One of the many things I love about truly authentic Italian cooking is that it’s not unhealthy. Italians aren’t going to make a whole meal out of pasta and meatballs like we do in the states. There may be a small portion to begin with, followed with a plate of protein, salad, and possibly a veggie. Anytime I have visited Italy I’ve lost weight…of course, that is not why I am on this food as medicine journey I keep harping about. I just give that as an example that a real mediterranean diet is pretty well balanced.
This is going to be a new feature around these parts. You’ll probably see it about one to times a month: where I take one of Nonna’s already healthy recipes and make them even more so, so that they qualify as food as medicine. I am hesitant to label this feautre as paleo or whole30. I can tell you that I avoid sugar and gluten and try to jam pack as many whole foods and nutrients into every meal.
My nonna’s sauce is a masterpiece and there isn’t anything unhealthy about it (adding sugar to sauce…we don’t do that in our family…there is absolutely no need). Just a tip, if you are following her recipe on this blog: note the photos for the ratio of things and how everything should look. Though there are measurements of ingredients, all I can say is she is a Nonna…
I could have replaced the pasta with gluten free spaghetti or rice pasta but another part of that food as medicine thing is taking a recipe or a food or a meal and making it as healthy as possible. While those options technically follow the guidelines I’ve set, is there a way that I can pack more nutrients into this meal?
Enter Spaghetti Squash.Make Nonna’s Sauce normally. Please note, it takes about 20-30 minutes to prepare and 2 hours to cook. I (and the rest of the family) freeze the sauce into containers for a single use to defrost when we’d like it again.
Next up, it’s time for you to make the Spaghetti Squash. It takes about the same skill level as if you were boiling a pot of water for normal spaghetti.To cook the Spaghetti Squash, bake it in the oven for about 40 minutes at 375 degrees.
Remove it and cut it in half lengthwise. Did you ever learn about hotdog or hamburger style in grade school when it came to folding things? Well, cut it hotdog style. Ha!
Scoop out the seeds with a spoon.
Use a fork to scrape the “meat” and create strands of “spaghetti.”Some grated cheese may have made these pictures look nice. But skip it. Or try it once without. You won’t miss it.
Guys, it is so good. I did not miss the pasta (am I allowed to say that as an Italian?) and I would certainly prefer this to gluten free or rice pasta taste-wise. Plus, like I said there are a lot more nutrients served this way. The whole concept behind this idea of food as medicine is avoiding things in food that can cause more pain (sugar) but also packing every meal with the nutrients my body needs to heal and that all bodies need to thrive.
If you’re looking for a healthy alternative to Nonna’s Sauce and Spaghetti, this is it.
For my entire life, Nonna’s Chicken Soup has been a comfort to me. Whether I was sick or sick at heart, her soup has seen me through it. The thing is, like most of the things Nonna makes, you won’t ever catch me ordering them anywhere else. When you’re used to the best, it’s hard to stomach anything less than that. I just realized that sounded condescending. I just mean, I know if I order Chicken Noodle Soup somewhere other than Nonna’s house, I am going to be disappointed.
She makes it with pastina which are tiny pasta balls about the size of quinoa. When I am avoiding gluten for health purposes, I actually switch out the pastina for quinoa but if you’re trying this and don’t have issues with gluten, please use pastina and not some noodle and then thank Nonna who is the best.
For a long time, I was intimidated by this recipe because I assumed you had to put a whole chicken in a pot and there was this one time when I had to stick my hand inside a chicken and I didn’t want to repeat it. But no. Nonna has simplified it and made it easy. Not only that but this soup yields too meals. After making the soup, the chicken makes an incredible chicken salad.
Oh, Nonna. You’re simply the best.
This recipe is in her own words. I promised you that.
Chicken Soup + Bonus Chicken Salad
Use at least two pieces of chicken. You can buy a package of chicken breasts. Usually they are a nice size, if the package has three breasts, use three, but,you can also use chicken legs and thighs.
None of the chicken pieces need to be boneless. Sctually with the bones in, makes the soup a little more tasty.
Fill the pot about 2 inches from the top with water
Rinse chicken pieces under cold water
Add chicken pieces to water in pot
After your water comes to a boil you will probably start seeing, for a lack of a better word, scum. With a large tablespoon start skimming the scum off the top of the water and discard in a coffee cup. As it continues to boil, more scum will develop. Keep skimming the scum until most of it is gone.
