The Diabetic Diaries

By Mary Anna Violi |@MaryAnnaVioli

   It has now been over 2 months or so since my Type 2 diabetes diagnosis. Although I was disheartened to learn of this medical news, I have tried to educate myself more about my malady. Here are a few things I have learned in that time.

   If I can adapt to a Keto Diet, then so can you. No pasta, no rice, no bread, There is no worse order one could give to an Italian than no pasta, no bread, and I forgot to mention, no wine. I thought would be the end of me. However, my nutritionist advised me to purchase sprouted whole grain bread. It’s opened a whole new world to me! My bread of choice is Ezekiel; it is delicious and filling with just one slice. I don’t miss Italian, French, or Cardamom Citrus bread too much anymore.  The only thing I wish for is sugar-free jam, which I can likely order on Amazon.

   Each morning I have a bowl or either strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, or raspberries. Keto permits any of the berries. I find the berries most satisfying. However, I have had to forsake my beloved Honey Crisp apples and melons for the time being. Growing up, my brother and I harvested strawberries and black raspberries from our father’s nearly 1-acre vegetable garden in our backyard. We know our fruit and vegetables!

   Although I may have half-a-cup of cooked pasta, I find the only pastas I sometimes crave is rigatoni with a hearty marinara sauce, and linguine with clams in white wine. Yet a half a cup of pasta is only about 2-3 forkfuls! My fear is if I succumb at this stage to rigatoni, I’ll devour a plateful of it, and I don’t wish to undo what the Keto Diet has helped me to achieve thus far. In regard to rice, I am trying to adapt to cauliflower rice. I don’t care how the ads pitch it: cauliflower isn’t rice at all. It’s cauliflower. It’s not my favorite, but I will try to persuade my taste buds it’s better for me. So far, my palate has been resistant.

   I’ve always liked avocados in guacamole. Yet now I buy my own avocados and have learned how to select them. A shout out to Eder and Zach at Whole Foods for educating me on the art of selecting avocados and how to prepare a simple avocado spread: mash the avocado, salt and pepper to taste, and then add a healthy dose of lime juice. It creates a delicious breakfast on my toasted sprouted whole grain bread.

   Thus far I’ve lost 20 pounds. I feel energized, no longer bloated, and just plain good. Truthfully, I haven’t felt this well in years, while longing for a dish of pasta.

   Ciao for now.

Soup for All

Ribollita|AFoodCentricLife.com

This photo of Ribollita on china like mine is from Sally Cameron’s blog, A Food Centric Life at http://afoodcentriclife.com. She posted some yummy recipes! – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli 

One of my earliest childhood memories of food is that of soup. My mother concocted the most delicious, soul-warming soups for our family. Her chicken soup remains in my dreams, for she would make it with a hen my father butchered from his dozen chickens. Always he kept twelve chickens in the spacious coop and fenced yard within our orchard. Fresh eggs, roasted chicken, and the ubiquitous soup were all culinary events from those erstwhile hens. Whenever my Ohio relatives were commencing their drive to visit us, my Uncle Joe, whose parents were Sicilian immigrants, would phone my mother and say, “Kitty, toss another cup of water in the soup! We’re on our way!” He knew full well soup would be on the menu, with pasta served for the next day’s dinner.

Not only do I adhere to the healing power of soup, I believe also in its inherent ability to comfort, to console. My mother and father have long since passed away, yet they imbued me with a culinary sensibility that food transcends the foibles of the world. To quote famous chef and food critic Anthony Bourdain,

Soup is elemental, and it always makes sense, even when the world around us fails to.

 Frequently the world makes little sense, but soup atones for that. No matter how bad a day, regardless of disappoint, in spite of strife, and with little money, soup remains a constant presence that sustains us. With meat or without, with few or many vegetables, with a vegetable, or chicken, or beef broth, soup can be made from very little. My mother used to add either cabbage or Italian greens such as mustard greens, escarole, or dandelions to the carrots, onions, celery, tomatoes, beans, and chicken simmering away in her homemade chicken broth.

