05/13/2013 02:49 pm ET Updated Jul 13, 2013

The Mediterranean Diet: Healthy and Delicious

May is International Mediterranean Diet Month. Over the last few years, the Mediterranean cuisine has gained a popular platform for healthy eating. It's fresh, light and tasty, and it encompasses food and recipes from a multitude of countries along the Mediterranean such as Greece, Italy, Malta, Spain and Turkey.

To me, the Mediterranean diet is home. My mother was from Sicily so while my childhood friends were eating canned asparagus and frozen tater-tots, I was feasting on baked cod, homemade bean soup, mussels fra diavolo and pasta with fresh vegetables. I thought everyone ate like that! Now it's all the rage since this type of diet has been known to fight heart disease, lower blood pressure and potentially help reduce weight. We didn't have a lot of money growing up, but I always felt we ate like kings. That's probably because vegetables, beans and pasta were a lot cheaper than meat, which was always served as a second and smaller course after our grains and veggies.

Characterized by ingredients such as fresh seafood, olives, legumes, soft cheeses, fresh herbs, spices, tomatoes, and a glass of red wine with dinner, the Mediterranean diet will delight anyone's taste buds. All I need is some extra-virgin olive oil and garlic, and I can make anything. That's why I love this staple Italian dish below that's delicious and cooks in about 20 minutes -- pasta with garlic and olive oil.

I'd hardly call this a recipe since it's so simple and the quantities don't really matter much. It can be eaten as is or you can use it as a base for a more complete, robust meal. For example, you can add any kind of steamed vegetable and/or grilled fish, chicken or tofu. If you're not doing gluten or pasta, exchange the pasta for brown rice or quinoa. Of course, gluten-free or whole-grain pasta will also work.

Pasta With Garlic and Olive Oil

  1. Cook a pound of your favorite pasta as directed. Do not overcook the pasta -- it should be on the chewy side.
  2. While the water is boiling for the pasta, coat the bottom of a frying pan with extra-virgin olive oil. I prefer organic olive oil. Heat the oil slightly and add about one-half a head of chopped garlic and a couple dashes of salt. Remove it from the heat when the garlic is soft (not brown).
  3. When the pasta is done, reserve about one-quarter cup of the pasta water. Add the pasta to the garlic and oil mixture and stir it around. Then add the reserved water a little at a time. Return the mixture to the heat and cook and stir a couple of minutes.
  4. Top the dish with chopped fresh Italian parsley and grated Parmesan or Romano cheese. If you like it spicy, sprinkle in some dried red pepper flakes.

As you can see, the Mediterranean diet is not really a diet, but a delicious way to eat year-round. Buon apetito!

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