Back to the Kitchen: Kick off the New Year with Italian Cooking Light

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Here we go again, another New Year’s and many more resolutions. YUCK! Years ago I gave up on the whole idea of resolutions, way too much pressure. I would rather have some New Years intentions and positive ways to get closer to a rich, full beautiful life!

I will say that after hanging out with some amazing chefs over the holidays and over indulging in so many fabulous treats, I could step up my work out and eat a bit lighter! Don’t get me wrong, I have never been a big fan of long term no carb diets. I mean, think about a diet that says you can have a burger wrapped in bacon and cheese, but don’t eat a carrot? I also dislike the word diet! I believe that for the long haul moderation is the key. And so many people think that no carbs means no Italian…think again.

I love to watch my Italian friends eat— it is all about pleasure. I think we could learn some things from them, such as the way they savor every bite of small amounts of a wide variety of foods. It could be a simple lettuce salad with balsamic or a tiny chocolate truffle or a glass of Pinot Noir. You can take many Italian dishes and un-carb them. Have a Caesar without croutons or use a classic pesto over swordfish or scallops. You can use your favorite sauce over spaghetti squash as I have done with a classic tomato and basil.

I invite you to try some of these Northern Italian inspired recipes. A bit lighter perhaps, but you can always serve them up with a little risotto, pasta or roasted potatoes. Mostly I encourage you to embrace the body you have and to be healthy, happy and live a love filled life. Happy New Year!


Use spaghetti squash instead of pasta.

Spaghetti Squash with Tomatoes, Basil and Parmesan

3 pounds of spaghetti squash (1 large or 2 small)

8 medium size tomatoes (roma, heirloom or vine ripened) or 1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered

2 tablespoons butter OR 2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup diced onions

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

5 tablespoons fresh basil

Preheat oven to 375. Place squash on baking dish and pierce with a fork 6 times. Bake until squash tests tender when pierced with a fork about 45 minutes; turning once during cooking. Half way through cooking, heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over low heat. Sautee onions and garlic until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes; cook, stirring occasionally, over low heat until tomatoes are thickened. Remove squash from the oven and using an oven mitt, cut the squash in half. Remove the seeds then pull the long strands into a large bowl using a fork. Toss well with butter, Parmesan and basil. Divide four ways and spoon sauce over top.

Prosciutto with Melon

A classic Italian appetizer. It is also great with a loaf of crusty bread or you can wrap the prosciutto around figs; or spread some goat cheese on slice and wrap around grilled asparagus.

1 melon cut into 6 wedges (cantaloupe or honeydew)

18 paper-thin prosciutto slices

Place 1 melon wedge on each of 6 plates. Arrange 3 prosciutto slices alongside melon or drape over melon and serve.

Spicy Mozzarella with Oregano and Capers

Serve with an assortment of artichoke hearts, olives and salami for an appetizer or light lunch.

12 ounces fresh water-packed mozzarella cheese, drained, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

2 tablespoon minced fresh oregano

3 tablespoons capers, chopped

Kosher Salt and ground Pepper to taste

Overlap cheese slices on medium platter.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in small skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and crushed pepper and stir just until garlic begins to color, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in oregano, salt, and pepper. Cool. Stir in capers and remaining 4 tablespoons oil. Spoon over cheese slices.

Roasted Garlic

6 whole heads garlic

1/2-cup olive oil

Salt/ freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 350.Trim the points of the heads of garlic exposing the tops of the cloves. Place the heads together in a shallow baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast the garlic for 30 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 250 and roast 1 hour more. Serve the garlic with crusty bread and assorted cheeses. One of life’s most simple pleasures!

Roasted Red Peppers

12 large red bell peppers

1/4-cup olive oil

6 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced crosswise

1/4 cup Balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

Turn all gas burners on high. Place peppers directly on flame watching very carefully, Turn until the entire pepper is a burnt a bluish, black color. Place in plastic bag for 15 minutes. Meanwhile whisk together oil, garlic, basil and balsamic vinegar. Under cold water rub the skin off and slice into strips. Loosely layer in a bowl drizzling with oil mixture. Serve with crusty bread, in salads or you can make a soup.

Grilled Vegetable Platter

3 red bell peppers, seeded and halved

3 yellow squash sliced lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick rectangles

3 zucchini, sliced lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick rectangles

3 Japanese eggplants, sliced lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick rectangles

1 bunch (1-pound) asparagus, trimmed

12 green onions

Olive oil

Salt and pepper, to taste

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves

1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil leaves

1-cup goats cheese, crumbled

Place a grill pan over medium-high heat or prepare the barbecue (medium-high heat). Brush the vegetables oil to coat lightly. Sprinkle the vegetables with salt and pepper. Working in batches, grill the vegetables until tender and lightly charred all over, about 8 to 10 minutes for the bell peppers; 7 minutes for the yellow squash, zucchini, eggplant, 4 minutes for the asparagus and green onions. Arrange the vegetables on a platter. Meanwhile whisk 2 tablespoons of oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, parsley, basil, in a small bowl to blend. Add salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle the herb mixture over the vegetables. Sprinkle with goat’s cheese and serve.

Shrimp Scampi

1-pound shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped

4 garlic cloves, chopped

1 tablespoon basil, finely chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

Juice and zest from 1 lemon

1 lb cooked fettuccine

Heat butter and oil in a skillet. When hot, add the shrimp and cook over high heat, turning shrimp constantly. As soon as the shrimp turn pink, add the parsley, garlic and basil. Keep tossing for no more than another minute; remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice and zest, add salt and pepper and add the other 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice. Serve over hot fettuccine.

Halibut in Herb Sauce

1/4-cup fresh lemon juice

1/4-cup olive oil

6 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

6 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

6 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

6 6-ounce halibut fillets

Olive oil for brushing

Puree first five ingredients in processor. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper.

Preheat broiler. Brush fish with oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Broil until just opaque in center, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer fish to plates. Spoon sauce over and serve.

Noni’s Chicken (I hated as a kid, love now and my daughter loves it!)

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 chicken breast halves with ribs and skin, cut crosswise in half

3 chicken drumsticks with skin

3 chicken thighs with skin

6 ounces 1/4-inch cubes prosciutto

8 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

3 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

1 1/4 cups dry white wine

1 cup chicken stock

1 cup crushed tomatoes with added puree

Fresh rosemary for garnish

Preheat oven to 325°F. Heat extra-virgin olive oil in heavy large ovenproof pot over medium-high heat. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Working in 2 batches, sauté chicken until golden, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to platter. Add prosciutto, sliced garlic, and chopped rosemary to same pot. Stir 1 minute. Add dry white wine, chicken broth, and crushed tomatoes with puree. Bring to boil, scraping up browned bits. Boil 5 minutes. Return chicken to pot, arranging in single layer. Return to boil. Cover pot and place in oven. Bake until chicken breasts are cooked through, about 30 minutes. Remove pot from oven.

Bring chicken mixture to simmer. Transfer chicken to platter; tent with foil. Boil until sauce is reduced to 2 cups and coats back of spoon, about 5 minutes. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Pour sauce over chicken. Garnish with rosemary sprigs and serve.

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About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.

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