When I learned of the cookbook, Soup for Syria: Recipes to Celebrate Our Shared Humanity, by Barbara Abdeni Massaad, I knew I needed to purchase it. All of the proceeds are given to non-profit organizations for food relief efforts for Syrian refugees. The author has tapped into her extensive network of famous chefs, like Anthony Bourdain and Yotam Ottolenghi (author of Jerusalem, an amazing cookbook) to name only a few of the many contributing chefs. Massaad was born in Beirut, Lebanon, yet grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where her father owned a Lebanese restaurant, although she now resides in Beirut. Next to Italian food, I count Lebanese food among my favorite cuisines; therefore, I became interested in Massaad’s cookbook, Man’oushé: Inside the Street Corner Lebanese Bakery some years ago. She is active in the Slow Food Movement, founded by Italian Carlo Pettrini. The movement focuses on preservation of traditional and regional cuisine in support of sustainable foods. It sounds like how my father and mother parlayed  his abundant garden into soup, and filled our large freezer with vegetables and chicken years ago!

Here are several links to Soup for Syria: Recipes to Celebrate Our Shared Humanity:

http://soupforsyria.com/book.php

https://www.amazon.com/Soup-Syria-Recipes-Celebrate-Humanity/dp/1566560896/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1486659579&sr=1-1&keywords=soup+for+syria

Tonight I am serving Ribollita, a hearty Florentine soup I made this morning. Prior to ladling up bowls of Ribollita, I will lay toasted Italian bread in the bottom of the bowls. ‘E buona!

Ciao for now.

Genius: Pasta

Pasta With Fried Eggs lends itself to different shapes of pasta-www.tangledpasta.net
Pasta With Fried Eggs lends itself to different shapes of pasta-www.tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

One of the most versatile of Italian foods is pasta. Pasta comes in various shapes, each with its own unique taste. Two of my personal favorites are linguine and rigatoni. Quality of the pasta makes a difference. My own pastas of choice are De Cecco and Whole Foods’ Organic 365. A link to De Cecco’s recipes on its website offers up a number of its pasta offerings with seafood. The De Cecco family founded its pasta business in the Abruzzo region of Italy, along the coast of the Adriatic Sea where fresh catches were readily available.

http://www.dececco.it/us_us/ricettario

Most homemade pastas of yore found the freshly made pasta drying in the sun. Sun drying, coupled with high quality flour and eggs, made all the difference in the taste. Of course, now pasta manufacturers have invented techniques to dry the pasta for mass-market consumption, attempting not to sacrifice taste and quality. Certainly De Cecco pasta has succeeded in this regard.

One of my preferred go-to pasta recipes is from Mark Bittman, of the Cooking section of The New York Times. I usually make a recipe as is the first time, and then I add my variations on the theme. Bittman recently opted to consume less meat; now quite a few of his recipes work for vegetarians. Part of the beauty of pasta is that a cook can raid the pantry and refrigerator to concoct lunch or dinner. I even know those who eat pasta for breakfast! Italian pasta pretty much tolerates most ingredients a cook throws at it, although ketchup as a “sauce” may offend one’s cultivated pasta palate!

Spaghetti With Fried Eggs

By Mark Bittman [with my variations]

 Ingredients                                                  

Salt

½ pound thin spaghetti [or linguine]

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 large cloves garlic, peeled and smashed [or onion granules]

4 eggs

Freshly ground black pepper

Freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino [or Grana Padano] cheese[Green vegetable such as broccolini or broccoli florets or fresh spinach or peas]

Preparation

 Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Add the pasta when the water boils. Follow the package directions for how long to cook the pasta until it is al dente.

Start making the sauce.

Combine garlic [if using onion granules, add these to the eggs] and 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Cook the garlic and press it into the oil to release its flavor; it should barely color on both sides. Remove the garlic, and add the remaining olive oil.

Fry the eggs gently in the olive oil until the whites are about set and the yolks are still quite runny. Drain the pasta. Toss the pasta with the eggs [and onion granules if not using garlic] and olive oil. The eggs will finish cooking in the heat of the pasta. Season with pepper to taste, and serve immediately.

Serve with the Italian cheese, and with a green vegetable.

Buon appetito!

Ciao for now.

 

 

Italian Comfort Food

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The pasta bowl was filled to the top with Pasta e Fagioli, but I was hungry, and I had eaten most of it when I remembered I needed to snap a photo. – http://www.tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Maybe it had something to do with the death of one of my 48 first cousins last week. Perhaps the up and down warm and chilly weather affected me, or my usual spring melancholy at the end of a teaching semester accounted for it. Whatever the reason, I craved a Southern Italian food I had not made in a while: Pasta e Fagioli, otherwise known as Pasta and Beans. This filling, comforting dish of Italian tastiness is not complicated to make. In fact, Pasta e Fagioli can most likely be created from pantry items at home. Its ingredients are those I keep on hand. If I run out of an item, it is purchased the next time I stop at the grocery.

