The Mediterranean countries utilize many of the same ingredients but each country has a unique way of creating recipes with those same ingredients. So far in this series, I have written about Mediterranean cuisine in general and in the countries of Portugal, Spain and France. This series continues with the country of Italy.
The Mediterranean Diet is more than just a way of eating. It is a way of thinking about food. It embraces the concept of eating together and sharing food with others. Modern populations are pressed for time, so food is often prepared and consumed in a hurry and in isolation. However, for the Mediterranean peoples, preparing food and eating together is very important and it is an important key in why the Mediterranean Diet is successful. For Italians, food is not simply sustenance and nutrition. It is community.
The Italian cuisine is typically Mediterranean which means eating a lot of vegetables, fruit, grains, fish and some chicken. In addition, the Italians use olive oil for cooking in large amounts instead of animal fat. Olive oil combined with a high volume of vegetables prevents disease. The Italians also follow nature and only eat what is in season. If you eat according to the seasons, you will be eating a variation of different colored vegetables. Each different color has a different antioxidant, which helps prevent disease, including cancer.
There are big differences between the Italian food in the North and in the South. Italy’s Alpine and sub-alpine regions in the North produce more livestock (cows) and fewer olives. That means more butter and lard and less olive oil. Corn (maize) and rice (such as arborio) are more popular in the northern regions than pasta. In the inland cities (Milan, Turin, Bologna), fish is more expensive than it is in the coastal cities (Genoa, Venice), and therefore consumed in lesser quantities. Fish and fresh fruit cost much less in Naples and Palermo than they do in Turin and Milan.
Southern Italians eat 40% more fruit and 80% more grains than Northern Europeans do. Southern Italians eat approximately 490 grams (17 ounces) of pasta and bread a day and research studies have found that eating a lot of grains was clearly NOT harmful to the Italians. The next largest proportion of their fiber comes from tomatoes, onions, artichokes eggplants, peas, lentils and chickpeas.
The Typical Italian Daily Menu:
Breakfast: Yogurt topped with berries and walnuts, coffee or tea
Lunch: Lentil soup with Swiss chard and bread on the side
Snack: cheese, bread
Dinner: Roasted cod paired with a wheat berry salad (cooked wheat berries with olive oil vinaigrette, feta, parsley, and tomatoes) and a glass of red wine
Dessert: Fresh fruit drizzled with honey
The Typical Italian Diet:
Snacks: In Italy, snacks are usually a very light: an espresso, a pizzetta, cheese and fresh fruit are popular options.
Lunch: In Italy lunch is usually a single dish, either pasta, frittata, fish with vegetables or salad.
Dinner: A soup with fish and vegetables is typical for a first course, followed by pasta with meat or fish and salad or vegetables. Fruit is usual for dessert.
Bring the Italian Mediterranean to your table with these recipes:
Saffron Orzo Pasta Salad
- 10 oz Orzo pasta
- 6 cups low-sodium chicken stock
- 1 teaspoon saffron
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 1 medium red onion, finely diced
- 1/2 cup black oil-cured olives, sliced
- 1/2 cup fresh mozzarella, diced
- One 8 oz can Italian chickpeas
- 1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes, under oil, drained and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
- 3 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated
- 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
- 1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar
- 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Bring 6 cups of chicken stock to a boil.
In a small bowl combine 1 teaspoon of saffron and 2 tablespoons of the hot chicken stock and stir to dissolve.
Add the saffron to the chicken stock and stir.
Add the orzo to the boiling chicken stock and let it cook for 7 minutes.
Drain the orzo, transfer to a bowl, drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil and set aside.
Dice red bell pepper, red onion and mozzarella; set aside.
Slice the sun-dried tomatoes into 1/2-inch piece and set aside.
Slice the olives and drain and rinse the canned chickpeas.
In a medium bowl, combine balsamic vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon juice.
Add the diced onion to the vinaigrette and let it marinate for 5 minutes.
Transfer all of the ingredients into the orzo and mix well, add the vinaigrette and toss well to coat.
Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and fresh parsley just before serving.
Serve at room temperature or refrigerate for later use.
Warm Farro Salad
From TN&M Magazine
- 10 ounces dried chickpeas
- 10 ounces farro
- Truffle oil to taste
- 1 Garlic clove
- 1 Tomato chopped fine
- Chili flakes
Soak the chickpeas in cold water for 12 hours, changing the water 3 times. (If you use canned chickpeas, rinse them thoroughly!)
Cook the chickpeas in water to cover for about 1 hour.
Cook the farro in lightly salted water until tender.
Finely chop the garlic, basil, sage, rosemary, chili flakes and oregano.
Lightly sauté the herbs in olive oil, then add the tomato.
Add the drained chickpeas and farro, drizzling with a bit of broth.
Off the flame, stir in truffle oil to taste.
Courgettes with Sultanas and Pine Nuts
From TN&M Magazine
Serves one, as a main course.
- 1 210g tin of sardines, drained, oil reserved
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon sultanas (raisins)
- 1 tablespoon pine nuts, toasted
- 1 tablespoon capers
- 1.5 courgettes (zucchini), julienned
- ½ tablespoon chopped chives
- Zest and juice of half a lemon
- Black pepper to serve
Tip a little of the oil drained from the sardines into a frying pan and sauté the garlic for a few minutes until softened.
Add the julienned courgettes to another pan, and sauté over low heat in a little of the sardine oil until softened – approximately 4 minutes.
Add the sardines to the garlic pan, and break them up with the back of your wooden spoon as you stir them around the pan. Next add the sultanas, pine nuts and capers and stir well. Cook for a few minutes until the sardines are warmed through.
When the courgettes are ready add them to the saucepan and toss all the ingredients together, distributing the sauce evenly through the courgettes. Scatter in the chives, lemon zest and a squeeze of lemon juice. Add a little extra salt if necessary, but likely not as the capers are salty.
Transfer to a serving dish and add liberal amounts of black pepper.
White Fish Fillets With Cherry Tomatoes
By Bon Appétit Test Kitchen
- 1 shallot, thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes (about 12 ounces)
- 1/2 cup chopped green olives
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
- Four 6-ounce white fish fillets
- 1/4 cup (packed) chopped fresh basil
Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the broiler. Combine the shallot, garlic, tomatoes, olives and oil in a medium bowl, season with salt and pepper, and toss well. Set aside.
Place the fish in a 13 x 9-inch glass baking dish and season with salt and pepper. Scatter the tomato mixture over the fish and broil until fish is opaque throughout and tomatoes have started to burst, 10–13 minutes. Serve with basil scattered over top.
Spaghetti With Clams
by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers
- 6 1/2 pounds clams
- 6 tablespoons olive oil divided
- 1/2 cup dry white wine, divided
- 3 garlic cloves, sliced, divided
- 3 small dried chiles, crumbled, divided
- 1 pound spaghetti or linguine
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Place clams in a sink filled with cold water. Scrub shells well with a coarse brush to remove any sand. Drain water and soak clams in clean water, repeating until the water remains clean.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large pot with a lid over medium heat. Add ¼ cup wine, 1 garlic clove, and 1 chile. Add half of the clams, cover, and cook over high heat, shaking pan frequently, until clams open (keep lid on pot so heat is not released, making cooking time longer).
As soon as the clams open, transfer the clams and their juices to a large bowl (discard any clams that do not open). Repeat the process with 2 tablespoons oil, remaining ¼ cup wine, 1 garlic clove, 1 chile, and remaining clams.
Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until tender but al dente; drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.
Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in pot with lid over medium heat. Add remaining 1 garlic clove and remaining 1 chile; stir until garlic is fragrant and light golden, 1–2 minutes. Return clams and their juices to the pot; toss to coat and remove from the heat.
Add pasta and toss to coat evenly with juices, adding pasta cooking liquid by ¼-cupfuls if pasta is dry. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle parsley over and serve.