Cotoletta di pesce 

We have a fish or seafood meal once a week. We also plan our food needs for the upcoming week, so that we shop once, and have all the ingredients for each night ready at home. This makes it possible for us to enjoy preparing home-cooked meals from scratch each weeknight after a long day at work and school.

This fish cutlet is one example of how to eat a tasty, healthy meal, sitting down as a family together on a week-day night. It is a simple dipping in an egg batter, coating with bread crumbs, and sautéing in olive oil until golden brown. Served with a green leafy salad dressed with olive oil and salt, a few baguette slices, followed by a fresh seasonal fruit, and you have a nice balance of protein, vitamins and minerals, and satisfaction for the palate.

Lately, we’ve been using flounder. It can also be done with sole or any other fish you enjoy that will hold it’s form during the dipping, breading, and frying process. Fry in enough olive oil to fully coat the bottom of the pan. A wedge of lemon placed on each plate is another nice addition for those that would like the zest of citrus flavor along with the savoring fish.

I often mention the Mediterranean diet in these posts. So far, it seems to be one of the healthiest diets based on the research. It makes sense doesn’t it? There is an emphasis on plant-based foods, legumes, nuts, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, seafood and moderate amounts of meats. Another key component is the use of olive oil as a healthy fat and not butter or other oils. This meal is a good example of a simple way to enjoy the flavors and health of the Mediterranean diet.

Buon appetito!

Eating with 5 senses

Many of the best Italian recipes have a few simple ingredients. The beauty is in how they combine to produce an enjoyable meal, and tasting the way the flavors of each item complement and contrast in a pleasurable experience on the palate. For instance, take spaghetti alla carbonara, a simple concoction of egg, cheese, and pancetta. Each ingredient has its own distinguishable flavor, yet, when joined together with the right texture, good quality ingredients, and amount of salt and pepper, make a wonderful whole (click here for our version).

I haven’t read any research on this, but just through my limited experience of eating with Italians over the years, one of them being Marco, I’ve noticed a style of eating which takes notice of the flavors of foods with devoted attention. In addition, this often results in a tasting palate that is sensitive to the fine details of each ingredient. There is a look of concentrated attention in the face as the taste buds and the neurotransmitters in the brain communicate back and forth to discern the joy in a well crafted dish.

Mindfulness calls us to focus on the present reality before us with the same focussed attention of an eating Italian. One exercise to help cultivate this ability is called mindful eating. It asks us to take uninterrupted time to eat with rapt attention to all the details. It can include a pause before to focus our thoughts on how the food we are about to eat was brought to us. Who grew it? How was the animal treated? What process and who was involved in delivering it to us and preparing it for our consumption. Then, mindful eating involves all 5 of our senses to see, smell, touch, hear, and taste the food in a deliberate and slowed-down fashion to cultivate a present focus and allow us to feast on all the senses.

The recipe here is another one with a few quality ingredients. 

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 oil-packed anchovy fillets
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced
  • crushed red pepper flakes (q.b.)
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 pound (1″-thick) tuna steak cut in small pieced (1/2″ each)
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts previously toasted
  • 12 ounces short pasta (i.e. penne)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, divided

Process:

  • bring a pot of salted water to boil
  • In a large pan, heat the olive oil and add garlic and anchovies 
  • Once the anchovies are melted, add the tomatoes and sauté for 2-3 minutes at medium high heat
  • Add the swordfish and cook for about 2 minutes or until the desired finish of the fish
  • Add the pine nuts and flavor with salt and pepper
  • Sprinkle the parsley and keep warm at low heat
  • Cook the past al dente
  • When the past is ready, scoop it in the sauce and add 1/4 of a cup of the cooking water
  • Mix well and serve warm

Buon appetito!

Gnocchetti sardi alla contadina

There’s a really good food web site that we enjoy called Giallo Zafferano, literally Yellow Saffron. It has wonderful recipes of traditional Italian cooking as well as new takes on the standards. The site also has easy to watch video recipes. The written recipes have photos corresponding to each step of the recipe, so even if you can’t read the Italian, it is easy to follow along. We often go to this site for inspiration or ideas when we can’t think of something to make.

