An article published in the Corriere della Sera this past week reported that The Italian Mediterranean diet was recently put to one of the most rigorous scientific tests ever. Italian researchers from the Istituto nazionale dei tumori IRCCS di Milano, led by Dr. Franco Berrino examined 47 thousand participants with respect to their risk of colon and rectal cancer. This was the largest European study to examine the relationship between eating and cancer. Participants were followed for 11 years, and those following the classic Italian Mediterranean way of eating (vegetables, fruits, legumes, olive oil, fish, greens, etc) were found to reduce their risk of colon cancer by 46% and rectal cancer by 59%.
Unfortunately, Italians, have been slowly gravitating away from their own traditions. Journalist Luciano Benedetti observed that Southern Italy—where the Mediterranean way of eating originated, may be the worst offender in leaving their own healthy alimentation behind. Sicily’s consumption of red meats and fatty foods, for example, have soared. Perhaps they could use the return to simple Italian traditions I advocate in my books: a reminder that while progress is important, there is also deep value in the healthier treasures of tradtion.
I love to cook the way my Italian family has always cooked. For me, cooking is more than just a way to come up with some “grub”; it is a holistic experience, as well as an embrace from the people in my past. I love to surround myself with beautiful Italian music and perhaps a great glass of Montepulciano, as I work with the life –giving freshness of gorgeous greens, red and white legumes, juicy red tomatoes, deep auburgine eggplant, fragrant parsley, basil and garlic—and of course a bottle of extra virgin olive oil. I place a few objects of beauty around me as I cook (in this photo a hand-woven basket from my zia Cristina of Castelpagano and in it a plant from my dear friend Susan, and sometimes, if I am lucky, I can get a family member or friend to cook along with me. I love the finished product because I know it optimizes good health for me and those whom I feed. The aroma fills my kitchen with the welcoming sensations of love and good cheer.
It doesn’t take fancy cookbooks (in fact my grandmother Angelina—probably the best cook of all times in my opinion—never had a cookbook in her kitchen!), or studied talent. Instead, cooking the Mediterranean way takes a willingness to become one with the experience of cooking for health, cooking with love, and viewing cooking as a tribute to the solid foundations laid down for us through tradition.
Let this January be the month you get back to healthy eating. Gradually increase the time you spend making good food at home as you decrease the number of times you whip through a drive-thru. Experiment with new Mediterranean recipes and make the entire event enjoyable from preparation to consumption. Add ambience with some beautiful music (Gianni Morandim, Il Volo, Il Divo—there are so many great songs to choose from) and some of your favorite family heirlooms surrounding you. Invite a friend or two over to cook with you if you choose. Notice how much better you begin to feel physically, and the sense of satisfaction you gain for having taken the time and energy to make your health a priority.
You can start with this delicious simple greens recipe from my father, Marino (note : those on blood thinners or with certain medical conditions should always check with their physicians about eating greens). It is simple, basic, quick, and nutritious. Buon appetito!
Marino D’Agostino’s Simple Greens and Beans:
(makes 4 side dish servings or 2 main meal servings.)
This makes a wonderful side dish to a small slice of poached fish or lean meat, or you can eat it as a healthy main dish with a slice of crusty whole grain Italian bread and a glass of wine (doctor permitting!). Enjoy.
1. Bunch kale (or other organic greens).
2. 2 tblspoons extra virgin olive oil
3. Dash crushed red pepper flakes
4. Cloves garlic, minced
5. 1 can red kidney beans or white canellini beans (rinsed and drained)
6. Salt and pepper to taste.
- Trip and thoroughly wash greens. I like to tear greens into bite sized pieces and place in a big bowl of cold water with a drop of vinegar. Pick up the greens with your hand so that any sand stays on the bottom of the bowl. Place in a colander and re-rinse each leaf, to make sure there is no remaining sand on the greens.
- Place greens for one minute into a pot of salted boil water, then remove, and lay out to dry.
- Heat oil in a pan over medium heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes. When garlic just starts to turn golden add the dampened greens.
- Stir greens until just wilted.
- Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.