as you go. Insert a toothpick through the end to keep the rolls from unrolling.

Place in the prepared dish and repeat with the remaining salmon strips.

Bake the rolls until just cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the toothpicks before serving.

Italian Style Paella

Fregola, the pearl-sized pasta that is similar to couscous, makes an excellent substitute for rice in this paella-style dish; it soaks up a lot of the cooking liquid from the dish and still stays chewy.

12 Servings

Ingredients

  • Large pinch of saffron threads
  • 6 ½ cups warm water
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 pound fregola (2 1/4 cups)
  • 1/2 pound Italian sausage, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup canned diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 pounds large shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 2 pounds red snapper, cod or monkfish, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 pound mussels, scrubbed and debearded
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

Directions

In a small bowl, crumble the saffron in 1/2 cup of the warm water and let stand for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a very large, deep sauté pan. Add the onion and garlic and cook over high heat, stirring, until lightly browned, 2 minutes. Add the fregola and sausage and cook, stirring, until the sausage starts to brown, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, white wine, saffron and its soaking liquid and the remaining 6 cups of warm water to the sauté pan and bring to a boil.

Stir in 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper, cover and cook over low heat until the fregola is very chewy and soupy, about 10 minutes.

Season the shrimp and red snapper with salt and pepper and add them to the pan along with the mussels, nestling them into the fregola. Bring to a boil. Cover the pan and cook over low heat until the fregola is al dente, the fish is just cooked through and the mussels have opened, about 12 minutes longer.

Remove the pan from the heat and let the paella stand for 5 minutes; the fregola will absorb a bit more of the liquid, but the dish should still be brothy. Discard any mussels that do not open. Sprinkle the fregola with the chopped parsley and serve.

Related Articles


Italian cuisine prides itself on simple delicious combinations of the finest, freshest ingredients available. For example, fresh ricotta, mozzarella di bufala and prosciutto. Each Italian region and town is proud to have its trademark dishes and ingredients. It is important to be aware that the ingredients used by Italians are location specific. Everyone in Italy knows to get their balsamic vinegar from Modena, their mozzarella di bufala from Campania, their truffles from Piedmont or Umbria, their cannoli from Sicily, their artichokes from Rome, their pizza from Naples, their bolognese meat sauce from Bologna, their saffron risotto from Milan and their pecorino cheese from Pienza.

Italy has adopted strict country-of-origin labelling laws.

Italian food products are special. The Italian national government recognizes this, so, they’ve taken some steps to ensure that all traditional products are held to a strict standard for quality, excellence and originality. This means that only real Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is labeled and sold as such and that no “imposter” cheeses can be labeled Parmigiano. This form of branding actually helps promote the product worldwide and ensures that each wheel of Parmigiano is as good and authentic as the rest.

The heart and soul of Italian cuisine are found in the quality of its ingredients and that quality has long been assured by tightly controlled and regulated production standards. These standards fall within the jurisdiction of European Union law under the auspices of Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI). In Italy, these terms translate to Denominazione di Origine Protetta or DOP and Indicazione Geografica Protetta or IGP. Another system, known as the Denominazione di Origine Controllata or DOC is Italy’s system for ensuring quality wines.

D.O.P – Denominazione di Origine Protetta

Literally translated “Protected Designation of Origin”, this label applies to various cheeses, meats, breads and pastas from the regions throughout Italy. Examples of such products are Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, Prosciutto di Parma, regional Extra-Virgin Olive Oils and the famous Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena.

In the case of IGP, at least one stage of production or processing of the product takes place within the designated area. In addition, the product has a certain reputation. IGP designates a native product of the region/country whose qualities/reputation/features can be attributed to its geographic origin and whose production and/or processing take place within that area.

D.O.C. and D.O.C.G

Denominazione di Origine Controllata (e Garantita)  means that the wine is from a “Controlled Designation of Origin” and officially guaranteed by the Italian government. These two labels are the highest quality certifications given to Italian wines. Each designation means that the wine is grown in select quantities that the government mandates and is produced under traditional or government-specified standards. D.O.C.G. is the ultimate Italian wine standard, being given currently to little over 30 wines from Italy. Each D.O.C.G. wine is produced in very small quantities and is given an official numbered government seal for each bottle.

Extra Virgin

While this title is reserved for olive oils, it is not exclusive to Italy (though, some Italian olive oils can also be given the D.O.P. designation, which is exclusive to Italy). Extra Virgin is a grade of olive oil that comes from the first pressing of olives and contains no more than 0.8% acidity – a key for determining quality and usability of olive oil.

