You’ve heard of the Mediterranean Diet but exactly what are some of the recipes enjoyed on this “diet”?
There are about 21 countries in the Mediterranean but I can only speak authentically for one: Italy. My mother’s side of the family came from Bari, Italy (southern Italy) and my father’s side of the family came from Arzignano, Italy (northern Italy).
The differences in their cuisine were as different as their dialects! The northern side of the family ate Polenta, risotto, salads of bean, asparagus, and frittatas (egg dishes with vegetables). The southern side of the family ate deep-dish pizzas (no cheese), nuts (hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds), pastas (ravioli, penne, spaghetti, stars, orecchiette), cold cuts (mortadella, prosciutto, ham, capacola – spelled many ways), and osso buco.
Of course, they ate more dishes than those, but those are the ones I remember. Add to this mix the dishes my American-born mother would prepare. I would assume that she learned many of her dishes from her mother.
Let’s talk about the unusual dishes that my family made and get that out of the way first. I won’t point fingers at who prepared/ate these dishes but if you want to guess, be my guest.
- Cow’s tongue. I still remember seeing a big, fat cow’s tongue sitting on a plate after it had been boiled. It looked awful. It tasted awful and I’ve never been a picky eater. Was this Italian fare? I have no idea!
- Chicken feet. I still remember trying these things. Legs of just skin and bones. This was the Mediterranean Diet? No wonder they were all so slim. Last, but certainly not least:
- Birds. Don’t argue with me, argue with them. That’s what they called them: birds. I remember going out in the backyard as a kid with my grandfather and he would kill the birds in the trees with a stone. They never knew what hit them. He was quite a shot. I don’t remember ever eating a “bird.”
And you thought it was just anchovies that were awful! OK, now for the less strange.
Asparagus and Hard Boiled Egg Salad
This salad is delicious and low calorie and chances are you’ve never heard of it. It’s also easy to prepare. Snap off and discard the tough ends of the asparagus and boil the remainders until tender. Boil two eggs until hard-boiled. Allow everything to cool completely. Mash the asparagus and the eggs together. Add a little olive oil and red wine vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste. Delicious!
Red Kidney Bean Salad
Drain one can of red kidney beans and pour into a bowl. Mince one clove of garlic and finely chop two tablespoons parsley and add both to the bowl. Add oil and red wine vinegar to taste. Add salt and pepper to taste. Easy, delicious, and good for you. I make this often in the summer.
Double-decker Thick Crust Pizza
If I had the original recipe I would share it. This was a two-layer pizza. The bottom layer was thick and the top layer was thin. In the middle were glazed onion slices, big green olive halves, and anchovies (which I used to pick out when I was a kid). The ends of this dough were very high and thick, higher and thicker than any other pizza I’ve ever seen. The crust was the oiliest I’ve ever eaten. It was the best thick crust pizza I’ve ever eaten and ever will eat, guaranteed. Your best bet is to use a recipe for a thick crust pizza dough. Add a good amount of olive oil to the pan and while it’s rising, prepare the onion, olive, and anchovy mixture. I swear, I can still smell and taste this pizza. I came close to duplicating it once.
Nobody made risotto like my grandmother. It seemed like she cooked it for hours, occasionally adding more chicken stock and would stir and stir. She also added bits of chicken liver which I picked out when I was a kid. Something about her risotto made it stay hot so I would spread it out on my large plate to the very edges with my fork and eat around the edges which were the coolest parts. I never came close to duplicating it and I never added chicken livers.
Dandelion, Broccoli Rabe, Escarole, Broccoli, Artichokes
These green vegetables are prepared pretty much the same way with chopped garlic, olive oil, salt and red pepper flakes to taste and some water and they’re all delicious. Wash and trim them carefully. Cut into pieces that are comfortable for you. I like to cut my dandelion (yes, the weed but you buy it in the supermarket) in half. For broccoli rabe or rapini, I like to cut the lower end into small pieces since the lower ends are tougher and take longer to cook. For the escarole I cut the leaves in half. Escarole is very versatile. I use it in place of lettuce in sandwiches and I cook it as a green vegetable for a side dish. It is delicious! I’ll give the directions for the artichokes last.
Be careful not to overcook the broccoli. Overcooked broccoli causes the same reaction as eating baked beans. Make sure you have enough water in the pan. If all the water evaporates you will burn the broccoli, the house will smell awful and you won’t want to eat it. So, add more water in the broccoli pan than you do for the other greens. The same is true for the artichokes – more water but don’t cover them with water.
My mother used to quarter the artichokes. (Remember to remove the hairy chokes in the middle and the thorns at the tips because you can’t eat those parts.) I like to stuff my artichokes with seasoned bread crumbs. They take longer to cook that way. Nowadays, every chef I see preparing artichokes on TV removes all the leaves and only prepares the heart of the artichoke. I think they’re missing out on all the fun of scraping the leaves between your teeth. Also, a good chef will know how to prepare a good dipping sauce for the leaves. If you’ve never tried an artichoke before, order one in a restaurant. It’s a delicate flavor, creamy and delicious when artichokes are at their peak of goodness.
Lentils, split-peas, chick peas (Garbanzos, or cici beans), navy beans, cannellini beans, lima beans and fava beans.
My mother made soups out of each of these except for the fava beans although she ate them too. Nothing fancy, just good!
Sausages, lamb chops, pork chops, spare ribs, steak, veal cutlets, chicken, hamburger. These were all cooked by my mother mostly broiled except for the spare ribs which she put in a tomato sauce. I only remember one dish that my grandmother made with either lamb chops or pork chops. She put the chops in a pan, sliced up about a half cup onion, sliced two potatoes, peeled; quartered a tomato, add spices (probably oregano or thyme, salt and pepper), and about a cup of water and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Bake covered until tender. Delicious. I make this once in a while. Don’t forget to dunk crusty Italian bread in those juices!
So, if you’ve ever wondered what recipes folks from the Mediterranean enjoyed, these are some of them.