My guess is that I rather lost my taste for this classic Italian peasant dish when it became popular among affluent upscale types. Collectively those people were enough to make me lose my appetite when they seized upon our traditional food. After seeing my beloved Pasta e Fagioli on a restaurant menu priced at $5.00 to $10.00 a bowl, depending upon which part of the country I was in, it felt like a death knell had tolled. Having Pasta e Fagioli on a legitimate Italian restaurant menu did not faze me; it was seeing it printed on non-authentic Italian restaurant menus that saddened me.

Growing up in an Italian Catholic household, Pasta e Fagioli was standard Friday night fare since we were forbidden to eat meat or fowl in those years, although we could eat fish. There are as many variations on this Southern Italian classic as there are on vegetarian chili: every cook indulges in the chef’s prerogative when it comes to ingredients and consistency. Some prefer a thick Pasta e Fagioli, while others like it more in a soup form. I have always preferred it thick and hearty. However, now when I make Pasta e Fagioli, I use far less tomatoes than in years past. This is noted in the recipe included below.

Pasta e Fagioli

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped [or 2-teaspoons onion granules]

1 24-ounce bottle organic strained Italian tomatoes [or a 30-ounce can crushed Italian tomatoes]

1-1/2 teaspoons dried oregano

¼ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

2-1/2 cups organic chicken stock

2 15-ounce cans cannellini beans

8 ounces organic elbow macaroni [or 8 ounces mini-farfalle]

1-teaspoon salt

1-teaspoon ground black pepper

Grana Padano cheese to taste

  1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add garlic, and cook about a minute more, but do not burn the garlic. Stir in strained tomatoes, oregano, dried red pepper flakes, and chicken stock. Cover and cook to heat through, about 5-6 minutes. Add cannellini beans and simmer 10 minutes or so.
  2. Cook elbow macaroni in a large pot of salted, boiling water until nearly cooked, about 6 minutes. Add to mixture, and cook 20 minutes. Add salt and ground black pepper.
  3. Serve in pasta bowls with grated Grana Padano cheese on the side.

Buon appetito!

Ciao for now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eating Through the Weekend

Pasta Carbonara is a classic Italian quick dinner to put together.-www.tangledpasta.net
Pasta Carbonara is a classic Italian meal that goes together quickly.- http://www.tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

As the weekend draws to a close, I am reminded that I did a fair amount of cooking, which is something I love to do. In a sense, though, we rather ate our way around a part of the world.

On Friday night we dined on Shepherd’s Pie, which is quite out of character for an Italian, but periodically, I like to eat outside of the box. There is something lovely and comforting about a British Isle food that is smothered with mashed potatoes on its top. Saturday morning I made Julie Child’s Quiche aux Oignons for brunch with fresh blueberries on the side. Delicious, if I do say so myself! Her Mastering the Art of French Cooking is one of my favorite cookbooks in my collection.

Much later that day we would up at O’Rourke’s Pub. It was overflowing with people, but we managed to snare table. After watching the servers carry plates of food past us several times, we settled on Angus beef burgers. I chose smoked Gouda cheese and sautéed mushrooms on mine. My daughter opted for Cheddar cheese on hers and the sautéed mushrooms. A post-hockey game crowd was drawn to the pub. It was loud, with music blaring, and multiple screens showing different games nationwide. After a couple of hours, I was ready to vacate the premises since I wanted to unbutton the top of my jeans from the effects of garlic-laced French fries and pretzel bun cheeseburger overload.

This sunny Sunday morning, I made buttermilk and honey pancakes because we apparently didn’t ingest enough carbs the previous day. I worked on book revisions yesterday and today, finally deciding we needed to partake of UV rays in the great outdoors. Tonight’s dinner consisted of Pasta Carbonara with Whole Foods’ as-pure-as-one-can-get bacon, half and half, Parmesan cheese, parsley, lemon, and olive oil. On the side we had spinach with olive oil and fresh lemon. All in all, we feasted on British, Irish [beer, anyway], French, and Italian food over the weekend.

I’m thinking we may need to order sushi for tomorrow….or Panda Express.

Ciao for now.

