Have You Ever Wondered

  • what "primavera" and "fresco" on menus mean? Translated from Italian, "primavera" means "spring style." In cooking terms it refers to dishes prepared with raw or lightly cooked fresh vegetables. "Fresco" means fresh.
  • Go easy on antipasto. "Antipasto" means "before the pasta," and it usually refers to a variety of hot or cold appetizers. In the Mediterranean tradition, they include cheese, olives, smoked meats, and marinated vegetables and fish. While they're nutritious, some may be high in fat and sodium. Nibbling appetizers, followed by a heavy meal, may add up to more calories than you expect.
  • Order a fresh garden salad, or "insalata," to round out your meal, with salad dressing, perhaps herbed vinegar and olive oil, served on the side. Salads in Italian restaurants often are tossed with a variety of raw vegetables and mixed greens, including arugula, radicchio, bell peppers, tomatoes, and onions. As an entrée, salad with bread makes a nice, light meal.
  • Look for traditional bean and vegetable dishes on many Italian menus. Minestrone is a hearty, tomato-based soup with beans, vegetables, and pasta. White beans, called "fagioli," are featured in soups and risotto (rice dishes). "Florentine" dishes are prepared with spinach.
  • Know menu lingo. For example, dishes described as "fritto" (fried) or "crema" (creamed) are higher in fat. "Primavera" refers to dishes prepared with fresh vegetables and herbs. Sometimes primavera dishes are served with a creamy sauce; ask your server.
  • For enjoyment, order different types of pasta dishes—in shapes and sizes you may not find on supermarket shelves. Made of flour and water, pasta is a carbohydrate-rich food. Fat comes from the sauces and other ingredients tossed with pasta. Did you know that a tomato-based sauce usually has fewer calories than a creamy white pasta sauce or a pesto sauce? Look for marinara and other tomato-based sauces that usually have more vegetables and less fat, too, than creamy white sauces such as alfredo and carbonara. See "GourmetS Guide to Sauces" earlier in this chapter.
  • For polenta, gnocchi, or risotto, ask how these are made before ordering.
  • Polenta, similar to a cornmeal mush, typically is served with sauce, vegetables, and meat; some ingredients may have more fat.
  • Gnocchi, usually made from potatoes or flour, means dumplings; sometimes eggs, cheese, or chopped vegetables are mixed into the dough. After they're cooked in boiling water they may be baked or fried, then served with a flavorful sauce.
  • Risotto, typically made from arborio rice, usually is cooked in broth and perhaps butter, often with meat, seafood, cheese, and vegetables. Be aware that the broth may be salty.
  • As another option, order ravioli, which are square "pillows" of pasta filled with meat, seafood, cheese, or vegetables. Usually they're served with a sauce. Ask about preparation before you order; as appetizers, they may be fried.
  • Watch portion size. If you know the restaurant offers generous servings, order an appetizer portion, or share with someone else.
  • If you need to watch fat carefully, go easy on veal scaloppini, and chicken or veal parmigiana, which are sautéed or pan-fried. Parmigiana entrées—made with Parmesan cheese—also are breaded, so they absorb more fat. As an alternative and a lower-fat option, order chicken or veal cacciatore, marsala, or piccata. Cacciatore is a tomato-based sauce; marsala is broth-based and cooked with wine; and piccata is pan drippings, lemon juice, and chopped parsley.

From the Italian Menu

Enjoy more often:

  • Minestrone soup
  • Garden salad
  • Bread sticks
  • Vinegar and oil dressing
  • Pasta with red sauce, such as marinara
  • Chicken cacciatore
  • Cappuccino (Ask your server to have it made with fat-free or low-fat milk.)
  • Italian fruit ice or fruit

Italian Fare: Fitting within the Food Groups

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Grains Bread sticks Gnocchi (dumpling) Italian bread

Polenta (cornmeal mush) Risotto (rice specialty) Spaghetti, linguini, other pasta

Vegetables Artichokes

Beans (white kidney, fava, garbanzo)* Bell peppers Eggplants Grape leaves

Mushrooms

Tomatoes, tomato sauces Spinach

Fruits Dates Figs

Grapefruit

Grapes

Olives

Oranges

Pomegranates

Dried fruits

Milk

Cheese: mozzarella, pecorino, ricotta, others Gelato

Yogurt

Meat and Beans Beef Chicken

Fish (anchovies, tuna, others) Beans (white kidney, fava, garbanzo)*

Nuts (pine nuts, almonds) Sausage, proscuitto, ham Shellfish (clams, shrimp, calamari) Veal

Oils Olive oil

Oils in nuts, olives, anchovies, tuna, other fatty fish

* Legumes (dry beans) fit in either food group.

Enjoy sometimes:

  • Antipasto plates
  • Buttered garlic bread
  • Creamy Italian dressing
  • Pasta with white sauce such as alfredo or carbonara
  • Italian sausage and prosciutto
  • Fried dishes such as eggplant Parmesan
  • Cannoli (Cannoli, cannelloni, and cannellini often get mixed up. Cannoli are deep-fried pastry shells filled with ricotta cheese or whipped cream and perhaps chocolate bits, nuts, and candied fruit. Cannelloni are pasta tubes filled with meat and cheese and topped with sauce. Cannellini are white kidney beans.)
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