Growing up Italian, I marveled at the women and men, in my family, who cooked. Not only were they wonderful chefs but had a natural talent for balancing food groups. There was an emphasis on fresh produce and meat, that I am partial to today. One of my grandmothers used to take me to the chicken store to pick out a chicken. Yes, the chicken was still clucking and running around. Today, although I no longer visit the chicken store to get the freshest poultry available, there are still some valuable lessons I like to follow.
Think of Pasta as a side dish, not a main course. The first time I was served pasta, outside of my family, I was astonished. The pasta on my plate would have been four servings, in my family. One pound of pasta serves eight people. Two ounces of pasta with a vegetable and a protein is a meal. Serve more vegetable dishes, if needed. Only serve bread with your pasta on occasion. Pasta is your grain.
Have a hearty soup, as a meal, at least once a week. There are so many nutritious and wonderful soups. A soup with leafy greens and beans, served with a good Italian bread, was often served at my house. A soup, with pasta in the soup, such as chicken noodle would not be served with bread.
Make a salad for the first course. Having more courses for dinner helps to regulate the portions eaten in each course. I remember having a salad, with olive oil and red wine vinegar salad dressing, at every dinner.
Use olive oil as your main fat. We very rarely ate anything deep-fried. Instead, if there was oil involved, we sauteed our vegetables, chicken or fish, and pasta in olive oil.
Have fruit or nuts as a dessert. During the holidays, my grandmother always had a huge fruit bowl and another bowl with a variety of fresh nuts on her dining room table. After dinner, we were allowed to choose a fruit from the bowl and a handful of nuts. Sweetbreads, cakes, and cookies were an occasional treat, eaten two to three times a month.
I don’t follow all of my grandmother’s cooking traditions as much as I probably should. However, when I start to gain a few pounds, I typically fall back on the old ways. My sisters and I lead busy lives. Many still have children to raise as well as jobs. It is not always easy to cook the way my mother, father, and grandparents did. I was surprised, therefore, when talking to my sister not too long ago. Even though we live thousands of miles apart, in both of our houses, there was a pot of soup and a pot of sauce simmering on the stove as well as a chicken simmering in the crockpot. I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree or is it the olive?