Growing up in an Italian family, I marveled at the women and men who cookedÂ in my family. Not only were they wonderful chefs, but they had a natural talent for balancing the food groups. They always preferred fresh produce and meat, and that has carried over into my own beliefs. I remember my grandmother taking me to the chicken store to pick out a chicken, which was still live and scratching. While today we don’t have quite the rural practices in selecting our poultry, I still go for the freshest ingredients possible.
One mistake that Westerners make is that in Italy, we actually think of pasta as a side dish and not a main course. I was astonished the first time I was served pasta outside of my family. The pasta on the plate should have been four servings. The rule of thumb is one pound of pasta serves eight people. With a vegetable and a protein, Two ounces of pasta is a meal, maybe with serving more vegetable dishes, if needed. And why is bread always served with pasta? Pasta is the grain, to be served instead of, not with, bread.
A hearty soup should serve as a meal at least once a week. There are so many nutritious and wonderful soups, such as minestrone, and it is best served with a good Italian bread. Again, if there is pasta in the soup, it should not be served with bread.
Traditionally, we always make a salad the first course. I remember having a salad with an olive oil and red wine vinegar salad dressing at every dinner meal. Having more courses for dinner helps to regulate the portions eaten in each course, so now you see where I’m getting at with the small amount of pasta. And always, olive oil is the main fat. There is no deep-fried Italian food. What oil is involved, is either to sautee vegetables and meat, or for pasta or salad dressing.
Dessert was occasionally pastries such as sweet breads, cakes and cookies, served about two to three times a month. More commonly, fruits and nuts were the dessert. During the holidays, there was always a huge fruit bowl and another bowl with a variety of fresh nuts on the dining room table. After dinner, we would choose a fruit from the bowl and a handful of nuts.
Even though our family has moved to different places throughout the world as we all grew up, we still find that we all cook the same. We’ve varied and adjusted here and there, but mostly our Italian spin on Mediterranean cooking has remained intact. It is still a bit of a shock to see how other cultures interpret Italian cooking – what is this pizza craze about? Pizza at best in Italy is an appetizer. We see Americans piling their plate with pasta, sauce, some bread sticks, a doughy pizza slice, and then grab a tiramisu for dessert. And then they complain that Italian food is too fattening! Well of course it is – if the fattening foods are all you eat!
Here’s more on %NEXTARTICLE% or you can try the traditional Mediterranean diet today.