When most people think of Italian food they think of heaping piles of pizza, pasta and chicken Parmigiana drenched in tomato sauce and greasy cheese. While it’s true that this is a picture of the food served at many Italian restaurants in America, authentic Italian cuisine is entirely different. Even though Italy is known for its spaghetti Bolognese and eggplant Parmigiana, there are 20 regions in Italy, each with its own unique cuisine. When you’re dining out at an Italian restaurant, you can start your meal with a fresh salad, keep your portions small and opt for red sauces over heavy cream-based options. When you’re cooking at home, it’s important to dismiss the traditional notion of Italian food to keep your meal delicious and satisfying without taking a break from your healthy diet. Have a Heavy Hand with Herbs
While Italians are know for cheese, antipasto and cured meats, Italian cooking also uses a wide variety of herbs, especially oregano, basil, thyme, parsley, rosemary, and sage. According to The Spice House in Chicago IL, Italian herbs are a best selling herb blend. With oregano leading the way, and four other herbs lending a hand, you can make a fresh, healthy tomato sauce to top whole wheat pasta, homemade pizza packed with vegetables or to add flavor to your favorite soup. “To improve the taste of a store-bought pizza, crush herbs between your fingers and sprinkle over the top before baking,” said the store’s website. “Use it to roast Italian-style chicken or fish.”
Don’t Succumb to Cheese
Believe it or not, cheese is not the backbone of Italian cooking. “Just use a sprinkle of cheese,” said Claudia Haas, food blogger at Journey of an Italian Cook. “Parmiggiano-Reggiano is a hard cheese that isn’t too fattening and a little bit goes a long way.”
In salads, pastas and other dishes, you can often use nuts and dried fruit instead of caloric cheese.
“If you do decide to use a bit of cheese, sprinkle it on last. Especially if you’re using a heavier cheese, it doesn’t need to be abundant to add flavor,” said Haas, who lost recently lost thirty pounds without giving up her favorite foods, like cheese and pasta.
It can also be tempting to place cheese out on the table as a pre-meal snack. Instead of adding fat and calories to your meal, think about snacking on vegetables instead. “Marinated vegetables are a great appetizer and easy to make at home,” said Haas. “Pickled zucchini and mushrooms in white wine and herbs are delicious and you won’t fill up before your meal.”
Make Veggies the Main Event
Despite a widespread belief in America that pasta is a staple at every Italian dinner table, it is typically not served as a main course in Italy. Instead, it is served as a complement to the meal. “Italian people are the world’s great foragers,” said Haas. “In Italy, people cook very locally and seasonally with tons of fresh vegetables.” “Pasta is not a huge meal,” said Haas. “Make the vegetables the main event and instead of using 4 cups of pasta in a recipe, use one and add extra vegetables. I love to saute zucchini, olives, tomatoes and garlic with olive oil. Toss it with a small amount of pasta for a filling meal.”
If you want to skip the starch altogether, use spaghetti squash instead of pasta.
Italian Wedding Soup from Bowl Licker
Cioppino from Journey of an Italian Cook
Chicken Piccata from This Week for Dinner (just omit the butter – it’soptional anyway!)