Protecting these products is not easy. See the following news story:

ROME, Dec. 6, 2013 (UPI) — The counterfeit food business is doing well in Italy, with peddlers selling items from watered-down olive oil to imitation cheese, a report indicated.

The annual report, issued Thursday by the Citizen’s Defense Movement and environment non-profit Legambiente, documented 500,000 government inspections that led to the seizure of 28,000 tons of counterfeit or adulterated products worth more than a half-billion dollars in 2012, the ANSA news agency reported. The highest rate of seizures, about 47 percent, occurred within Italy’s wine sector.

Authorities also seized 4.6 tons of tomatoes — another mainstay of Italian cuisine — that were fraudulently sold as organic or falsely labeled as a “Protected Designation of Origin” product, an EU designation for products whose claim to quality depends on the territory in which they were produced.

ANSA reported that Chinese tomato sauce was repackaged with a “Made in Italy” label.

“Consumers are still the unwitting victims of food fraud,” Citizens’ Defense Movement President Antonio Longo said. “We need severe penalties to be a real deterrent.”

“Guaranteeing food safety is not just healthy, but also crucial to safeguarding our gastronomic heritage,” Legambiente President Vittorio Cogliati Dezza said.

The agriculture association, Coldiretti, said unfair competition from foreign produce branded to look as if it were from Italy contributed to the failure of 136,351 farms and agricultural companies since the global economic crisis began in 2007.

© 2013 United Press International, Inc.

Consumers need to look for the DOP or IGP seals on authentic Italian products. In use since 2006, the new regulations introduced in May, 2010 utilize a color scheme. A red and gold seal denotes a DOP product while a blue and gold seal is found on IGP products.

You can buy authentic Italian food products in the United States. Much more so than in the not too distant past, when you had to seek out an Italian specialty shop in an Italian neighborhood in order to buy a bottle of olive oil. Italian grocery stores and delis are still thriving and one can easily find authentic Italian ingredients in most high-end supermarkets these days. You just have to know what to look for.

First stop, the cheese section. How can you even consider Italian food without Parmesan cheese, right? What Americans refer to as “Parmesan cheese” is produced only in a specific area of Italy; the area around Parma. The word “Parmesan” is actually the French word for that area. It is also the generic term under which cheap imitation cheeses may legally be sold in the United States. This often means reaching for the grated stuff in the green cans.

The only true, authentic, Italian “Parmesan cheese” is Parmigiano-Reggiano and it comes in a wedge. It is a DOP designated product produced only in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena and certain restricted areas of Bologna and Lombardia. It is made from raw, whole cow’s milk, not the “pasteurized part-skim” product found in cheap imitations. The only additive permitted in Parmigiano-Reggiano is salt. There are no chemical preservatives employed to protect flavor or prevent caking. It must be aged for a minimum of 12 months. The really good cheese is aged from 24 to 36 months. Look for the seals and, more importantly, since some stores hand cut wedges from whole wheels look for some part of the words “Parmigiano-Reggiano” on the rind. They have to be there in order for the cheese to be the real thing.

Besides Parmigiano-Reggiano, several other authentic Italian cheeses are available in supermarkets including Asiago, Gorgonzola, Pecorino Romano, Provolone, Fontina, Taleggio and Grana Padano. These are all DOP cheeses and should be identified as such. Many are domestically produced, so examine the labels carefully and remember that Pecorino cheese comes from sheep’s milk not cow’s milk.

The next best thing to Mozzarella di Bufala Campana.

All mozzarella cheese is not created equal. And it’s not all created Italian. If you want real, authentic Italian mozzarella, look for Mozzarella di Bufala Campana. Good luck. It’s not impossible to find, but since there are not a lot of herds of water buffalo grazing in American pastures, most of what passes for mozzarella in this country comes from cows. Technically, this makes it a fiore di latte, but it falls under the general category of mozzarella. There are some good fresh cow’s milk mozzarellas in supermarkets, but they are not authentic Italian. A good substitute for Americans is fresh cow’s milk mozzarella that comes packaged in moist balls.

Ricotta is literally the “recooked” by-product of mozzarella production, so what you’ll find on store shelves is closely related to mozzarella. There are DOP ricottas – i.e. Ricotta di Bufala Campana – but you will not find it in your supermarket.

