Mediterranean magic

Dietitian Mary Hope sings the praises of a Mediterranean diet and the value of enjoying food with others as she prepares three dishes as part of the Mediterranean Magic nutrition workshop she hosted at Sport Gisborne last month.
Pasta e fagioli or soup with pasta, beans and vegetables (foreground) with lemon orzo primavera (top left).

WHO doesn’t love a fresh Greek salad with feta and olives, tomatoes and cucumbers or mussels in a garlic, white wine and coriander broth? When we think of a Mediterranean diet many of us conjure up images of tomatoes, basil and mozzarella drizzled with olive oil. Simplicity, freshness and flavour are three words that spring to mind, as well as hot sun and the clear waters of an idyllic Greek island, the kind that grace the pages of travel magazines.

That the Mediterranean diet has health benefits is just another reason to love it and with the growing popularity of Italian, Spanish and French cuisine, Mediterranean influences have crept into mainstream eating habits over the last few decades.

Who doesn’t have a good spag bol recipe in their culinary repertoire, a home-made pizza or a pasta dish of some kind. This has become the norm in Kiwi homes across the country. Dietitian Mary Hope is here to sing the praises of the Mediterranean diet.

“Vegetables are a key part of the diet. When buying garlic, try to get New Zealand garlic. You know it’s grown here because it has the roots attached. It’s great at this time of year for fighting colds and flus. By smashing it with a knife and leaving it for five to ten minutes it will release oils that have health- promoting benefits.”

Mary prepared three dishes at the workshop beginning with a lemon orzo primavera. As she cooked, she gave us a few helpful tips and also cleared up a few grey areas such as the difference between a cold pressed extra virgin olive oil versus a regular olive oil. Basically there is more goodness in extra virgin olive oil and it often has a stronger flavour but regular or light olive oil is also fine to use, she said.

“Olive oil is a very important part of the Mediterranean diet. It contains monounsaturated fats which are better for heart health.”

At the base of the Mediterranean diet pyramid are fruits, vegetables, grains, olive oil, beans, nuts, legumes and seeds, herbs and spices. This is followed by fish and seafood, then poultry, eggs, cheese and yoghurt and at the top, meats and sweets which are eaten less often.

The lemon orzo primavera recipe is very easy with a lovely citrus flavour from the lemon zest and juice. We learned that when getting the zest, take only the very outside of the lemon not the pith.

Mary also cleared up the myth around how much protein we need to consume.

“A piece of meat the size of the palm of your hand is enough. That will satisfy your daily protein needs because don’t forget you consume other protein thoughout the day —and the use of beans and legumes also helps bump up the protein content of your diet.”

Next on the menu was pasta e fagioli or soup with pasta, beans and vegetables. This can either be made as a vegetarian dish or bacon can be added. For a gluten-free option rice or quinoa can be substituted for the pasta.

Mary talked about the holy trinity — sauteed onion, celery and carrot — the base of many Mediterranean dishes. Not only is the soup a simple dish to make, it is chock full of vegetables including canned tomatoes and cannellini (white) beans. And for the budget-conscious, eating a Mediterranean diet is economical as well.

The workshop finished with the preparation of a citrus-scented fruit and wheat salad made with cranberries, apricots, grated carrots and sesame seeds with a base of bulgar wheat and a citrus dressing. This is the perfect dish to take to a BBQ when you want to think outside the square and arrive with something that will bring you compliments.

Mediterranean Magic gave us all food for thought especially the way we think about meat and how to make up the bulk of our meals with vegetables.

And with summer approaching the idea of cutting down on sweets and biscuits and substituting ice cream with a piece of fruit for dessert will not only make us healthier but slimmer too. Oh, and wine in moderation is a very Mediterranean staple, and that can only be a good thing.

An important aspect of the Mediterranean diet is the value of eating together, says Mary Hope. “Social connection is a big part of the Mediterranean style of eating and so important for health.”

Two of the dishes prepared at the Mediterranean Magic workshop were pasta e fagioli which can be made as a vegetarian dish or bacon can be added, and lemon orzo primavera which has a lovely citrus flavour and puts a different spin on your classic tomato pasta sauce.

They are easy to prepare and should be enjoyed with company, the Mediterranean way.

