The Food Maven Diary
My Diet, I'm in Italy
As I said in passing in my last Maven's Diary entry, I am on a very rigorous diet. Besides that I have to lose a huge amount of weight, I have been diagnosed with diabetes. Fortunately, my doctor says it is totally reversible if I lose that huge amount of weight. Vanity was never a big motivator for me. (My line used to be, I've been thin and it isn't that interesting.) Health seems to be. I have been a very good boy. Eating to satisfy two diet regimens isn't as hard as I thought it would be. To tell you the truth, I am rather enjoying it. I have been eating mainly fish and vegetables, but I must also eat carbohydrates at every meal, and even a small amount of carbs with mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks that include some protein. I am not much of a snacker or nosher, however. I got fat eating way too much food at meals. Too much of everything, not even one particular food, although you must all know by now that I am partial to pasta and ice cream.
Anyway, I eat a good breakfast now – whole grain bread and either fat-free strained yogurt (the Fage brand, also called Total is a g-d send), or Vermont Cheese Company Fromage Blanc, or cottage cheese, or a couple of hard-boiled eggs. I love hard-boiled eggs.
I have been enjoying big bowls of steamed mussels. I indulged (money-wise, not diet-wise) in a big platter of seafood in a restaurant recently – clams and oysters, shrimp and lobster and crab. I have been cooking zuppa di pesce, fish soup, with monkfish (in fact, I will be teaching this dish here at Seliano next week). I have been baking swordfish with breadcrumbs – just brush each side of quarter-inch thick slices (I cut the fish myself, but you can ask your fish market to do this, if they know how) with olive oil, then dredge in breadcrumbs – unseasoned or seasoned, as you like – and put on a baking sheet on the top shelf of a 450-degree oven for 5 minutes. Yes, that's all, five minutes. I season my breadcrumbs in several different ways, but lately my favorite – very Sicilian – is crushed fennel seed (a scant teaspoon per cup of crumbs), finely chopped garlic (1 tablespoon for 1 cup of crumbs), and finely cut parsley (3 tablespoons per cup). Salt and pepper the fish itself. Serve with a wedge of lemon.
Whole grilled fish are on my diet, too. I have been loving the small black bass that are in season locally now. I can buy them at my Greenmarket in Grand Army Plaza. Stuff the cavity with rosemary and coarsely cut garlic. Brush the skin with olive oil, That's it. It would be great on a charcoal grill, although I do it in the oven at 500 degrees for about 15 minutes. Eating in a Chinese restaurant recently was a challenge, but I totally enjoyed a steamed fish with ginger and scallions, and I am allowed some rice – about ½ to ¾ cup is about right. Eating sashimi is another good way to stay on this diet, but you have to be careful about that pickled ginger. It has sugar.
For the moment, I can't eat fruit, so my only sweets have been those silly but satisfying sugar-free Popsicle ice pops from the supermarket.
Now that I am in Italy, I thought I would be faced with too many temptations, but it is summer and the vegetables are fabulous. Cecilia steamed some salmon steaks yesterday, seasoning them only with salt, pepper, and garlic. And I had a huge salad of cherry tomatoes with bell peppers. No oil. The tomatoes were so good I was happy eating them only with fresh basil and a few pinches of oregano. Need I say that the basil is fantastic here, too? It is so much more fragrant and flavorful than anything I can buy at home. I'll bet, however, that those of you who grow basil – and don't let it get overgrown – can harvest some very good herb.
Last night, we went to Cecilia's sister Enrica's house for dinner. She knew I was watching what I ate, but she didn't have to cater to me especially. Her hot-weather menu was perfect. Before sitting at the table, she served hummus and an eggplant salad made by a third sister, Rosaria, who is enamored of North African and Middle Eastern food. (She was even wearing a caftan she bought in Tunisia last year), as well as rolled slices of prosciutto held in leaves of endive, and olives. Keeping my bread to a minimum I was very happy.
At the table, we started with eggplant parmigiana, but the eggplant was grilled dry on a ridged iron pan instead of fried. Baked with her fabulous tomato sauce and just a bit of mozzarella between the layers – not like in the states where we burden the dish with tons of cheese and breaded and fried eggplant – the eggplant turned soft and the dish was light and, well, perfect served at room temperature. For a main course, Enrica made a meat loaf of chicken and veal, down the center of which were strips of zucchini. With that, there was a refreshing cucumber salad and sweet and sour red peppers – sautéed red peppers dressed with balsamic vinegar. I did indulge in a tiny bit of dessert: She's bought an ice cream bomb – called spumoni hereabouts – encased in run-soaked cake. I didn't eat the rum cake, but a tiny sliver of the bomb.
Now it's time for lunch here. Cecilia is steaming swordfish today, with sliced tomatoes and garlic on top. And we'll have a huge salad of lettuce and tomato. I am so glad I am not a dessert eater. And tonight I get to eat a little pasta.