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Secrets of a Well-Fed-Med Kitchen

David Grotto, RD, LDN
Dave’s first interest in nutrition started over twenty-five years ago when he worked in the natural foods industry, having owned and operated his own natural food store. He decided to become a registered dietitian. Today he is the founder and president of Nutrition Housecall, LLC, a nutrition consulting firm that provides nutrition communications, lecturing and consulting services, and also offers personalized at-home dietary services.

Inspired to help his patients without depriving them of their favorite foods, Dave wrote the acclaimed book, 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life. 101 Optimal Life Foods is his latest effort which debuted in January 2010. You can say hi to Dave on Twitter @davidgrotto or visit his website to learn more about his work.

The Mediterranean diet’s ability to help fight chronic disease is often distilled down to the health benefits of omega-3 and monounsaturated fats, probiotics, polyphenols, fiber, and a host of other functional nutrients derived from traditional ingredients such as olive oil, wine, fatty fish, fresh herbs and spices, cultured dairy products and whole grains, to name a few. But often missed is that these time-honored ingredients have been thoughtfully added in the preparation of traditional dishes for hundreds of years with more of an eye on taste and caring rather than nutrition and health. And it’s not just the ingredients but also how they were nurtured, procured, prepared, and served with pride and love that may hold the secret of why a Mediterranean kitchen feeds not only the body, but the mind and soul.

Growing up in a half-Italian household and visiting my Italian grandmother’s (aka “Nona”) Mediterranean kitchen on Sunday was a special treat for me, but one not truly appreciated until I was much older. When I was in grammar school, I used to go home for lunch every day. We had an hour to eat back then, not like the time-crunched lunch periods that kids have today!  I remember that my mother and father both worked on Wednesdays so I often went to Nona’s house for lunch. She would make me what she called “stove-pipe” pasta which was more like rigatoni on steroids – th

ey were HUGE! Half the sauce would quickly drip out of them and onto me before ever making it to my eagerly awaiting mouth. I always hated wearing that towel that she made me wear around my neck. But I guess she knew best as no one could ever guess by the evidence on my clothes what I ate for lunch.

And when I say she “made” me pasta I mean she MADE me pasta. No store bought for her – she would wake up early in the morning and bust out her hand-crank machine and make me the most amazing melt-in-your-mouth pasta from the finest semolina flour money could buy. Sometimes she would make me raviolis that were stuffed with ricotta cheese and spinach that were as big as the palm of my hand. Other days she made lasagna that was piled high with layers of similar ingredients plus garden fresh tomatoes and a seasoned meat blend made from fresh ground chuck roast and pork shoulder that she would grind herself instead of having the local butcher do it.

The fresh tomatoes, basil, onions, thyme, rosemary — and a host of other vegetable and herb ingredients that she lovingly placed into a giant pot and cooked for hours — came from only one place she trusted…her garden. For dessert, she’d often take strawberries, apples and pears that were fresh from her garden, or take the same combo she had canned herself the season before, and sprinkle in just a touch of sugar and a splash of homemade red wine to make “Tuscan fruit.” “Mi familia,” she would often say to me smiling and squeezing my cheek as I licked every last drop of fruit-wine juice from my bowl. As you may tell, my memories are fond as I always remember leaving her home with a belly filled with great food and love.

Our family was fortunate to enjoy the benefits of this Mediterranean-style way of life long before there was science to support its benefit. Even looking beyond the individual nutrition and health contributions of traditional foods, there are other elements of a traditional Mediterranean meal and its preparation that promote good health, when I come to think about it.

  • An unhurried eating environment reduces stress and also allows the brain to catch up with the stomach to know when it’s full and prevent it from being overfilled.
  • Eating together as a family is associated with less violent and promiscuous behavior.
  • Gardening captures optimal nutrient content when produce is fresh. Gardening also reduces stress.
  • Adding olive oil in the preparation of produce enhances the absorption of fat soluble nutrients.
  • Talking and telling stories at the dinner table are highly encouraged. This also slows down eating. Laughter at the table has also been shown to boost immune function and lower blood pressure.

Though our lives aren’t less busy than any other families, admittedly, it isn’t easy to notch out the time we would like to devote for healthier eating. We wish we could have more of those family meals that seem to make everyone feel better  no matter what is served. The important thing is to try to set aside as many opportunities to eat together even if it’s just fast food night versus a Mediterranean meal that took hours to prepare. The important thing is eating together whenever you can and enjoying the health benefits of being in each other’s company.  But if you do have some time, try this family favorite! Chow and ciao!

Mediterranean Grilled Arctic Char

Servings: 12


½ teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
1 ½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice
⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup pitted Calamata olives (1 ¼ oz), cut into slivers
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh oregano plus 6 large sprigs
1 (3 ¼- to 3 ½-lb) cleaned whole arctic char, bluefish or salmon
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 (¼-inch-thick) lemon slices

Prepare grill for cooking. Whisk together zest, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste, then add olive oil in a stream, whisking until combined well. Whisk in olives and chopped oregano. Make 1-inch-long slits at 2-inch intervals down middle of fish on both sides with a sharp paring knife, then brush fish all over with vegetable oil and season with salt and pepper.

Season fish cavity with salt and pepper, then evenly distribute 3 lemon rounds and 3 oregano sprigs in cavity. Close cavity, and then evenly arrange remaining 3 lemon rounds and 3 oregano sprigs on top of fish and tie fish closed with string at 2-inch intervals, securing lemon slices and oregano sprigs to fish.

Grill fish on lightly-oiled grill rack, covered only if using gas grill, 15 minutes. Turn fish over using a metal spatula and tongs, then grill until just cooked through, about 15 minutes more. Transfer fish to a large platter using 2 metal spatulas, then cut and discard string. Serve fish with sauce.


Nutritional Information: 250 Calories, 15g Fat, 2.5 Sat Fat, 80mg Cholesterol, 130mg Sodium, 0g Carbs, 0g Fiber, 27g Protein


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