Experiencing the Mediterranean Diet firsthand

Rhonda and Cathy both had the opportunity to travel to the island of Ischia off the coast of Italy earlier this year.  They participated in teaching a course that included a section on the effects of culture and environment on food and eating.  They experienced amazing hospitality staying at La Rotonda sul Mare and eating at La Caserecchia (http://www.ischiareview.com/la-casereccia.html) in the evenings.  We asked them to tell us a bit about their experiences.


PPEP:  What was the most amazing food experience you had while in Italy?

R:  The freshness of everything was truly amazing.  Although it was still spring when I arrived, there was local produce available or it was brought in from farmland around Naples, which is a one-hour ferry-ride away.  The Colella family, which owns the restaurant, has their own farm.  The bruschetta was so delicious because of the sweetness of the tomatoes and the flavor of the olive oil.

C:  Lemons are famous on Ischia because they are so large and much sweeter than the lemons we import to Canada.  The first night we arrived it was very late but we were taken to the restaurant before going to the hotel.  I was persuaded to try the house special, a linguine in cream sauce with lemon.  Later we had a cooking lesson and learned how to make it:  three ingredients – pasta, cream, lemon zest.

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PPEP:  What surprised you about the Mediterranean Diet as it was practiced where you were?

R:  Well, since we were eating in a restaurant it’s not easy to determine how families were eating in their homes on a day-to-day basis.  One thing that endures is the social aspect of the meal.  Typically we didn’t start dinner until 7:30 or later and would leave around 3 hours later.  Most Italian families didn’t start until later than we did.

C:  I wasn’t surprised by the bountiful seafood in the diet.  We had several kinds of fish like sardines and anchovies as well as mussels and shrimp.  I was surprised by the amount of meat because the Mediterranean Diet pyramid suggests meat once per week or less.  That could also have been because we were eating in a restaurant.  I was also surprised that most of the vegetables were cooked, even breaded and deep-fried.  I was also surprised by some differences in food handling.  For example, eggs in grocery stores weren’t refrigerated.


PPEP:  What lessons would you bring from the Mediterranean to the prairies?

R:  Take advantage of what’s fresh and in season.  That’s hard to do in the prairie provinces about 8 months of the year, but for the other 4 months, you can amaze your taste buds.  Many grocery stores do try to highlight local produce and there are lots of farmers markets and backyard gardens.

C:  Enjoy eating with family and friends.  Try new recipes.  Anything with a vine-ripened tomato in it is twice as yummy.


La Caserecchia Bruschetta

For about 8 slices of Italian loaf:

½ cup (125 mL) balsamic vinegar

2 cups (500 mL) cherry tomatoes (halved/quartered)

8 fresh basil leaves, torn

2 cloves minced garlic (or to taste)

1 tsp. (5 mL) dried oregano

Salt and pepper (to taste)

Olive oil

8 slices of bread such as Italian loaf

To make a reduction, gently simmer ½ cup of balsamic vinegar in a small pot until reduced by half.  It should be thickened and syrupy.  Save the remainder for salad dressing or dipping strawberries.

Toast the bread lightly (in the toaster, under the broiler, or on the BBQ grill, making sure to flip it to brown both sides).  Brush each slice with olive oil.  Mix the basil leaves, minced garlic, oregano and 1 Tbsp. reduced balsamic vinegar with the diced tomatoes.  Top the bread with a generous scoop of tomato mixture.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.  Two slices makes an excellent lunch served with sparkling mineral water.

Note:  if the tomatoes are not as sweet as you would like, try oven-roasting them.  Place tomatoes cut side down on a glass dish (such as a pie plate).  Roast in 400 oF oven for about 15 minutes, until soft.  Mix with the other ingredients as described.


Nutritional analysis (per slice):  119 kcal, 1 g fat, 0.3 g saturated fat, 22 g carbohydrate, 1.5 g fibre, 3.5 g protein.  Canada’s Food Guide Servings:  0.3 Vegetables & Fruit, 1.0 Grain Products.