Another staple of Italian cuisine is the tomato. If you want an authentic Italian taste from an authentic Italian product, look for canned tomatoes that are specifically labeled as “San Marzano” tomatoes. San Marzano tomatoes are a delicate, thin skinned variety of plum tomato grown in an area near the Italian village of San Marzano sul Sarno, which is located southeast of Naples in the fertile valley of Mt. Vesuvius. The DOP certification area actually involves 39,540 acres in three of the provinces of the Campania region, including a rough triangle formed by Salerno, Naples and a small part of Avellino. It is said that San Marzano tomatoes owe their unique flavor to the rich volcanic soil in which they are grown. They have a deep red color and an unmatchable sweet taste. They are sought after and preferred by cooks and chefs around the world as the absolute best tomato for use in a tomato sauce.

The brand I prefer- only tomatoes are in this product – no salt, no sugar.

There are dozens of brands of San Marzano tomatoes. The tomatoes packed by Cento are the ones mostly found in America. I’ve used several other brands as well, depending on availability. Authentic San Marzano tomatoes will bear the DOP seal on the label. Most will also carry authentication from the Consorzio di Tutela del Pomodoro San Marzano – Agro Nocerino Sarnese , a consortium dedicated to the protection of San Marzano tomatoes.

While in the tomato aisle take a look at the tomato paste. Some sound really Italian. Check the label ingredient list and many say: Tomato puree (tomato paste, water), high fructose corn syrup, salt, dried onions, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (soybean and/or cottonseed), spices, hydrolyzed corn gluten, soy & wheat gluten proteins, grated Romano cheese made from cow’s milk (cultured milk, salt, enzymes), garlic, citric acid, yeast, soy flour.”

Instead choose tomato paste in a tube rather than a can. Easier to use and easier to store. Most common is Amore Italian Tomato Paste brand. Amore is not DOP or IGP and is labeled as a “product of Italy.” What this means is that some component of the overall product comes from Italy. It may be the cap on the tube but the company’s literature says the tube contains “fresh Italian ingredients,” and the ingredients listed are tomato paste and salt. So is it better than the can.

Next, is the pasta. Can you find authentic Italian pasta on American grocery store shelves? If you go to the Italian specialty stores, you can. Supermarkets, maybe. De Cecco and Barilla are both noted Italian pasta makers. Both are headquartered in Italy; De Cecco in San Martino, Barilla in Parma. Each has a corporate presence in the United States. The difference is that while Barilla bills itself as “Italy’s #1 Brand of Pasta,” its products are produced all over the world from local ingredients grown all over the world. In the US that means central Iowa or western New York. De Cecco, on the other hand, generates more than one-third of its total revenue through export. Pasta is not a DOP or IGP product. De Cecco is probably the closest to authentic Italian pasta available to the average supermarket shopper.

DOC protected olive oil

There are dozens of protected Italian olive oils. You won’t find many (if any) in your neighborhood supermarket, but they are available in specialty shops and online. Italy is the largest exporter of olive oil to the United States. So if you want real Italian olive oil, check the label for country of origin and the government seals.

Balsamic vinegar is a DOP product. Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale is DOP and consortium regulated and sealed. It is produced in either Modena or Reggio Emilia. Only balsamic vinegar from these regions may legally be described as Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale. The real vinegar comes in very small bottles and is portioned out by the drop because it is very expensive. The balsamic vinegar found on most supermarket shelves is condimento grade and is a blend of various commercially produced vinegars. There are no official production standards or labeling requirements to designate condimento balsamic vinegars, although many of them are produced in the same area as the tradizionale varieties. Unless you see the seal, you do not have the real balsamic vinegar.

Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale

There are about 22 DOP meats and another 10 that are IGP. Here are a few of the protected Italian meat varieties you’ll want to look for at the supermarket: bresaola, sopressa and sopressata, capicola, cotechino and mortadella. You won’t have to look for real authentic Italian pepperoni; there is no such thing. Pepperoni is an entirely Italian-American creation.

prosciutto di San Daniele

In addition to the mentioned meats, the two you’ll probably encounter most frequently are pancetta and prosciutto. Pancetta is an Italian dry cured meat similar to bacon, except that it is not smoked. There are a few DOP pancetta products in America, but you are unlikely to find them outside of Italian specialty shops. Boar’s Head makes a decent pancetta. It’s not authentic, but it is good.

Prosciutto comes two ways, cotto and crudo, (cooked and uncooked). Prosciutto crudo is the most commonly used and there are two basic prosciutti of this type familiar to most Americans; prosciutto di Parma and prosciutto di San Daniele. Each reflects the specific area where it is produced. The pigs in Parma dine on the leftover whey from the processing of Parmigiano-Reggiano, so the meat produced there tends to have a little nuttier flavor than that which comes from San Daniele, where the meat is a little darker in color and sweeter in taste. Just look for the seal to guarantee authenticity when you purchase these products.

