Eat, eat! It’s for Your Health

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Eggplants originated in India and were brought to the Mediterranean by the Arabs. When eggplants arrived in southern Italy, Calabrians adopted them as their own and have been perfecting ways in which to serve them ever since.
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Asparagus is low in calories, high in vitamins A and C and fiber and partners well with this garlic, parsley, lemon and sesame seed combination.
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Cook potatoes right in the pan with the pork and they'll absorb the flavor of the herbs and pork juices.
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Serve this herb-stuffed pork roast whole surrounded by potatoes or slice just before serving.

Calabria is not the Italian word for “foodie’s paradise,” but by many accounts, it could be. Surrounded by crystal clear water, Calabria, which forms the toe of Italy’s famed boot, is a region ripe with remarkable flavors. Bergamot and citron vie with lemon, palm, almond, chestnut, fig and pepper trees as rivals to the ubiquitous olive tree, and all find their way into the tantalizing local cuisine.

Noteworthy as being among the most flavorful and spicy of Italy’s regional cuisine, Calabrian cooking abounds in seafood and vegetables and is a pepper-lover’s paradise. Chiles are found all over the region and are featured in everything from cured meats to pasta. As with other regional Italian foods, Calabrian cuisine is a vegetable and fruit-rich extravaganza, with culinary herbs emphatically center-stage in the daily dietary drama.    

As increasing numbers of us embrace the Mediterranean diet as our best defense against heart disease, obesity and hypertension, we could do no better than to extend our reach to include the appetizing offerings of Calabria. In this excerpt from her book, Cucina di Calabria, Mary Amabile Palmer shares a few treasured traditional recipes from southern Italy’s southernmost and most flavorful region.

— Editor

If you have a desire to enjoy good food, you’re sure to make good use of Calabrian recipes. And for those who already love Italian cooking, you’ll enjoy being introduced to the exciting and largely overlooked cuisine of Calabria, the southernmost province of Italy and home of my ancestors.

Insalata di Pomodori, Cipolle Rosee e Basilico
Tomato, Red Onion and Basil Salad

Serves 4 to 8
Tomatoes, glorious tomatoes. Attempt this simple but savory jiffy salad only when tomatoes are in season. You need their juice to mingle with the dressing to create a heavenly dip for crusty Italian bread! For crunch and flavor, add one celery stalk, finely sliced; or one-half green pepper, thinly sliced. Have all ingredients clean and at room temperature, but do not prepare until close to serving time — it only takes minutes.

4 large ripe tomatoes
1 medium red onion, finely sliced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 to 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh basil, thinly slivered
1 tablespoon capers
1 to 2 ounces Gorgonzola cheese (optional)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Wash tomatoes and cut each into 6 or 8 wedges. Put into a large salad bowl and add onion. Drizzle with olive oil and toss gently. Sprinkle vinegar; add basil, capers, cheese (if using), salt and pepper; and mix thoroughly. Serve at room temperature.

Melanzane Ripiene
Stuffed Eggplant with Prosciuttoand Provolone

Serves 4 to 8

Eggplants originated in India and were brought to the Mediterranean by the Arabs. When they arrived in southern Italy, Calabrians adopted them as their own and have been perfecting ways in which to serve them ever since. This fine creation with its sensational stuffing was contributed by my cousins. I tasted a similar version at a fine restaurant in Benevento, Campania. Vegetarians can omit the prosciutto and still enjoy this great dish.

2 small to medium eggplants, about 1 pound each
1 1/2 cups day-old, coarse Italian bread crumbs
6 slices prosciutto, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup provolone cheese, coarsely chopped, divided
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup water
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons fresh basil, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Wash eggplant and pat dry with paper towels. Put whole eggplants in a lightly greased 12-inch square baking dish. Bake for 10 mintues, then remove from oven and cut each in half lengthwise. Leave oven on.

Scoop out center of eggplant halves, leaving a 1/2-inch thick shell. In a large bowl, add scooped eggplant, bread crumbs, prosciutto, half the cheese, egg, water, garlic, basil, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly. If mixture does not stick together, add more water gradually. The exact amount of water depends on how dry the bread crumbs are. Stuff eggplant halves, sprinkle with remaining cheese, and drizzle each with olive oil.

Put stuffed eggplants in an oiled 12-inch square baking dish. Return to oven and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until eggplant is tender and cooked through. Transfer to a serving platter and serve at once.

Asparagi al Sesamo e Limone
Asparagus with Sesame Seeds and Lemon

Serves 4

Romans and Egyptians both relished asparagus. Roman gourmand Apicius applauded it in his cookbook De re Coquinaria. Low in calories and high in vitamins A and C and fiber, when in season, I could eat it every day. Select asparagus of uniform size for good presentation and even cooking time. Asparagus lovers use a tall pan specifically designed to steam asparagus but a large pot with a steamer insert will do.

1 pound fresh asparagus
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 lemon, freshly juiced
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1 1/2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 tablespoon fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt

Cut off hard stems of asparagus. If the remaining stems are not pencil-thin, slit bottom of stems up 2 inches so they will be cooked at the same time the tips are. Rinse well and tie loosely into a bundle. Using a steamer or a tall asparagus pan, add water and bring to a boil. Add asparagus, tip side up. Lower heat and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, depending on thickness, or until tender.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet, add olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes or until light golden brown. Add lemon juice, grated lemon peel, sesame seeds, parsley and salt. Heat and mix well.

Carefully remove asparagus with tongs and arrange the asparagus tips to point outward at opposite edges of an oblong platter. If using a round plate, arrange spears neatly in a circle, tips pointing inward. Pour dressing evenly over the asparagus and serve immediately.

Maiale Arrosto con Patate
Roast Herbed Pork with Golden Roasted Potatoes

Serves 6 to 8

Roast pork is always served for the Feast of St. Anthony the Abbot on January 17th. This method of stuffing the pork with such highly flavorful ingredients is common in the province of Campania as well as in Calabria and is the way my late mother-in-law, Stella Mauriello Palmer Palleschi, prepared it as well. The aroma emitted from the oven while the meat is roasting is enticing; the golden potatoes absorb flavor from the herbs and pan juices; and the result is taste perfection!

1 (4 to 4 1/2 pounds) boned pork loin or pork butt
1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley, coarsely chopped
6 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 3/4 teaspoons salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon plus 1?8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
6 to 8 potatoes, peeled and cut into large wedges

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

With a sharp knife, make slits in the form of Xs throughout the meat. Mix the parsley, garlic, cheese, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and force into the slits. Set aside.

Put potatoes in a bowl, add remaining olive oil and mix well until all sides are coated.

Put meat in a lightly oiled 12-by-15-inch roasting pan. Scatter potatoes around the meat in a single layer; do not crowd. Roast pork for approximately 30 minutes per pound, coverd for 1 hour and uncovered for an additional 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until internal temperature reaches 170 degrees on a meat thermometer. Turn roast over once and turn potatoes occasionally with a sturdy spatula to brown on all sides. Pork is done when no pink remains. Season meat and potatoes with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper about 5 minutes before meat is done.

If roast is done but potatoes are not sufficiently browned, remove roast to a warm platter and cover lightly with foil. Raise oven temperature to 450 degrees. Turn potatoes over and return pan to oven. Bake for 5 to 6 minutes or until a deep golden brown. Carve roast just before potatoes are done. Remove potatoes from oven and arrange them around the roast. Serve immediately.

Recipes excerpted with permission from Cucina di Calabria by Mary Amabile Palmer (Hippocrene Books, 2004).

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