Today’s recipe comes from Giallo Zafferano and can be seen by clicking here. This is a flavorful pasta dish that uses a few simple ingredients and results in a hearty meal to warm the body and soul on the cool days of Fall or cold wintry nights. 

The word contadina  is the feminine singular of the word for peasant or person of the country or farmer. The ingredients for this pasta are all things that a farm-house would have, some tomatoes, beans, and a little smoked pancetta hanging in the cellar.

We used the fresh gnocchetti sardi that Matteo made from an earlier post (click here), but you can buy a dried pasta version.

Ingredients:

  • 400 g (14 ounces) of gnocchi sardi 
  • medium onion, finely chopped
  • 400 g (15 ounce can) of Spanish beans drained (reserve water for later) (we used cannelloni) 
  • 200 g (7 ounces) tomato sauce (we used our canned tomatoes from the local farm (click here)
  • 75 g (2 1/2 ounces) of smoked pancetta, thinly sliced
  • rosemary 1 branch
  • black pepper
  • olive oil
  • 5 leaves sage (we used dried sage powder)
  • 1 clove of garlic

Process:

  1. start boiling the water for the pasta
  2. meanwhile, heat the olive oil on low and add the whole garlic clove until it is golden on all sides
  3. take out the garlic clove and add the onions
  4. sauté on low heat and stir frequently so that they don’t burn
  5. add the chopped sage and rosemary
  6. add the slices of pancetta
  7. add fresh ground pepper
  8. add the beans with the remaining water that they are in
  9. add the tomato sauce and cook on medium heat for about 12 minutes
  10. once the pasta is cooked al dente, add to the sauce and plate

Buon appetito!

The Impermanence of life

It’s darker in the morning when I get up, and the sun is setting earlier each day. Despite the warmth of this year’s autumn, we are now deeply immersed in the change from summer to Fall. It’s in the air, it’s in the changes of the light, and it impacts our moods.

This past week, in my counseling room, many clients voiced the impact of these changes. Some spoke of how much harder it is to get up in the morning. Some noticed a pronounced change in their mood towards the lower end of the spectrum. Still others voiced how they were struggling more with a lack of motivation to do the things they would like to do.

Fall has this way of smacking us in the face with the reality of the impermanence of life. All life comes to an end. Not only that, but, change is inevitable, each moment we are in is different from the one before it, and, the illusion of permanence causes suffering.

I’ve never been a big fan of Fall, and, I think much of it has to do with the realities mentioned above. It brings to bear this basic truth that nothing is permanent. Mindfulness meditation has helped me to be more present, and helps in adjusting to the changes through an awareness of reality, and a less reactive response. A conscious awareness by training the brain to bring attention to the sensations of the body,  with body scanning meditation, re-wires the brain to deal with the inevitability of change.

And even without the practice of a body scan meditation, the plain fact of awareness can help us cope with change. In one group this week, a member voiced her experience of  a lower mood without any clear reason. Others chimed in with similar stories. Once we shared about the change of season and how this often impacts mood, the group member had a bit of an “aha” moment and harkened back through life to remember that this happens each Fall and it is a reality to be aware of, adjusted to, and with that, hopefully, a better chance to embrace the change.

One way we embrace the change of Fall in our household is with the celebration of the foods we love when the crisp coolness fills the autumn air. Adelina taught me her ragù alla bolognese recipe. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, the details came in over time as she released new ingredients through the years.  I think I have all the details because it  has been quite awhile since she added one. Click here to read about it and find the recipe. I make it and freeze it in portions for a quick comforting meal. We enjoy each moment of change in the seasons of life.

Buon appetito!

Making a habit

I’ve been practicing yoga for about 19 years. It was my New Year’s resolution in 1999, and I have kept up since. I started at home with a small deck of yoga cards. I continued with video’s. Later, I went to the local Y where, every Sunday, I learned from Julie. I continued my practice at home on other days of the week. Over these years, I also went on yoga retreats to Kripalu in Western Massachusetts. Now, I practice at home with an app on my phone and I go to a 6 o’clock Friday morning class with Jerry. 

