Tasty medicine

It’s Spring, so asparagus is in season! Here’s a simple recipe that we made based on what was in the house. Cooking time is about 3 minutes after you have the asparagus blanched. And, the blanching process is also quick and consists of boiling the vegetable for a short period and then immersing them in ice-cold water to halt the cooking process. 

The flavors of this dish won’t disappoint. The distinct flavor of the asparagus itself, with earthy undertones and a slightly bitter bite to it, are complemented by the mellow sweetness of the garlic, and the heat of the red pepper flakes. The nutty flavor of the almonds with the hint of roasted goodness fills out the palette.

In addition to the wonderful tastes, this is a dish that contains foods that are often touted for their medicinal benefits! We all know that olive oil helps increase the good kind of cholesterol. The asparagus is packed with vitamins, nutrients, and fiber. Garlic is also known for it’s many health benefits, supporting heart health, the immune system, and providing antioxidants. And the almonds give us lots of healthy fats, fiber, protein, magnesium and vitamin E. 

So, this simple side dish with the wonderfully balanced flavors is basically a health pill in a plate!

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • pinch of dried red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons of almond slivers
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Process:

  1. bring a pot of salted water to boil and plunge the asparagus in for 2 minutes
  2. drain and place the asparagus in ice-cold water 
  3. set aside once the asparagus are cold
  4. heat the oil, add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and almonds and sauté for 1-2 minutes until the almonds and garlic are lightly golden
  5. add the asparagus and cook for another minute
  6. season with salt and pepper and serve

Buon appetito!

My neighborhood

The other night we were out at the local tapas bar having some shared plates and some Vino Verde, not wine the color green, but a nice young crisp slightly sparkling white wine from a wine region north of Portugal, when our waiter said that he thought Marco looked familiar. Marco replied that we had been in the other day, but didn’t think the waiter had worked. Then, Marco joked that he was famous! Without missing a beat the waiter replied that he was famous too, “all my clients know me,” then, he went on, “and everyone in my neighborhood knows me!”

Here’s Marco at the tapas wine bar:We travel with a group of friends, renting a Villa along the Portuguese coast that ends up costing about $400 per room for the entire week! It’s a great way to go somewhere and become a “local” for at least one week. It affords the opportunity to get to know some parts of a country that are not always the top tourist destinations. We have “villa days” where we lounge by the pool and enjoy the views and meals prepared together, we find the local spots like the tapas bar above, and we venture to tourist towns like Sintra where we enjoyed a wonderful tour of King Ferdinand’s Palace at the top of a hill.

Here’s a photo of our villa and the palace in Sintra:
Those of you who follow my blog regularly know that part of the Bella Vita for us is enjoying the local wherever you are (“Local Beauty click here,”The History of the now” click here, among others).   Of course we enjoyed a wonderful week near Lisbon, Portugal, but now that we’re back in Salem, we will head to our local French pastry shop for breakfast, we will stroll through Salem for our walks, we’ll enjoy cooking at home, and we’ll be back to the local places where we are “famous” in our neighborhood.

Chicken pizzaiola

I’ve posted this recipe before (click here). It’s a simple thing to cook when you are out of ideas for the moment. Easy, but very tasty! With our tomatoes that we canned last summer, fresh mozzarella, and some chicken it’s a little like a stove top chicken Parmesan but much better, healthier, and with lots of good “scarpetta” at the end — that’s the Italian word for little shoe and describes what one does with little pieces of bread to scoop up the sauce.

I’m not necessarily out of ideas right now but we just landed in Lisbon yesterday, are a bit jet-lagged and had this photo in cue for those times when I want to get the weekly post up but don’t get the chance to write for some reason. It’s nice to have recipes like this in the back pocket for those times when you just can’t think of something to make. It’s like having a reminder.

I think of vacation a little like that. It’s a reminder to slow down, take it easy, remember the simple things that you enjoy! We are pretty good at doing this week to week, especially with our weekends, but this vacation at the villa with friends and family the message is clear; slow down, relax, eat, stroll and be together.

Buon appetito!

Crispy eggs with wild mushrooms and truffle

Last week, a reader of my post said, “Oh that’s what you mean by the “bella vita!”, commenting about our downtown European lifestyle of walking to local shops and living locally. This is a blog born out of a desire to write about what I’ve learned over the years through my marriage with an Italian (click here to read more about the birth). Over time it has also become a quest to learn from healthy aging research, the mediterranean diet, yoga, my practice as a psychotherapist, and, more recently for me, mindfulness meditation.

Last night, at a friend’s house, Matt commented that he liked how I segued from big box store shopping to a recipe. Often, the bella vita lifestyle lives in the metaphor of food and is given meaning through the practice of cooking and the food itself. 

Take this simple dish as an example. What’s not to love about eggs on toast with the added flavors of the earthy mushrooms sautéed in olive oil, garlic, and wine topped with a drizzle of truffle oil? The process, from start to finish embodies how we enjoy our day-to-day life, focussed on the moments, the joy of flavor, the fruits of our labors, the sit-down meal as a family to connect with one another.

