By: Judy Davie - The Food Coach
OK I should preface this by saying don't overeat, which many Italians do, which is easy because Italian food is delicious. Yesterday I was talking to a friend who had just returned from Rome and was raving about the food: Simple fresh ingredients, not too complicated - not a supreme pizza in sight.
The Italians do food well. They embrace food with a passion that is quite contagious. Almost everyone who visits Italy catches the bug and leaves with at least one memory of a dish so blissfully good they carry the memory forever: For me that memory was of a calzone pizza I ate in Florence almost 24 years ago. How I wish I could kick my heels and return to that moment when I took my first bite.
But although we can't all race off to Italy we can try and eat like an Italian at home.
Purchase fresh local ingredients as frequently as possible, ideally from an Italian greengrocers. These guys love food and understand produce so you can be sure that it's at its freshest best. By shopping a few times a week you're not cramming produce in a fridge or storing it in a place where the flavour and nutritional goodness is reduced over time.
Use extra virgin olive oil. Fortunately we produce some brilliant olive oil in Australia so you don't have to buy Italian. Olive oil is the go-to oil for any Italian and for good reason. It is used as a substitute to butter on bread, to sauté, pan fry, dress salads, and enhance the flavour of fresh vegetables. The health benefits of consuming olive oil are significant and include reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, lowering blood pressure and high triglyceride and cholesterol levels, protecting against stroke and depression, breast cancer, Alzheimer's disease and ulcerative colitis.
Encourage the consumption of fresh fruit. Italians may be known for gelato and tiramisu, but most of the time they eat fresh food for dessert after every main meal. Seasonal fresh fruit is low in kilojoules, inexpensive and rich in nutrients including antioxidants and fibre. Eaten in moderation, fruit will help to modify an overly sweet tooth.
Eat good bread. Imagine a life without bread. Sadly for some people with coeliac disease they have to forgo this daily staple. For the rest of us however we can enjoy bread but for health and taste buy a good quality bread, ideally sourdough, and eat it in moderation. There's little joy in sliced bread from the supermarket. Bread should bring us joy so don't compromise.
Fill the pantry with the basics. A trip round the grocery aisles of your local greengrocer will give you a clue about what to buy: canned tomatoes and jars of passata, anchovies, capers, red wine vinegar, dried beans, dried pasta, polenta and Arborio rice all contribute to the delicious Italian larder. With these, and a few handful of fresh ingredients, a simple, healthy and inexpensive main meal is within your grasp.
Find protein primarily from eggs, fish, pork and chicken. The Aussie diet is heavy on meat but not so the Italian diet. Interestingly Japanese populations and populations from low meat eating countries are known for their health and longevity. If you do eat a lot of red meat, change the balance and eat less by swapping to white meat and fish, and increase your consumption of plant based foods.
Serve salad with a main meal. Italians serve salad with every main meal which is an excellent habit to form when you consider the many health benefits of eating fresh green leaves and other brightly coloured salad foods. Pasta, pizza, grilled chicken and fish are all accompanied by a fresh sprightly salad.
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