Pasta e fagioli soup

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 slices pancetta, chopped

2 fresh sprigs rosemary

1 fresh sprig thyme

2 dried bay leaves

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 small carrot, finely chopped

1 rib celery, finely chopped

4 large cloves garlic, minced

Coarse salt and pepper

2 x 15 ounce cans cannellini (white) beans

1 cup canned tomato sauce or canned crushed tomatoes

2 cups water

1 quart low-sodium chicken stock

6 ounces ditalini or other small pasta (preferably whole grain)

Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Romano cheese

Method:

• Heat a stock pot over medium high heat and add oil and pancetta. Brown the pancetta bits lightly, and add herb stems, bay leaf, chopped vegetables, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Add the beans, tomato sauce, water, and stock to pot and raise heat to high.

• Bring soup to a rapid boil and add the pasta. Reduce heat to medium and cook soup, stirring occasionally, 6 to 8 minutes or until pasta is cooked al dente. The rosemary and thyme leaves will separate from stems as soup cooks—just remove the stems and bay leaf from soup after turning off heat.

• Let soup rest and begin to cool for a few minutes. Serve in deep soup bowls with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Romano cheese cheese on top.

Lemon orzo primavera

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

1 cup whole wheat orzo

1 small zucchini, julienned

1 carrot, julienned

1 red or green capsicum or bell pepper, chopped

2 cups broth

1 tablespoon lemon zest

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tsp dried oregano

1 cup baby spinach, torn

1 pint grape tomatoes, quartered

salt and pepper

Method:

• In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.

• Saute garlic until fragrant, about 1 minute.

• Stir in orzo, zucchini, capsicum/pepper and carrot, cook for another 2 — 3 minutes.

• Pour in broth, lemon juice, lemon zest, and oregano. Stir to combine.

• Bring to a boil, then turn down to simmer. • Stir occasionally, cooking until pasta is al dente, about 12 minutes.

• Stir in spinach and tomatoes. Continue to cook until spinach wilts and tomatoes are warm. • Season to taste and serve.

WHO doesn’t love a fresh Greek salad with feta and olives, tomatoes and cucumbers or mussels in a garlic, white wine and coriander broth? When we think of a Mediterranean diet many of us conjure up images of tomatoes, basil and mozzarella drizzled with olive oil. Simplicity, freshness and flavour are three words that spring to mind, as well as hot sun and the clear waters of an idyllic Greek island, the kind that grace the pages of travel magazines.

That the Mediterranean diet has health benefits is just another reason to love it and with the growing popularity of Italian, Spanish and French cuisine, Mediterranean influences have crept into mainstream eating habits over the last few decades.

Who doesn’t have a good spag bol recipe in their culinary repertoire, a home-made pizza or a pasta dish of some kind. This has become the norm in Kiwi homes across the country. Dietitian Mary Hope is here to sing the praises of the Mediterranean diet.

“Vegetables are a key part of the diet. When buying garlic, try to get New Zealand garlic. You know it’s grown here because it has the roots attached. It’s great at this time of year for fighting colds and flus. By smashing it with a knife and leaving it for five to ten minutes it will release oils that have health- promoting benefits.”

Mary prepared three dishes at the workshop beginning with a lemon orzo primavera. As she cooked, she gave us a few helpful tips and also cleared up a few grey areas such as the difference between a cold pressed extra virgin olive oil versus a regular olive oil. Basically there is more goodness in extra virgin olive oil and it often has a stronger flavour but regular or light olive oil is also fine to use, she said.

“Olive oil is a very important part of the Mediterranean diet. It contains monounsaturated fats which are better for heart health.”

At the base of the Mediterranean diet pyramid are fruits, vegetables, grains, olive oil, beans, nuts, legumes and seeds, herbs and spices. This is followed by fish and seafood, then poultry, eggs, cheese and yoghurt and at the top, meats and sweets which are eaten less often.

The lemon orzo primavera recipe is very easy with a lovely citrus flavour from the lemon zest and juice. We learned that when getting the zest, take only the very outside of the lemon not the pith.

Mary also cleared up the myth around how much protein we need to consume.

“A piece of meat the size of the palm of your hand is enough. That will satisfy your daily protein needs because don’t forget you consume other protein thoughout the day —and the use of beans and legumes also helps bump up the protein content of your diet.”

Next on the menu was pasta e fagioli or soup with pasta, beans and vegetables. This can either be made as a vegetarian dish or bacon can be added. For a gluten-free option rice or quinoa can be substituted for the pasta.

Mary talked about the holy trinity — sauteed onion, celery and carrot — the base of many Mediterranean dishes. Not only is the soup a simple dish to make, it is chock full of vegetables including canned tomatoes and cannellini (white) beans. And for the budget-conscious, eating a Mediterranean diet is economical as well.

The workshop finished with the preparation of a citrus-scented fruit and wheat salad made with cranberries, apricots, grated carrots and sesame seeds with a base of bulgar wheat and a citrus dressing. This is the perfect dish to take to a BBQ when you want to think outside the square and arrive with something that will bring you compliments.

Mediterranean Magic gave us all food for thought especially the way we think about meat and how to make up the bulk of our meals with vegetables.

And with summer approaching the idea of cutting down on sweets and biscuits and substituting ice cream with a piece of fruit for dessert will not only make us healthier but slimmer too. Oh, and wine in moderation is a very Mediterranean staple, and that can only be a good thing.

An important aspect of the Mediterranean diet is the value of eating together, says Mary Hope. “Social connection is a big part of the Mediterranean style of eating and so important for health.”

Two of the dishes prepared at the Mediterranean Magic workshop were pasta e fagioli which can be made as a vegetarian dish or bacon can be added, and lemon orzo primavera which has a lovely citrus flavour and puts a different spin on your classic tomato pasta sauce.

They are easy to prepare and should be enjoyed with company, the Mediterranean way.

Pasta e fagioli soup

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 slices pancetta, chopped

2 fresh sprigs rosemary

1 fresh sprig thyme

2 dried bay leaves

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 small carrot, finely chopped

1 rib celery, finely chopped

4 large cloves garlic, minced

Coarse salt and pepper

2 x 15 ounce cans cannellini (white) beans

1 cup canned tomato sauce or canned crushed tomatoes

2 cups water

1 quart low-sodium chicken stock

6 ounces ditalini or other small pasta (preferably whole grain)

Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Romano cheese

Method:

• Heat a stock pot over medium high heat and add oil and pancetta. Brown the pancetta bits lightly, and add herb stems, bay leaf, chopped vegetables, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Add the beans, tomato sauce, water, and stock to pot and raise heat to high.

• Bring soup to a rapid boil and add the pasta. Reduce heat to medium and cook soup, stirring occasionally, 6 to 8 minutes or until pasta is cooked al dente. The rosemary and thyme leaves will separate from stems as soup cooks—just remove the stems and bay leaf from soup after turning off heat.

• Let soup rest and begin to cool for a few minutes. Serve in deep soup bowls with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Romano cheese cheese on top.

Lemon orzo primavera

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

1 cup whole wheat orzo

1 small zucchini, julienned

1 carrot, julienned

1 red or green capsicum or bell pepper, chopped

2 cups broth

1 tablespoon lemon zest

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tsp dried oregano

1 cup baby spinach, torn

1 pint grape tomatoes, quartered

salt and pepper

Method:

• In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.

• Saute garlic until fragrant, about 1 minute.

• Stir in orzo, zucchini, capsicum/pepper and carrot, cook for another 2 — 3 minutes.

• Pour in broth, lemon juice, lemon zest, and oregano. Stir to combine.

• Bring to a boil, then turn down to simmer. • Stir occasionally, cooking until pasta is al dente, about 12 minutes.

• Stir in spinach and tomatoes. Continue to cook until spinach wilts and tomatoes are warm. • Season to taste and serve.

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Lele - 2 months ago
Sounds good (La dieta Mediterranea), got only one small problem - it is not cheap . Usually people who don't need it are able to spend lots of monies for it, for the others it is a different story . . . Olio extra virgin is $13 a litre, or if you wait for the offer it can reach $11 sometimes. It is very expensive if you want to do the dieta Mediterranea as you need heaps of extra virgin olive oil.
But what you try to achieve here is fantastic. I really hope you can reach your target. It's hard to change 50 years of Americans and farming . . . . Cheers.

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