In general, your best source for authentic Italian meats is a salumeria but they are found in the big cities where there are large Italian populations. If you live in small town America, just try to find the freshest and best quality available.

Cooking with the D.O.P. Brands

Fettuccine with Prosciutto & Asparagus

Ingredients

  • 1 lb fresh egg fettuccine
  • 1/2 lb asparagus
  • Salt
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion
  • 4 oz prosciutto, cut into thin strips from an ⅛ inch thick slice
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Directions

Trim and peel the lower green portions of the asparagus. Cook whole in salted boiling water in a large skillet until tender. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Cut the asparagus, when cool enough to handle, into ¼ inch lengths.

Pour 4 quarts of water into a large saucepan and place over a high heat.

Melt the butter in the empty skillet over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook until it softens and turns a golden color. Stir in the prosciutto and saute’ until it has lost its raw color. Add the asparagus, raise the heat to medium-high and cook until it is lightly colored. Pour the reserved water in and cook until it has evaporated. Stir in the cream and cook, stirring frequently, until it has reduced by half. Remove the skillet from the heat and set aside.

When the water for the pasta is boiling and the sauce is off the heat, add 1 tablespoon of salt to the boiling water and drop in the pasta all at once, stirring well. When the pasta is cooked “al dente”, drain it and toss it with the sauce in the skillet, adding the grated cheese.

Mozzarella, Celery and Fennel Salad

Ingredients for 6 people:

  • 10 ounces celery, use center stalks
  • 10 ounces mozzarella di bufala
  • 3 fennel bulbs
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • Juice from 2 lemons
  • Salt to taste

Directions

Thoroughly wash the celery and fennel, cut them in thin strips (julienne), place in a salad bowl and add the mozzarella which has been cut into strips about the size of the vegetables.

Prepare the lemon dressing by slowly adding the lemon juice to the olive oil in a small bowl, add salt to taste, add to the salad and toss lightly.

20130808-262265-sabatinos-spaghetti-with-meat-sauce.jpg

Italian-American Meat Sauce

Sugo di Carne

Makes about 8 cups

Ingredients

  • 2 35-ounce cans San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium yellow onions, diced (about 2 cups)
  • 8 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped fine
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • Salt
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/3 cup tomato paste
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1½ teaspoons dried oregano, crumbled
  • 4 cups hot water

Directions

Pass the tomatoes and their liquid through a food mill fitted with the fine blade. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy 4 to 5-quart pot over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 8 minutes. Make a little room in the center of the pot, add the garlic and cook, stirring, until the garlic is lightly browned, about 2 minutes.

Add the ground beef and pork and season lightly with salt. Cook, stirring to break up the meat, until the meat changes color and the water it gives off is boiled away, about 10 minutes. Continue cooking until the meat is browned about 5 minutes. Add the bay leaves and oregano then pour in the wine. Bring to a boil and cook, scraping up the brown bits that cling to the pot, until the wine is almost completely evaporated.

Pour in the tomatoes, then stir in the tomato paste until it dissolves. Season lightly with salt. Bring to a boil, adjust the heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, stirring often, until the sauce takes on a deep, brick-red color, 2 to 3 hours. Add the hot water, about 1/2 cup at a time, as necessary to maintain the level of liquid for the length of time the sauce cooks.

Skim off any fat floating on top and adjust the seasoning as necessary. The sauce can be prepared entirely in advance and refrigerated for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 3 months.

 

Strawberries in Balsamic Syrup with Zabaglione

Ingredients

Meringue:

  • 5 egg whites, at room temperature
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon Balsamic Vinegar of Modena
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Zabaglione:

  • 5 egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup dry sparkling white wine or champagne (Prosecco)
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream

Fruit:

  • 1 pint strawberries, rinsed, hulled and cut into small pieces
  • 1 tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar of Modena

Directions

Preheat the oven to 250˚F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Beat the egg whites with the salt until foamy. Continue beating, adding confectioners’ sugar gradually, until stiff and shiny. Beat in vinegar and vanilla. Spread meringue about 1/2 inch thick on parchment. Bake 2 hours, then turn the oven off and allow to cool 1 hour until crisp. Break into pieces. Keep in a dry place.