You might say that I have discipline. I don’t see it that way. Yes, the ability to follow through with diligent effort is helpful at the beginning stages, but, it’s more about habit-forming. . . the rest is routine. Lately, I’ve been doing some reading about Kundalini yoga and learned that in this tradition, it takes “40 days to break a habit, 90 days installs a new habit, 120 days encodes the habit” (Rattana, 2017). I have been able to create and sustain habits that I enjoy and that make me feel real good!

The Kundalini yoga teaching goes on to say that “1000 days leads to mastery”. To me, this simply means that my yoga practice is more developed today than on that first day in January of 1999 with the small deck of yoga cards. This is probably true with any habit, and, perhaps why some of the routines we formed from childhood stay with us so well into adulthood. . . we have “mastered” them over all these years. This could also contribute to the challenge of breaking and creating new habits today.

Marco has been working hard to master the science and art of a creamy risotto where the texture of each rice kernel is felt in the teeth, or, “al dente“. Let’s call him our risotto yogi and learn some of the secrets he has learned. This particular risotto, with sausage and roasted pumpkin, tastes “mastered”. Two tips in particular make the difference. The first is that he doesn’t want the sausage to overpower the delicate flavor of the pumpkin. So, he asks the butcher to grind some pork butt, and then simply marinates it with olive oil, garlic, white wine, and spices to make a delicately flavored meat. The second is in the use of a fresh pumpkin that he roasts and then purée. 

Ingredients (serves 4):

  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • half of a yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cups carnaroli rice (or arborio)
  • 1 cup of white wine
  • 4-5 cups of chicken broth
  • 1 cup of ground pork (olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, sage, 3 Tbs white wine)
  • 1 cup of pumpkin purée (not from a can)
  • 1 tablespoon of butter

Ahead of time:

  • roast a half of a small pumpkin by rubbing with olive oil and roasting in a 400° oven for 40-50 minutes
  • remove the skin and purée the pumpkin in a food processor
  • marinate the ground pork for 3-4 hours or over night

Process:

  1. sauté chopped onions in olive oil until soft, but not brown (8 minutes)
  2. add rice and sauté for 5 more minutes stirring often
  3. add wine and let it boil off
  4. add 1 ladle of chicken stock and cook the rice slowly
  5. as the chicken stock dries out, add more broth until rice is cooked (about 10-15 minutes)
  6. add one more ladle of broth with the sausage and let simmer until it evaporates
  7. add the pumpkin purée and stir
  8. add the butter and stir
  9. spoon onto serving plates 

Buon appetito!

Carbonara with a twist

We just spent an enjoyable weekend with our friend’s from Montreal. We tried real hard to make a trade with them. . . their Justin (with his colorful socks) for our Donald (with his colorful face), but we couldn’t quite convince them! It just seems so nice to have a leader in Justin Trudeau who practices all the good messages we learned in kindergarten. . . like sharing, not hitting, cleaning up your own mess, living a balanced life, holding hands, and sticking together (Robert Fulgham).

They also shared some of their thoughts about why  they became vegetarians and often consider becoming vegan. Most of these have to do with the mass production of food and the impact this has on the animals, the resulting food product, and the planet itself. For instance, I never knew that the egg industry routinely puts all the male chicks in high-speed grinders like a wood chipper to suffer a painful death (Huffington Post, 2017). The egg industry states that they will end this practice by 2020 through the use of new technology that will determine the sex of an embryo before hatching.

Marco and I stopped eating mass-produced red meat about 12 years ago for some of the same reasons. While we are open to eating an animal raised on a local farm where there is an ecosystem created for balance and sustainability, the mass production of cows inevitably leads to overuse of land, cruelty to animals, and waste products that negatively impact the environment. All of this information can be overwhelming, but gives me pause to reflect on the choices we make with our food, and how to live together on the planet, sharing, sticking together, and living a balanced live.