I baked the bread in morning after it sat overnight in a bowl to rise (click here for the easy bread recipe). This illustrates our value about food being made from scratch, trying to eat meals that our grandparents would have known, attempting when at all possible to avoid processed food products. This focussed attention is good for the soul as it affords an opportunity for awareness in the moment to moment preparation of something so basic as the daily bread.

This lunch also shows a joy for the aesthetic. What a pleasing combination of colors in the plate of reds and oranges and browns and the layers of textures in the firmness of the mushrooms alongside the delicate whites and the silky yolks. And then, when tasted, a similar aesthetic of the palate with the earthy richness of truffled mushrooms the savory eggs with hints of sweetness from the wine all on a crunchy thick sliced home-baked toast.

Our bella vita is also illustrated in quantity. This one egg on toast with truffled mushrooms was satisfying as our meal, alongside a simple green lettuce salad tossed with salt and EVOO, and a glass of wine. My initial thought was that I needed two eggs to make it a meal and Marco encouraged me to experience our meal and know the satisfaction of enough. After the egg on toast with mushrooms and the salad, we finished with fruit, a small dessert, and ended with an espresso. 

Bella vita is also illustrated by health. The health of a well-balanced meal of proteins, nutrients, and vitamins. Mushrooms are an excellent source of vitamins, nutrients, and proteins by themselves. Added to that, the protein from the egg, the vitamins from the green leafy salad, and the fruit contribute to the bodies need for sustenance and promotion of health and wellness.

And our bella vita life is in the way we prepare and enjoy our time together. Marco and I share the work, making the meal, just being together in our focussed efforts, sometimes chatting and sipping wine while we attend to our tasks. Matteo sets the table. We toast to the meal with a “chin chin” of our glasses with deliberate eye lock and a “buon appetito“! 

Once again, this recipe comes from Christine Watson’s “500 Tapas: the only tapas compendium you’ll ever need”.

Ingredients (serves 4):

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 eggs (she uses quail eggs but we used chicken eggs)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 14 oz. mixed wild mushrooms (we made sure that some porcini are included)
  • 3 tablespoons white wine
  • 4 thick slices sourdough bread, toasted
  • drizzle of white truffle oil (we used black truffle oil)

Process:

  1. melt the butter on high heat, add the garlic for 30 seconds, then add the mushrooms
  2. cook 2-3 minutes, adding the wine for the last 30 seconds
  3. serve over the toast slices
  4. fry the eggs in hot olive oil
  5. place over the mushrooms and drizzle with truffle oil

Buon appetito!

Confessions of a former large-box-store shopper

Several months ago I finally gave up my BJs membership! I felt so relieved. Every time I entered that monstrosity my skin crawled. For years I had shopped there, and before that, several years at COSTCO. I loved the prices, but I just don’t like the big box stores. I don’t like the size. I don’t like the aesthetic. I don’t like the message of mass merchandize unbridled consumerism.

Marco never stepped foot in BJs as this was my job in the family. And, each time I went I would converse with myself about how this is one of the last pieces of our bella vita life, our Italian lifestyle, our Cremona-stolling through historic downtown-walk everywhere-small shops-lifestyle that was still missing. 

Truth be told, the only way I finally gave it up is because we decided Amazon Prime could compare in price with the items we purchased at BJs. So now, once every few months, we buy the bulk items we used to get from BJs through Prime Pantry and have them delivered. Still isn’t quite fulfilling my dream of walking minutes from my downtown condo to purchase all the food and household items that I need, but, at least now, I don’t have to experience BJs!

The chicken pictured today is one example of a dish that features an item that we were able to buy locally, Serrano ham. Serrano ham is a dry-cured Spanish ham that we can now buy at a local shop, The Cheese Shop of Salem (click here). Slowly and surely, Salem is opening stores with provisions for daily meals (I’m still waiting for a nice fruits and vegetables market)!

The recipe is from a book that I’ve mentioned here, “500 Tapas: the only tapas compendium you’ll ever need” by Christine Watson.

Ingredients (Serves 4):

  • 1 skinless and boneless chicken breast
  • sea salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 1-2 slices Serrano ham
  • 2 fresh sage leaves
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon butter
  • 1/2 cup dry Marsala wine

Process:

  1. put the chicken between pieces of waxed paper and, using a meat mallet or a rolling-pin, flatten to a thickness of about 1/4 inch (we cut the breast in half and then slice each half into thinner pieces so you’re left with 4 thin cutlets)
  2. season with salt and pepper
  3. lay a slice of the ham on each piece
  4. put a sage leaf on top, put a slice of lemon, and secure with a toothpick
  5. lightly dust with flour on both sides
  6. heat the oil and butter in a skillet and cook for about 3 minutes on each side until golden brown and cooked through
  7. add the Marsala to the pan until thickened and reduced by about half
  8. remove to serving plates and pour the sauce on top

Buon appetito!