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Authentic Healthy Italian Food


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My husband jokes that I should sell weight-loss tours of Italy. The idea goes back a couple of decades ago, as soon as I moved to the States and
started bringing American friends and family with me when I returned to Venice to visit my mother. Almost every one of them would confess, as they got ready for the trip, that they were excited, but also worried about gaining a few pounds with all the great food and gelato; and regularly they would come back to the States a couple of weeks later five to ten pounds lighter!

To me the concept always seemed pretty clear: in Italy the food may be decadent, but it’s hard to eat more than three times a day because snacks are not so readily available or portable. Besides, the portions are tiny compared to American super-sizing.  (I love to give the example of
lattes, which are just 6 ounces at Italian cafes and a whopping 12 to 20 ounces at Starbucks.)  What remained shocking, though, was the misconception that my friends seemed to have about what constituted Italian food. They envisioned loads of pasta, smothered in tomato sauce, cheese, and cream. Not to mention major olive oil dipping.  (The dipping myth really annoys me. Growing up in Italy, I’ve only been offered olive oil with bread when tasting it before a purchase.  Certainly not at a restaurant before a four-course meal!)  How did the Americanization of
Italian food, which has given it such a bad rep, originate?

italian vegetable stuffed tomato

Vegetable Stuffed Tomato

Evidently, something was lost in translation! Most of the more than 4 million Italians who immigrated to the States between 1880 and 1920 arrived from impoverished areas of Italy, where the diet was so meager that meat was eaten only three times a year. As a natural reaction to
the scarcity experienced in the old country, they welcomed the new-found American abundance by making food central in their lives, and adding copious quantities of rich ingredients to most of their dishes. Many famous “Italian” dishes, such as Caesar salad, spaghetti and meatballs, and the calorically dreary fettuccine Alfredo, were actually invented or popularized here in the States, and remain unheard of in Italy.

Mint Yogurt Sorbet

Mint Yogurt Sorbet

Americans love pizza (which took New York by storm shortly after WWII) as much as Italians themselves, but here it’s loaded with cheese and toppings, while in Italy it’s much more genuine and light in calories (about 350 for a whole authentic pizza Margherita, against 300+ for only
one slice of American pizza!).  Authentic Italian food is much lighter than we think: this cuisine that’s so easy to love (it usually scores highest in polls) can actually be good for our health: the Mediterranean diet is proven to protect us against heart disease and cancer. Its key is simplicity:
copious amounts of fresh vegetables are included in every meal, and the dessert is likely to be just fresh fruit, unless it’s a holiday.  All these fruits and vegetables at the basis of the Italian diet are chock-full of antioxidants, proven to lower risks of heart disease and cancer. Extra-virgin olive oil, besides replacing dangerous saturated fats, is also rich in phenolic compounds (absent in other vegetable oils), and a source of highly absorbable vitamin E.  And let’s not forget to mention another Italian staple, red wine, which may help decrease arterial plaque and lower cholesterol!  Therefore, pour yourself a nice glass of Sangiovese, and enjoy a light and healthy Italian dinner.

Buon Appetito!

Vegetable Stuffed Tomatoes

Yogurt Mint Sorbet

As seen in Joy of Kosher with Jamie Geller Magazine (Bitayavon Summer 2012) – Subscribe Now and never miss an issue.

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About Alessandra Rovati


Alessandra Rovati was born and raised in Venice, Italy, and has had a passion for food since a very young age (she is said to have feasted on garlic and chili-marinated herring at 15 months). Alessandra writes about Kosher and Jewish Italian food and teaches cooking; she also posts free recipes and how-to’s, offering a glimpse of Jewish Italian culinary history, on her website, Dinner in Venice




2 Responses to Authentic Healthy Italian Food


    With reference of your article we have the pleasure to tell you the history of our grandfather Alfredo Di Lelio, who is the creator of “fettuccine all’Alfredo” in 1908 in restaurant run by his mother Angelina in Rome, Piazza Rosa (Piazza disappeared in 1910 following the construction of the Galleria Colonna / Sordi).
    Alfredo di Lelio opened the restaurant “Alfredo” in 1914 in Rome, after leaving the restaurant of his mother Angelina. In this local spread the fame, first to Rome and then in the world, of “fettuccine all’Alfredo”.
    In 1943, during the war, Di Lelio sold the restaurant to others outside his family.
    In 1950 Alfredo Di Lelio decided to reopen with his son Armando his restaurant in Piazza Augusto Imperatore n.30 “Il Vero Alfredo” (“Alfredo di Roma”), which is now managed by his nephews Alfredo and Ines, with the famous “gold cutlery” (fork and spoon gold) donated in 1927 by two well-known American actors Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks (in gratitude for the hospitality).
    See also the site of “Il Vero Alfredo” http://www.alfredo-roma.it, which also contains information on franchising.
    We must clarify that other restaurants “Alfredo” in Rome do not belong to the family tradition of “Il Vero Alfredo” in Rome.
    We inform that the restaurant “Il Vero Alfredo” is in the registry of “Historic Shops of Excellence” of the City of Rome Capitale.
    Best regards Alfredo e Ines Di Lelio

  2. I’ve been to Italy many times and never gained weight on any of those trips. The food is fabulous. Everywhere.

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