Recently, one different choice we made, was to make a spaghetti alla carbonara. . . but a meat-less version. Instead of using the pancetta, we made it with sautéed zucchini and shallots. The finished product still has the rich eggy creamy sauce, and, includes the wonderful flavor combination of the zucchini and shallots that we love together on our house made pizza (click here for that recipe). 

Ingredients:

  1. 10 oz. of Spaghetti
  2. sea salt for the pasta water
  3. 3 eggs
  4. 1/3 cup of grated Grana Padano (or Parmesan)
  5. salt and pepper to taste
  6. 2 plus tablespoons of olive oil
  7. 3-4 small zucchini cut into 1/4 inch thick rounds
  8. 3 small shallots, diced

Process:

  1. start the pasta water, add a generous amount of sea salt and cook the pasta al dente (click here to see more about salting the water)
  2. while the pasta is cooking, sauté the zucchini and shallots in the olive oil
  3. whisk the eggs together
  4. add salt, pepper, and the grated cheese
  5. when the pasta is close to being done, add the pasta by straining from the water into the pan of pancetta (while keeping the pan on low heat)
  6. stir all together, adding a bit of the starchy water (from the spaghetti pot – if needed – you don’t want it watery, but the starchy water can help to thicken the sauce – if unsure, try without adding any water)
  7. pour the egg mixture over the spaghetti and stir right away
  8. you want to get a nice creamy consistency without letting the egg cook too much!
  9. plate and enjoy!

Buon appetito!

Keep moving! …till you sleep

Biking on Governor’s Island, New York

In recent years, I’ve delved into a study of sleep, and, in particular, a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) approach to working on insomnia. One of the things I learned is the importance of the wakefulness system (Say Goodnight to Insomnia, Jacobs, 2009). Simply put, what we do when we are awake has a direct impact on the sleep we get at night. For example, when our eyes see the light from the sun in the morning the melatonin is turned off. Then, when the sun sets, melatonin is produced again to promote sleep. In addition, the activity level of the day promotes sleep. So, a day of desk sitting or couch potato t.v. watching will not stress and tire the body enough to facilitate a good nights sleep.

A physically active day will tire the body so that it is ready for sleep at night. This is common sense. Our bodies are made to be active throughout the day. If we look back in evolutionary time, we were hunting and gathering, walking and moving, physically exerting ourselves throughout much of time. . . until recent history with the development of the car, t.v., computers, our smart phones, elevators, and so much more of the modern world that keeps us from the simple act of moving our bodies.

Now, many of us have sedentary days even while at work. We sit in chairs in front of computers. We sit in cars on our way to work. We stand on floors that move up to the heights of our office levels. And we touch buttons to bring things to us. 

The “B” in the CBT treatment for insomnia is the behavioral piece. (The “C” or thinking piece deserves it’s own post).These are the lifestyle changes we can make to ensure a good night’s sleep. They have to do with avoiding caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. It includes environmental changes like keeping the bed and the bedroom only for sleep and sex or eliminating electronics from our bedrooms. And, lest we forget, it includes keeping the movement in our day to day lives. This can be things like the 10,000 steps that fit bit folks strive for, or taking the steps instead of the elevator, parking further away on purpose to promote more walking, and a regular workout routine.

Buonanotte!

Fresh tuna in a jar

Here’s a unique way to cook a meal. Our friend Roberta, who lives in Liguria, Italy posted this on Facebook over the summer and we had to try it. We love fish, love the summer vegetables, and it all gets marinated in olive oil and Italian spices to create a flavorful and healthy dish. Truth be told, it’s made with fresh tuna and Marco is not a big fan of tuna but was game for trying it this fun way.

First, cut the ingredients into bite sized pieces:

Then, they are all put into 17 ounce canning jars (one per person) with olive oil, a bit of water, and all the spices you want. We used salt, Provence spices and garlic, but you can find your own combination.

The weird part comes now with the use of some clean socks so that the jars are lowered into the boiling water for cooking and avoid breaking. We boiled for 20 minutes, but next time will reduce it to 15 minutes so that the tuna is rarer. The cooking time will also change based on the fish you are cooking: salmon or swordfish.