Italian Food Cravings

No matter which version one makes, Pasta e Fagioli is delizioso! - tangledpasta.net
No matter which version one makes, Pasta e Fagioli is delizioso! – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Lately, I have had a penchant for the traditional Southern Italian food of my parents’ preference. Talk about cheap eats: pasta, fagioli [beans], greens [endive, mustard greens, chicory], marinara sauce, ricotta, fresh mozzarella, peppers, potatoes, asparagus, eggplant, sardines, anchovies, olive oil, and eggs, all add up to fabulous meals, and none with meat. In fact, it is food I rarely tire of because it is possible to reinvent Italian dishes using these deceptively simple ingredients.

I was sixteen years old before my gustatory senses were awakened to the fact that not all pasta was drenched in a red sauce. This revelation occurred when my parents took my brother and me to Italy for the first time. In Northern Italy I at pesto for the first time, as well as green lasagna with béchamel sauce. In Tuscany I feasted on Linguine with Clams, baked fennel with potatoes and cheese; all my previous notions of Italian food underwent a catharsis. By the time we arrived in Calabria, at my father’s family’s doorstep, I was back to pasta with marinara sauce, but it tasted very good after several weeks of Northern and Tuscan cuisine.

On this Sunday afternoon, I am making a Calabrese Pasta e Fagioli [pasta and beans]. There are numerous variations on this peasant classic. It may be as thick as a stew, my personal preference, or as thin as a zuppa [soup]. Some years ago, my brother was in Manhattan on business. When he saw Pasta e Fagioli on the menu at a swanky New York restaurant, his interest was piqued. He declared the purchased version inferior to our mother’s, and it was expensive to boot. Among its shortcomings: the restaurant version was like a thin soup. In my family, we like to cut our Pasta e Fagioli with a knife, for it is as thick as can be.

Pasta e Fagioli

2 tablespoons olive oil                               2 15-oz. cans Cannellini beans, drained

I medium onion, chopped                         8 oz. ditalini, or small shells, or elbows pasta

3 garlic cloves, chopped                                        Salt and pepper to taste

1 28-oz. can Italian crushed tomatoes                Grated Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon Italian herbs,                                       Italian bread

or 1 teaspoon dried oregano

2 cups chicken stock, or less for a thicker consistency

Bring a large, heavy pot of water to a boil. Add a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of olive oil, and add the ditalini. Cook for 5 minutes. Drain pasta.

In a large, heavy pan, heat olive oil over medium heat, and then add onion and cook until softened, 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and cook an additional minute. Add tomatoes, oregano, and chicken stock. Cover and cook until heated through, 5-8 minutes. Add Cannellini beans and bring mixture to a simmer, approximately 10 minutes. Add ditalini, and then cook for 20 minutes to meld the flavors, and to finish cooking the ditalini. Season with salt and pepper.

Ladle the Pasta e Fagioli into pasta bowls. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese and Italian bread on the side. Buon Appetito!

*Variation:  Add 1 small carrot, chopped; 1 rib celery, chopped; and 1 large dried bay leaf; saute the carrot and celery in olive oil until tender, then add to the pasta e fagioli.

Ciao for now.

The Classic

Nothing beats "The Classic" pasta dish in our family - tangledpasta.net
Nothing surpasses “The Classic” pasta dish in our family – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi |@Mary Anna Violi

When my daughter arrived home after a round of law school midterms and finals, she was exhausted.  In honor of her academic work, I had a large pot full of pasta sauce and meatballs with a side of Swiss chard to bolster her flagging spirits.  The weather had turned chilly, but sunshine abounded that evening she drove home for a restorative weekend.  Nothing warms the cockles of one’s Italian heart like a hearty dish of pasta and meatballs.

Having taken that particular Friday off of work in order to prepare for her first homecoming post exams, I hastened to Whole Foods to talk with one of my favorite Whole Foods meat counter fellows.  We had an invigorating talk about the kind of pork to be found in the Whole Foods’ case.  He waxed poetic about the caliber of pork and the quality controls required of the porcine population deemed worthy of occupying space in the Whole Foods meat case.  In turn, I explained how my mother’s recipe is the Golden Child of Meatballs, demanding half ground chuck and half ground pork among its nine ingredients.  We chuckled over those who insist on making meatballs with only beef, thereby rendering the meatballs heavy on the tummy.

That night Anjelica and I bit into the meatballs before winding linguine around our forks.  Her eyes lit up as she exclaimed, “Mama!  These are the best meatballs you’ve ever made! They’re so light and tasty!”

I had to agree.

Ciao for now.