EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 10, 2013

A pasta supper with a sweet ending

Lighten up with colored fruits, vegetables and omega-3 rich fish

Pat's Kitchen
Patricia Altomare

---- — The Mediterranean diet has long been considered one of the healthiest diets on the planet — and rightfully so.

For thousands of years, residents along the Mediterranean coast have enjoyed the delicious diet, while participating in physical exercise of their choice. They don’t think of their eating habits as a diet plan; it’s simply a way of life.

Research continues to show that the Mediterranean diet is a great plan for a long, healthy life. It is an excellent, enjoyable lifestyle plan that is easy to follow, flexible, and — best of all — good for you. And you don’t need to live along the Mediterranean. Whether you live in Alaska, Maine, or somewhere in between, you don’t need to travel any farther than your local supermarket to find everything you need to bring the Mediterranean Diet to your own table. Even if you don’t completely follow the diet to the letter, simply eating more of the foods on the plan, and being more active couldn’t be better health goals. We can thank the cultures and countries that surround the Mediterranean for giving us the delicious flavors, traditions, and fresh foods that make up this healthy lifestyle.

What is a Mediterranean Diet?

There is no single Mediterranean diet. Instead, across Europe, from Spain to the Middle East, each culture customizes the basic food plan to take into consideration local food availability and their personal and regional preferences.

What is similar within each region is a reliance on plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, nuts, olives, and olive oil, along with some cheese, yogurt, poultry, eggs, and wine, with fish and seafood a huge priority. Most foods are fresh and seasonal; they’re not processed. Preparation tends to be simple; foods are rarely deep-fried.

Only small amounts of saturated fat, sodium, sweets, and meat are part of the plan.

Linguine Arrabbiata (Marinara Sauce with a kick)

Using whole wheat pasta in this recipe lowers the cholesterol value quite a bit.

Ingredients:

1 package whole wheat linguine (13 oz.)

1 teaspoon olive oil

2 garlic cloves, chopped

16 pitted kalamata olives, each quartered

3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 cans (14.5 ounces each) Italian style diced tomatoes

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves

Cook pasta as label directs. Drain pasta, and then return to pot.

Meanwhile, in large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic, olives and crushed red pepper, and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in tomatoes with juice, basil, salt and pepper, and cook a few minutes until heated through, stirring occasionally.

Add tomato mixture and parsley to pasta. With tongs, toss pasta until well coated with sauce. Serve in warmed pasta bowls.

Date-Coconut Goodies

These are a delicious departure from cookies made with unhealthy fats.

Makes 36 cookies

Ingredients:

2 eggs

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup pitted, chopped dates, (about 10)

1 cup chopped walnuts

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup sweetened shredded coconut

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a large baking sheet.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs well and add the oil and vanilla. Fold in the dates and walnuts. Sift the flour and salt together and gradually add to the date and egg mixture, mixing well.

Form the mixture into small balls (about 1 tablespoon each) and roll in coconut. Arrange on a baking sheet and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the coconut is just beginning to turn golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

January Kitchen

‘To Do’ List

Replace baking supplies. Over time, moisture accumulates in opened packages of baking powder or soda and can alter the results of your baking. After opening, store cans or boxes in a sealed zip-top plastic bag to keep them fresh longer.

Check spices. Some are dated. Some spices don’t have as long a shelf life as others. Spices don’t spoil, they lose flavor intensity. If the color appears faded, the intensity probably is also.

Here’s guidelines for some:

Ground spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon, turmeric, 2 to 3 years.

Basil, oregano, dried parsley, 1 to 2 years.

Whole spices, 4 to 5 years.

Poppy seeds and sesame seeds, 2 years.

Check flours. You should throw out flour once a year if you don’t use it often. Whole wheat or soy flour will keep longer stored in your refrigerator or freezer, because the oil in the flour causes it to become rancid faster than regular flour. Just be sure to allow cold flours to come to room temperature before using.

It is wise to transfer flour from its paper package to an air-tight opaque container.

Check your freezer. Toss frozen foods that may have opened or developed serious freezer burn.

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Patricia Altomare invites feedback. Email her at patakitchen@yahoo.com.