While the meringue is baking, combine strawberries, sugar and balsamic vinegar and toss to coat. Set aside at room temperature.

Set up double boiler or a pot of simmering water. Have a bowl of ice water ready to cool the custard bowl. Away from the flame, add egg yolks to the double boiler top or bowl and whisk withthe  sugar to combine. Place back on the stove and whisk continuously over the simmering water, adding the sparkling wine gradually. Cook until the zabaglione is thick and the whisk leaves a trace on the bottom of the bowl. Place the double boiler top or custard bowl in ice water to cool, whisking twice for even cooling.

Beat the cream to the soft peak stage. Fold into the cooled custard. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Assemble the desserts by dividing the berries and syrup among 4 glasses or bowls. Add a layer of meringue pieces, then a dollop of zabaglione. Garnish with more meringue.

Serves 4.

Related Articles


Surprisingly, there are a number of foods that make winter their season and, if you stock up on these basics, cooking satisfying and wholesome meals in the dead of winter will be doable. Availability will vary from region to region, but here’s a general list of foods that make winter their season, along with tips on how to incorporate these ingredients into your meals.

Winter Vegetables

Kale. This hearty green is a rich source of minerals (including calcium), and although it is available year-round, it actually tastes the sweetest in the winter. To eat, wash leaves thoroughly and tear them into small pieces—discarding the tough stem. Place in a steamer and steam until tender (five minutes). Sauté in garlic olive oil with a sprinkling of salt as a side dish or toss right into a hot bowl of soup to boost its nutritional content.

Leeks. A mild-flavored member of the onion family and an essential ingredient in potato-leek soup, this winter vegetable adds delicious flavor to many recipes. Try them in your favorite winter stew.

Radicchio. A type of bitter lettuce, radicchio can be grilled or used in salads.

Radishes. Most commonly used in green salads and vegetable trays, this spicy root vegetable can also be cooked as a side dish. Thinly slice radishes and steam them until tender. Then sauté steamed radishes in butter with a few cloves of garlic, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a sprinkle of dried dill weed.

Rutabaga. Another root vegetable, try mashed rutabagas instead of mashed potatoes.

Turnips. These spicy root vegetables can be braised, sautéed, pickled or roasted. As a rule, smaller turnips are usually tastier than large ones.

Winter Fruits

Depending on your region, these citrus fruits may be abundant at this time of the year. While they’re fabulous straight out of the peel, there are some creative alternatives for enjoying these vitamin-rich fruits.

Grapefruit. Try an orange-grapefruit-pomegranate compote for a healthy dessert.

Lemons. Whip up a batch of lemon bars.

Oranges. How about some freshly-squeezed orange juice to start your day? Also try adding orange zest to some of your favorite baked goods, like muffins and sweet breads.

Tangerines. Toss a peeled tangerine into a blender along with frozen banana chunks and some orange juice for a smoothie.

Salads are a tasty, easy meal solution no matter what the time of year. Preparing delicious salads, even warm salads, in winter are as simple as knowing what’s in season.

This time of year switch to cold-weather vegetables like broccoli, beets and squash and seasonal fruits like pears and citrus. Add roasted root vegetables and more flavorful dressings to balance the heartier tastes and textures of winter produce.

For a full-meal salad, finish with cooked beans, meat, poultry or seafood and a bit of cheese and toasted nuts.

Ready to put it all together? Start with a mix of greens such as baby kale, spinach, arugula, Napa cabbage or your favorite salad greens.

Add one of these combinations and toss with your favorite dressing. See how to make an easy dressing at home below.

• Radishes, chives, citrus segments

• Bean sprouts, ginger, green onions, almonds

• Red peppers, corn, chiles, lime

• Radicchio, garlic, lemon, watercress

• Roasted turnips, sliced apples, tarragon

• Carrots, fennel, walnuts, citrus segments

• Roasted cauliflower, mushrooms, chives

• Roasted Brussels sprouts, sliced apples, pine nuts

• Roasted butternut squash, pears, pecans

• Watercress, beets (roasted or grated raw), citrus segments

Homemade Lemon Garlic Salad Dressing Ingredients

Enjoying a salad bowl filled with winter lettuce, red onions, fresh herbs, cucumbers, radishes, carrots, peppers and more is a great way to kick off the New Year. But the veggies are only half the picture. The salad dressing on top can turn that healthy choice into an unhealthy one. A quick trip down the salad dressing aisle at any conventional grocery store features an astounding array of bottled chemicals, sugars and high fructose corn syrup, overly processed oils and preservatives.

