Food Lessons From the Mediterranean

Cindy Silver, MS, RD, LDN
Cindy Silver is a registered dietitian in Winston-Salem, NC. Her business, Market Basket Nutrition, helps people become more skilled at tasty meal planning, smart grocery shopping and simple, nutritious cooking at home. Cindy’s major business client is Lowes Foods, a retail food chain, where she is the Corporate Nutritionist. You can say hello to her on Facebook or visit her blog for other great nutrition advice.

If there’s a best way to learn about Mediterranean food, it’s to go there, cook a lot and eat everything. I had a most amazing opportunity to do just that when my husband recently led a group of undergraduates on a Wake Forest University Study Abroad Program – to Venice, Italy – and our son and I came along, too.  The food sights I saw were forever memorable, the aromas and flavors were uniquely beautiful and the lessons I brought home to the US with me were sustainable and really handy.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Don’t overcook pasta.  It took an extended stay in Italy for me to realize that I was overcooking pasta – spaghetti, fettuccini, penne, everything. This lesson has made me a much better pasta cook of Old World, Mediterranean recipes, and ‘go to’, every day dinners.
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  2. Make minestrone soup. Shopping in small, Venetian food markets, both indoors and open-air, was a delightful and almost daily enjoyment. As a soup fanatic, I was drawn to an easier way to make minestrone. I could purchase a fresh assortment of cut-up veggies or a variety of frozen, bagged options. I tried them all and, as a result, I’m making minestrone like an Italian in my US kitchen.
  3. Get to know arugula. Another discovery for me was arugula. I walked over cobblestones and several bridges to the ‘Vegetable Boat’ to purchase a nice, fresh bag frequently. I even memorized one sentence in Italian to place my order. Today, I use arugula as a solo salad green, as a flavor booster in a Panini sandwich and to top a homemade pizza.
  4. Try fennel – immediately. Fresh fennel was a huge discovery for me while living in Venice. I tried it raw, slivered, in salad as well as roasted with Parmesan on top. I ate it at every opportunity and now search for the biggest and freshest at my local US market.
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  5. Embrace unusual. Fresh skate was our ‘fish of the day’ at the Rialto Fish Market when my friend, Dianne, a chef, came to visit for a week in Venice. We settled on the price and then carried home our catch to have Dianne skin and lightly sauté it for dinner. Today, I prepare fresh fish and shellfish Mediterranean-style with tomatoes, plenty of garlic, fresh herbs and a dash of wine. Delizioso!

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