The so-called Mediterranean diet is nothing new, but for most Americans, would represent a major change in day-to-day eating.
A recent study from Spain involving thousands of participants published in the New England Journal of Medicine at the end of February confirmed what many medical professionals already know: A diet low in red meat, sugar and processed foods and high in vegetables, fruits, beans, seeds, fish, eggs and so called “healthy fats” can cut heart disease in people already at risk and increase general health for anyone.
Dr. Harvey Hahn, director of the Cardiovascular Fellowship Training Program and director of the Cardiac Noninvasive Laboratory at Kettering Medical Center, said that there have been more than 1,500 scientific publications on the Mediterranean diet to date and almost the same number of definitions.
“One of the problems of recommending the diet is trying to explain to patients exactly what it is,” Hahn said. “I’ve found that patients need more concrete help in their quest to eat better. Telling patients to eat this diet is about as effective as telling them to quit smoking. People typically need more direction.”
Hahn said the Spanish study offers more direction to the diet and found that the only components of the diet associated with better heart health were spelled out, including: use more healthy fats, such as extra virgin olive oil; eat more nuts (also a “good fat”); eat more legumes (beans); and eat more fish.
Chef Jenn DiSanto is classically trained and owns Fresco Foods in Kettering and The Easy Way Out catering and personal chef service. Her style of cooking can be best described as a fusion of various cuisines including Spanish, Mediterranean, French, Italian, Latin American, Asian and American regional cuisine. DiSanto’s Mediterranean dishes are perfect for those interested in trying this lifestyle.
DiSanto recommends utilizing herbs and spices in place of salt, using good fats like olive oil, grape seed oil or canola oil and omitting butter from the diet. “Our primary food source should be plant based and include lots of fruit, vegetables, beans and nuts,” she said. “The preferred choice of protein is seafood, followed by poultry, and red meat should be limited. I also love that red wine is included in the Mediterranean diet, limited, of course, to one glass a day.”
Here are two of DiSanto’s favorite recipes:
ROASTED VEGETABLE PASTA
Yield: 8 servings
1 pound dry pasta, cooked el dente and tossed in a small amount of olive oil to prevent sticking
Extra virgin olive oil, for tossing with veggies and pasta
1 large zucchini cut into ½-inch dice
1 large yellow summer squash cut into ½-inch dice
1 large ripe but very firm eggplant cut into ½-inch dice
1 large fennel bulb cut into chunks
4 tbsp fresh mixed herbs (cilantro, basil, oregano and marjoram)
¾ cup queso fresco, feta or goat cheese, crumbled
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375. Toss all of the vegetables in a generous amount of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place on a cookie sheet in one layer (use 2 cookie sheets if necessary so you don’t overcrowd the pan- this will cause them to steam rather than roast). Roast for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are soft and golden brown. Set aside to cool.
In a large serving bowl add the cooked pasta, the cooled vegetables, herbs, cheese and ¼-½ cup of olive oil. Toss to coat and season with salt and pepper to taste.
MONKFISH BRAISED IN FENNEL, WHITE WINE, TOMATOES AND LEMON
Yield: 4 servings
1½ pounds monkfish loins or other firm white fish
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 bulb fennel, sliced thin and sauteed
1 pint grape tomatoes
¼ cup oil cured olives, pitted (optional)
6-8 garlic cloves, sliced
3 fresh thyme sprigs
3 fresh oregano sprigs
1½ cups dry white wine
½ cup dry sherry
1 tbsp lemon zest
Salt and pepper
¼ cup chopped fresh herbs, combination of parsley, basil, oregano and thyme
Preheat an oven proof skillet deep enough to hold the monkfish with the cover on. Dry the monkfish off and season with salt and pepper. Add ½ of the olive oil to the skillet and heat through. Add the monkfish and sear on all side. Remove the monkfish and set aside for a minute. Add the rest of the olive oil, sautéed fennel, tomatoes, olives, garlic, herb sprigs, wine, sherry and lemon zest. Bring to a boil add the monkfish and turn the burner down to a simmer. Simmer for about 7 minutes covered. Remove the fish and tent to keep warm. Turn the heat up on the sauce and reduce a bit. Slice the monkfish and serve with some of the sauce on top garnished with the fresh herbs.