On the other hand, a good salad dressing not only adds great flavor but nutritional value as well. It’s actually quite simple to make your own dressing. Nuts and fruits can make for a creamy and flavorful salad dressing. Save money by using your imagination and what’s in your pantry to come up with new flavor combinations.

Here’s a starter recipe for a healthy salad dressing:

1/3 cup chopped nuts, such as walnuts, cashews, almonds or pecans

1/2 cup chopped fresh fruit, such as apples, plums, peaches, blueberries or strawberries

1/4 cup unsweetened soy or almond milk or fruit juice, such as pomegranate or orange

1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice (or vinegar)

Purée all ingredients in a food processor or high-powered blender until smooth. For thinner dressings, add a little more soy milk or fruit juice. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and lemon or lime juice as needed.

Making your own dressing really doesn’t take much time. Try it and see for yourself!

If you do buy bottled dressings, be sure to look for preservative and additive-free dressings based on ingredients such as vinegar, mustard and expeller-pressed oils. Shy away from buying dressing made with added sugar, fructose or high fructose corn syrup.

Red Apple Salad with Oranges and Feta

Ingredients

  • 3 seedless oranges
  • 6 cups baby arugula
  • 1 red apple, cored and thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta or blue cheese

Directions

Grate rind from 1 orange into a small bowl and set aside.

Peel all the oranges and section. Reserve juice, squeezing more for the dressing if needed. Combine arugula, orange sections and apple in a large bowl.

Whisk 3 tablespoons orange juice, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper with orange rind in a small bowl. Pour over salad and toss gently. Spoon onto individual serving plates and sprinkle with feta.

Kale Salad with Almonds

Kale Salad

4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 head Tuscan, black, or Dino kale
  • 1/2 cup sliced, toasted almonds
  • 1 small shallot or garlic clove
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Rinse kale leaves and pat them dry. Trim off stem ends and slice the leaves, crosswise, into ribbon-like pieces. Set aside.

Finely mince the shallot or garlic clove and put it in a large salad bowl. Add vinegar and sugar and let sit 10 minutes. Whisk in oil and add salt and pepper to taste.

Add kale and almonds. Toss gently until the leaves are evenly coated.

Spinach Salad with Figs

Ingredients

  • 6 slices bacon
  • 1 15-oz. can chickpeas, rinsed, drained and patted dry
  • 8 ounces spinach, stems removed
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 dried figs, stemmed and sliced
  • 1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese or cheese of choice

Directions

Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat until crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove bacon to a paper towel-lined plate; pour off 1 tablespoon of the fat and set aside. Leave 1 tablespoon of bacon fat in the skillet and discard any additional fat. Crumble the bacon, when it has cooled and set aside.

Add chickpeas to the skillet with the bacon fat and cook, stirring, until lightly browned and slightly crisped, 7 to 10 minutes. Place spinach in a large bowl; scatter chickpeas over spinach.

Remove skillet from heat and whisk in vinegar (watch out, as mixture may spatter). Add mustard and, while skillet is still warm, whisk in reserved bacon fat and olive oil. Quickly scrape dressing into bowl with spinach and chickpeas. Add figs and crumbled bacon. Toss together and sprinkle with blue cheese. Serve immediately.

Radicchio Salad With Green Olive Dressing

4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 head radicchio
  • 18 green olives
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar or lemon juice
  • Salt to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Freshly shredded Parmesan cheese for garnish

Directions

Trim the radicchio and cut or tear it into shreds or bite-size pieces. Put the radicchio in a large salad bowl.

Mince the olives and garlic into a paste. Then mix with oil, vinegar or lemon juice and add salt and pepper to taste. (You can also do this in a blender, if you like.)

Toss the radicchio with the dressing. Serve topped with plenty of shredded Parmesan cheese.

 

Pear Fennel Walnut Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 bulb of fennel
  • 2 pears
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
  • 3 tablespoons walnut oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/3 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped

Directions

Trim the fennel, cut the bulb in half lengthwise and slice the fennel very thinly. Core the pears and slice them very thinly. You can peel the pears, if you prefer. I like to leave it on.

In a large bowl, toss the fennel and pear slices with 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice (this will help keep the fennel and pear slices from browning).

Whisk the walnut oil, remaining 2 tablespoons lemon juic, and salt to combine.

Arrange the fennel and pears on 4 plates and drizzle each plate with dressing. Sprinkle walnuts on top. Serve immediately.



%d bloggers like this: