Sunday, January 6, 2013


There is one sure way to lose weight...Stop eating so much!

Basically this is true.  I once weighed in at 229 and over a period of 1 year dropped down to 165.  I was too thin as an adult at my high school weight.  I put 10 pounds on without too much effort and stayed there for years...until John stopped of his dozen or so times, and I just ate along with him. 
Now I need to take weight off again.  I am not up to my former glory, but I am too heavy.  It is unfortunate that I do not take my own advice. I know exactly how to do this.  It is harder to do all of it now that I am twenty years older, but it really is not impossible to do.  Right now, I have no real motivation, except for a real need for new pants.  I will eventually have enough money for a gym membership, and regular free time, and the weight will come off.
There was a time when it was a sign of prosperity to have a nice fat wife.  They overlooked the fact that their hips slowly wore the wallpaper off the hallway walls. 
It was taken for granted that if you had a meagre lifestyle, you might be thin.  If you were prosperous, you might be fat.  It was all inevitable.  In fact it was a good way to store food for the lean times.  If you had a famine, the fit and fat might survive till the next harvest, while Barbie was stuck in the ground and used to grow beans on.
Before you choose to lose weight, take a few minutes to look through the family photos at  .
The object of this lesson is not to discourage you from losing weight.  It is to encourage you to set reasonable goals.  Very few of these people gorged themselves all their lives.  Some were always a bit heavy, and some got really heavy when their knees went bad, but we have to face the fact that something is going on if 75 per cent of the family look like walking wine casks.  The fact that the island relatives are not quite as heavy, while retaining the basic shape, is testimony as to the health of the American variation on the Italian diet, and the general prosperity of the population.  Maybe they hide their heavy people in broom closets, but there are not so many people carrying tons of weight in Italy as there are here in similar families.  The last time I was on Salina, I visited a distant Cincotta cousin.  When I sat at the kitchen table, I was not offered chips or pretzels(they don't really have them after all) but a hand full of large broad beans still in the pods.  We split the pods, removed the beans on at a time, peeled the individual beans and ate them.  When visiting Greek friends years ago, I was offered a sour apple, peeled, sliced and sprinkled with a bit of cinnamon and sugar.  Not so dumb a diet!
So, lets look at the island diet.

These are just the left overs ready for tomorrow or the next day.  In the large pan, clockwise from the top, are:  Steamed carrots, grilled onion slices, steamed broccoli florets, steamed small potatoes (with black olives, capers and olive oil steeped with Parmesan, red pepper and garlic).  Carrots again and steamed Cauliflower.  In the middle are wedges of grilled tomato and stuffed cherry peppers. Everything is marinated in Balsamic vinegar and oil.  On the left is roasted sausage and hard boiled egg.  On the right, since John hates plain tuna, I made a tuna salad (with minced onion, minced black olives, capers, mayonnaise, salt and pepper, dusted with Paprika) .
Alternative items are eggplant, red and green peppers and zucchini.  See the text below. 

Fish!  Fish!  Fish!
  The island waters are actually being over fished at present, but there is plenty of meat available on the islands if you are willing to pay for it.  Tuna, octopus, anchovies, swordfish and many others are much loved all over our home area.  I have to admit that I avoid fish as a rule, but baked fish with tomato and capers is pretty good.  The tuna harvest in Sicily is famous for the abundance and the gore involved in the harvest.
     Do a big salad.  Fresh greens, tomato, cukes, olives, pine nuts, roasted peppers, grilled zucchini, grilled eggplant, grilled marinated or fresh onions, grilled spring onions or scallions(or any other member of the onion family) blanched carrots, and green beans, sliced, boiled or steamed potato, or tiny new potato or fingerlings in the skins...marinate the whole salad in a big Tupperware container for half an hour or so (in a small amount of the vinaigrette below).
  Arrange BEAUTIFULLY ON A PLATTER, and drop a can of Italian tuna in oil, grilled salmon, grilled tuna, or grilled swordfish into the middle of the platter. (I hate tuna in oil, so I would do solid white tuna.)  Top with small SLIVERS of Parmegiano Reggiano or other favorite cheeses.  Sliced fresh mozzarella or the little balls of mozzarella are good too.  Limit the cheese amount, but do not be afraid to include a little.
Add hard boiled eggs to the salad if you like.  Do not be afraid of egg yolks when eaten with the whites, and in limited quantities.
   Dressing:  One part wine vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice, mixed with three parts extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper to taste and a couple of tablespoons of capers.  Place in a sealable container and shake thoroughly.  My mother would say:"Be a miser with the vinegar and a spendthrift with the oil".
     She also had a recipe for Honeymoon Salad in her diary.  Lettuce alone with no dressing.....
Sprinkle any fresh herbs you can find over the top of the salad when possible.
     Try this also with chunks of lobster, shrimp, crab or simply prepared shellfish in the middle.

Olive oil.
  One of the healthiest oils there is.  The only real drawback is the relatively low smoking point of olive oil.  No oil is good for you if you overheat it.  We never had Extra Virgin oil available when I was growing up.  Filippo Berio oil in the big gold can.  It was just basic oil.  There is no doubt that Virgin or Extra Virgin oils are better tasting, but what do you think the Italians do with all of that other oil?
There is not so much organic material in the oil in later pressings, and this makes it much more suitable for cooking, frying etc.  There is not so much organic material in the oil to burn.  Generally, you should use Extra Virgin oils for raw dishes and as a drizzle on top of a dish that is about to be served for a real shot of olive flavor.  Later and less green pressings of oil are better for cooking.  You can save a ton of money by using more of the UN-Virgin oil.

  Aunt Carolina in Livorno sent me out onto the train tracks outside of town to pick wild Fennel.  Uncle Tony had just returned from Salina with a large quantity of green olives.  They had put them into brine when I returned, dropped in a couple of cloves of garlic and stuffed a few sprigs of Fennel into the top before putting the covers on the jars.  I wish they had showed me the entire process, but then, when do I get a chance to preserve olives.
Olives in all colors on the tree taste terrible.  They really are not edible without being preserved in something that leaches out that oleic acid.  All colors come from one tree, just different stages of ripening.  If you ever used a soil cultivator in your know the one with a handle and the metal claw; that is what the olives are sort of raked off the branches with.  They are gathered up in nets from under the tree, and pressed the same day if possible, or pickled in one of the myriad ways.
  A good healthy snack, servable with almost any meal, bread, cheese, wine and olives; what else do you need after all.  Brine cured, oil cured, wine cured...lots of styles.  Stuffed with prosciutto and cheese, Salami and cheese, almonds, peppers, jalapenos, rolled in egg and bread crumbs and deep fried...just a few is all you need.
The oil is among the healthiest available.  Extra Virgin varies greatly depending upon the variety of olive.  The first pressing is usually very green and full of organic particles, the second and third are lighter and lighter in color and weight.  the very last pressings, sometimes involving heat, can even be used as lubricating oil.  Cook with the later pressings and drizzle on top of things with the greener oils, as well as salad dressings.  The greener the oil, the more "OLIVY" it tastes.  It can also be very peppery, akin to watercress a bit.  (see more, repetitive rantings about the oil above)

File:Illustration Capparis spinosa0.jpg
Thanks to Wikipedia for the illustration reproduced here.

Capers are the flower buds of a weedy and woody shrub.  As you may see with a magnifying glass in the photo below, when cultivated, it forms a stump and fine shoots grow out each year.  The flower buds form and they are picked before they flower.  They can be packed in brine, sea salt and vinegar.  If the flower is allowed to bloom, the seed pod is then picked and pickled for caper berries.  A little harder to preserve, and more exotic.  In the wild, they tend to grow in crevices of the rocks in fields and in stone walls, where the seeds will sit undisturbed by birds long enough to germinate.  They do take a while, and very few germinate..  The flowers are beautiful...exotic....the picture does not even come close.
  In salads, in potatoes or potato salad, with fish, Veal Picatta, you name it.  Briny and slightly bitter.  An odd thing to eat really, but how it does lift some things.  Caper Berries are a nice variation.  Bigger and pear shaped berries with a slightly gritty texture from the quantity of tiny seeds inside.  Capers are notoriously hard to germinate and grow, but some people do it in pots.  California, Florida and other southern locales may be able to find bushes in their local nurseries. 

The stumps of caper bushes not yet sprouting for the season,
 and Malvasia grape vines in the foreground. 
This is Malfa in the island of Salina, Italy.

 ... not my favorite thought; I cannot really stand lamb either.  Goats will survive on a pretty poor diet, produce milk that is pre-homogenized, great cheese and a great appetizer for dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.
I once asked a local gourmet food shop in Maine, if they could get my favorite salami..Fiorucci...they called me a couple of weeks later and said that they had a good salami for me.  When I showed up, the proprietor hacked off a hunk of the salami to eat.  It was like a hockey puck in size and shape.  I grew up with my mother and brother shaving off paper thin slices of pepperoni and salami.  The big slab was a shock.  I tasted it.  It was not bad, but it had a particularly odd flavor.  She said, "not would never know it was made from goat..."  That was the end of that tasting.  Goat is pretty good, despite my prejudice against it, and it was used for all sorts of applications in my grandmother's time.  Cooked in sauce, roasted...whatever.  My cousin Anerio was not too pleased when he was playing with the kid in my grandmother's yard one moment and eating the little bugger that night for supper.

Raisins like spices and nuts are pretty common in southern cooking.  They are used in sweet and salty or savory applications.  Dried grapes were a big export item in the islands, along with the Malvasia wine that was made from them.  The grapes were spread out on mats on the ground or the flat roof to dry  The Mavasia fueled an economic boom in the islands and especially in Salina through much of the 19th century.  An aphid spread virus wiped out grape crops all over Europe and finally in the islands in the last part of the 19th century.  Barrels of raisins from the islands ended up all over the world.  They appear in breads and sweets, but also in meatballs in broth, fish dishes, meat dishes and stuffings.

It is unfortunate that the best things for you are soooooo expensive.  Have you looked at the price of walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts recently?  If you go to Sicily in the season, there are miles and miles of orchards of almond trees.  The countryside is dazzling with a profusion of white blossoms. 
I am really interested in a good recipe for hazelnut cake...with hazelnut frosting...of course...but then, that cancels out the health benefits.  What the hell...You do have to splurge once in a while after all.
Having a nice dose of almonds and hazelnuts every day does your heart endless good.   There are plenty of recipes for nutty foods of all sorts in Italian cooking.  Many of them are Arabic in origin, including a number of savory recipes that also include raisins and exotic spices.  Take out a bank loan and buy nuts...forget the salted and exotically roasted varieties...use the nuts you would buy for baking, or in the shell for a little nostalgia, sitting around after dinner with some fresh fruit, a glass of RED wine or dessert wine like Malvasia, and a bowl of nuts...mix with good conversation where possible.  A quick roast in the oven increases the flavor, but be careful not to burn the oils in the nuts.

   The almond tree that provided shade on my grand parents' patio
 in Malfa, on the island of Salina, Italy


Part of a large family that are closely related to tobacco and Nightshade(very poisonous).  They are a fruit, not a vegetable.  they are also from the New World, so it was not an Italian staple till long after 1492.  Indeed, since people had the habit of eating the green part, they probably came close to death each time.
Other members of the family are Potatoes, Peppers of all varieties, Eggplant, Tomatillo, etc..
They are obviously very healthy for you, but with one drawback.  They may contribute to arthritis.  Who can imagine a diet without any of those players, so forget it and eat up.
They also contain Lycopene, and vitamin C, especially in the skins, so puree the skins with an immersion blender or a food processor to get the benefit, and return the puree to whatever you are cooking after skinning.
Canned tomato is used in cooked foods just as often or even more often than fresh in Italy.  Like all vegetables, it is wise to include a number of fresher pasta sauces as well as the long...long cooked sauces that I just love.  Use tomato paste  for great flavor and look for Amatriciana Sauce elsewhere in the blog for a great easy sauce.  Tomato paste is often browned slightly in the bottom of the pan before thinning down...richer color and a richer flavor.
Roast tomatoes, stuff them,  use in sauce, in fresh salsas, salads, sandwiches...nothing is more diverse in its uses.
Chopped and seeded fresh tomato, mixed with basil leaves or Pesto, and served with fresh Mozzarella and a dusting of grating cheese(Parmigiano Reggiano, Ricotta Salata, Asiago,Pecorino,Grana Padano),  on grilled bread...sublime!
To be continued

Check out this article on heart healthy diet.: