Back to the Kitchen: The Pleasure of Light Italian Cooking

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gwen-upper110x110BY GWEN KENNEALLY

Here we go again, another New Years and many more resolutions.  Years ago I gave up on the whole idea of resolutions — just way too much pressure. I will say, however, that after hanging out with some amazing chefs over the holidays and overindulging on so many fabulous treats, I could step up my work out and eat a bit lighter.

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 because it is said to be high sugar?  I also hate the word “diet.” For the long haul, I believe moderation is the key.

One of my favorite cuisines is Italian.  I love to watch my Italian friends eat. It is all about pleasure. I think we could learn something from them. How they savor every bite of small amounts from a wide variety of foods.  The falsehood about Italian cooking is that it can’t be low carb. To the contrary,  it could be a simple lettuce salad with balsamic dressing or a tiny chocolate truffle or a glass of Pinot Noir.  Having roasted garlic and roasted red peppers around is a must to spice up many dishes.

You can take many Italian dishes and “un-carb”  them.  Try a Caesar salad without croutons or use a classic pesto over swordfish or scallops. You can use your favorite sauce over spaghetti squash as I have done below 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 if you feel the urge.

Most of all, in this new year,  I encourage you to embrace the body you have and to be healthy, happy and live a love filled life.


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 (in moderation or none if going low carb) 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, 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 cheese and serve.

Prosciutto with Melon

This is a classic 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

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 olive oil

3 garlic cloves, minced

¼ 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.

Spaghetti Squash with Tomatoes, Basil and Parmesan

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

2 tablespoons butter/2tablespoons 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.

Melanzane alla Parmigiana, Eggplant Parmesan

2 large eggplants, stemmed and sliced into 1/4-inch slices

Pinch of salt

Olive Oil

1 quart of thick tomato sauce

Fresh basil and oregano, chopped

3/4 pound fresh ricotta, well drained

Salt and pepper to taste

A few teaspoons of freshly grated Parmigiano

1/2 cup shredded fresh basil leaves (for garnish)

Sprinkle the sliced eggplant with salt and put the pieces in a colander for a half hour to draw some of the moisture from them. Rinse them well when the time is up. Preheat your oven to 400 Take a 9 by 14-inch Pyrex pan and drizzle some olive oil over the bottom, and then a little tomato sauce. Lay down a layer of sliced eggplant about a third of your eggplant, cutting pieces if need be to fill in holes and make an even layer — and drizzle more tomato over it. Dab some of the ricotta over the slices, Sprinkle with chopped basil and oregano pepper, and a touch of salt, and put down a second layer of eggplant, trimming pieces as necessary to make an even layer. Drizzle with more tomato oregano, basil, and dab with more ricotta. Season again to taste, and put down a final layer of eggplant. Season with oregano, basil, salt, and pepper, dab the remaining ricotta, and sprinkle most if not all of the remaining tomato over everything the sauce and the eggplant should be at the same level. Dust the surface with a little freshly grated Parmigiano and the shredded basil and bake for about an hour. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting.

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 5 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.

Brutti ma Buoni (Ugly But Good Cookies Recipe)

The name says it all! This light cookie made with egg whites and less sugar and the natural antioxidant of 60% cacao! I guess my Noni was ahead of the times!

2 cups slivered almonds, toasted

Whole almonds for garnish

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

4 large egg whites at room temperature

1/4-teaspoon salt

1-teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup Ghirardelli Chocolate Chips 60% Cacao

Parchment paper for baking

Preheat oven to 300F. In a food process with the steel l blade in place the toasted almonds and sugar, and pulse until the almonds are coarsely chopped. Place the egg whites and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat until foamy. Add the vanilla and continue to beat until you have stiff peaks. Gently fold the almond mixture and chips into the egg whites. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Drop the batter by tablespoonfuls onto the parchment paper, leaving at least 1″ between the cookie batter. Top each cookie with a whole almond. Bake the cookies for 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove cookies from the oven and set aside for 2 minutes. Use a spatula to remove the cookies to a wire rack to cool.

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About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.

  • Nancy Mehagian

    Great recipes, Gwen. Thanks!

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