Photo Credit: Elena Paravantes
The health benefits of the lusty Mediterranean diet have been touted for years but perhaps never as persuasively as in the recent New York Times article written by Gina Kolata. A regime of olive oil, fish, nuts, beans, vegetables, fruit, and wine (a glass a day), has been proven to reduce heart attacks and strokes among people at high risk for them in a statistically significant way in a study conducted by Dr. Ramon Estruch, a professor of medicine at the University of Barcelona. The magnitude of the findings was so illuminating that the study ended five years earlier than anticipated. The study affirmed that following a Mediterranean diet as described above had enormous benefits while, quite astonishingly, following a low-fat diet "was not shown in any rigorous way to be helpful." In addition to eating fish, fruits, vegetables, and legumes, the 7447 participants in the study were also advised to reduce their intake of dairy, processed meats, and commercially processed sweets.
The Mediterranean plan is not so much about weight loss as it is a formula for living longer. It is also so much easier and enjoyable to maintain than many other diet plans which eliminate large swaths of fresh food groups. It is "inclusive" rather than extreme and faddish. This cuisine naturally exists in areas whose coastlines hug the Mediterranean, including Spain, Greece, Cyprus, parts of Italy and France, and many Middle Eastern countries. And it would behoove us all to take a look at Nancy Harmon Jenkins seminal book called "The Mediterranean Diet," written almost 20 years ago. It is as valid as ever and the most sensual way I know to take charge of your health every single day.
Interestingly, at the same time the results of this study are circling the globe, we are reading Michael Moss's new book, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. Mr. Moss is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter who implores us to fight back from the pernicious addictiveness of processed food created by big food companies. Moss demonstrates how food scientists use cutting-edge technology to calculate the "bliss point" of sugary drinks or enhance the "mouthfeel" of fat by altering its chemical composition. Personally I find a pile of fat asparagus grilled on rosemary branches and doused with extra-virgin olive oil far more enticing than any bag of chips or doodles. And a sweet ripe pear with a handful of walnuts (also in the news this week) make a pretty alluring alternative to Ring Dings.
Many of my cookbooks incorporate this Med-Rim style of eating but it is especially evident in Healthy 1-2-3; Eat Fresh Food; and in hundreds of recipes in Radically Simple: Brilliant Flavors with Breathtaking Ease. Here is one of my favorites.
Pasta Rustica with Sole, Black Olives & White Wine (adapted from Radically Simple)
Here's the whole Mediterranean diet rolled up into one quick little meal -- pasta, wine, olive oil, olives, garlic, lemon zest and fish: perhaps the world's healthiest dish. Sometimes I make it in a wok, where it cooks up really quickly.
8 ounces dried penne pasta
3 large ripe plum tomatoes
2 large yellow tomatoes
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, minced
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup finely chopped parsley
1/3 cup slivered fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
12 ounces lemon sole, cut in ½-inch strips
16 pitted kalamata olives
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta 12 minute until tender.
Drain well. Meanwhile cut all the tomatoes into ½-inch pieces. Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet. Add the garlic and cook 30 seconds but do not brown. Add the tomatoes, wine, half the parsley, the basil, lemon zest and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook 3 minutes over high heat. Add the fish and olives. Cook 2 minutes until the fish is hot and opaque. Add the cooked pasta to the skillet and heat 2 minutes until hot. Divide among 4 bowls and garnish with remaining parsley. Serves 4
Glass of wine, anyone? A votre santé.
Rozanne Gold is a four-time James Beard award-winning chef and author of Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs, Healthy 1-2-3, and Radically Simple: Brilliant Flavors with Breathtaking Ease.
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