Empty each jar into a serving plate and voilà, ready to enjoy! A nice recipe for those who follow the Mediterranean diet that I often talk about here.


 

Buon appetito!

Melanzane alla parmigiana 

 

Eggplant is not one of my favorite vegetables. I think it’s something about the texture on the teeth that bothers me. But, when Adelina and Enzo work their wonder, eggplant becomes scrumptious. One treat is made by slicing thin, lightly flouring, dipping in egg, and covering completely with bread crumbs. Then, these cutlets are deep fried in vegetable oil.  In Italian, these are called melanzane impanate or breaded eggplants. At Adelina and Enzo’s house they are fried in the shed, outdoors in the back yard, to spare the house from the smell of fried food.

More melanzane magic is made by slicing the eggplant even thinner. A mandolin would be perfect for this.  Then, each slice is lightly floured, fried in oil, and salted…they are to die for! At Adelina’s house extras are made so we can all stand around snacking some before we sit down to eat!

These thinly sliced lightly floured  deep fried delights are the basic building blocks of the other way that I eat eggplant, eggplant parmigiana, or melanzane alla parmigiana. This is a delicacy that really has to be tried! I don’t mean the eggplant parmesan that you might have had in the States, or in a submarine sandwich bun, heavily breaded and deep fried, with processed mozzarella and spaghetti sauce from a jar! I’m talking about Adelina’s simple preparation of eggplant, tomato sauce, grana padano (or parmigiano), and fresh mozzarella.

Last week a neighbor gifted us with two farm fresh eggplants from her friend’s garden. Marco immediately said that he’d make some parmigiana di melanzane, he did, and I loved it! 

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium eggplants, slice thin, but not too thin
  • 1/2 cup of flour
  • frying oil 
  • coarse sea salt
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella 
  • tomato sauce for the layers (click here for Adelina’s sauce)
  • grated grana padano or Parmesan for the layers

Process:

  1. in a large plate, layer the eggplant slices with coarse sea salt and cover with anther plate and some heavy items to weigh it down (this takes the liquid out of the eggplant)
  2. Rinse the eggplant and pat down dry
  3. lightly flour the eggplant slices and fry in the oil to lightly brown both sides
  4. in a baking dish, spoon a thin layer of the sauce
  5. place a layer of eggplant 
  6. then, spoon another layer of sauce, place mozzarella pieces, and sprinkle the grated cheese
  7. continue like this until you finish the eggplant and/or reach a desired level
  8. be sure the final layer is one with the cheeses
  9. bake at 400 for 25-30 minutes

Buon appetito!

Biking in the backyard

People visit Italy for many reasons, the food, the history, architecture, scenery, the people and culture, but, one of my favorite things to do when we visit is biking through the streets of Cremona and the surrounding farm land. I enjoy the views, the exercise, and gentle pace of an Italian style bike ride. It’s popular to ride the streets of Italy, and so it seems that the drivers respect the bicyclists in the roads.

I’m also impressed each time we go to Italy with the varied ages riding their bicycles. It is common to see folks in their 80’s and 90’s pedaling along the city streets, running their errands. These same older adults walk to the store, climb stairs, and keep moving to carry out the daily tasks of their lives.

As you know, I read a lot on healthy aging. One of the best things is to keep moving. It’s good for heart health, it’s proven to aid memory, it’s  great for improving mood, it helps improve sleep, and it’s even recommended recently to manage chronic pain. 

Biking in Italy inspired us to begin biking right here, in our own back yard. Fortunately, our back yard has the scenes pictured in today’s post. We have a loop that brings us out to Winter Island in Salem, around a park called The Willows, and through bike paths along Collins Cove, and back to the downtown. Our City promises more bike paths to move people safely from place to place without coping with the congestion of car traffic. Last weekend, Marco and I took the bike path through conservation woods to Marblehead, and then along the coast and back to the wooded path.

Enjoy the photos of the views along the way. . . and enjoy your own backyards!

Buon movimento!

Musings about Italian food, life, and culture from America

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