While the water in pot is heating and coming to a boil, start cleaning your vegetables, or you can clean and cut your veggies before you even start anything else.
Clean one onion
Rinse two to three stalks of celery
Peel and rinse three to four carrots
Cut onion in half Cut rinsed celery into three to four inch lengths, throwing away about 1/2 inch off each end Peel and cut carrots into three to four inch lengths, throwing away about 1/2 inch off each end
Side note: If you would like to eat the celery and carrots in your broth, cut in smaller pieces, if you just want the broth, then cut in larger pieces.
After you have cleaned most of the scum off the water, add all of your vegetables.
If you have any Italian parsley, chopped finely, add a small handful to water
Just a side note: If you buy a bunch of parsley, you can wash the whole bunch, dry out the moisture by wrapping in Scott towel for a little while, then cut off long stems, chop the entire bunch, (if you have a small blender you can chop the parsley in there) then you can use whatever amount you need, and freeze the rest in a small container, or even a small plastic baggie. You will be able to use the frozen parsley in other recipes, not only soup.
I like my broth to have a little color. You can do this or not. But if you want, you can either a buy a very small can of Contadina or other brand name tomato sauce and use about two or so tablespoons of the tomato sauce. Or, buy a really red, ripe tomato and cut if in quarters and add to the broth with your other vegetables.
Add a little garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste.
Cover the pot, leaving the cover slightly on an angle, so your soup doesn’t boil over unto your stove.
Cook about 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
One last thing, after you add chicken, veggies and seasonings, by the way don’t skip on the salt, although make sure you taste after you stir pot to see how it tastes. ADD enough water so that it is about 1/2 inch from the top of the pot. This will give you more broth in the end. Cook on a simmer for 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Check water level every so often to see if it needs a little more water.
Adding the Pastina:
There are two different ways you can do it. After you strain your soup and you only have the broth, or the broth and some cut up veggies, you will put your broth in a pot on the stove and put pastina or any time of very small noodles, orzo, etc. and cook the pastina in your broth until the pastina is tender to the bite. The second way is cook the pastina, small noodles, etc. in boiling water, test to see if they are cooked, drain and then add to your broth. Sometimes you lose some of the broth while you are trying to cook the pastina. So, if you are wanting pastina in all of your broth, cook it in the broth. If you are wanting only a portion of the broth, cook the pastina in a separate pot of boiling water. Of course, you will use the right amount of pastina to the amount of broth you have. If your only going to make soup for today and tomorrow, you would add less pastina. If you are going to use all the broth you cooked, more pastina is needed. A small handful of pastina per serving is sufficent. Remember you can freeze the broth with or without the pastina in it, in small containers to fit your needs.
When serving your soup you have the option to drain the chicken and veggies and serve only the broth: or you can eat the veggies with your soup, then you would not strain the veggies from the broth, it is what you like.
You can also take your chicken, if you can eat it, and pull meat of bones after the pieces of cooled, and add to soup mixture.
If you don’t add to soup you can always take the chicken meat off bones, and use for chicken salad. Buy the way the white meat from the breasts is best.
Chicken Salad: Cut-up chicken, half a stalk of celery chopped, 1/4 of an onion chopped, add about 1Tablespoon of NO FAT Mayonnaise, Some people like a little chopped up walnuts or red grapes. The chicken salad should be a taste to your liking.
So now you’ve met Nonna. I usually take her recipes and simplify them as best I can but I have never made this on my own so I am going with her on this. I don’t know what I would do without her.
I feel like I need a microphone to say something like: are you ready to rumble?????? This is by far the most popular of Nonna’s recipes and considering all of her recipes are amazing, this one is a doozy. When my parents divorced, my cousin’s on the other side bemoaned the lack of shells at holidays for a few years before I told my nonna and she started making them for the boys.
Now when I show up for Thanksgiving, they open the door just enough so they can say, “Did you bring the shells?” before they laugh and let me. These babies are legendary. If she ever entered a contest, she would enter these and she would win. Watch out, Mario Batali (also, Mario, why do you where crocs?).
What’s great about Nonna’s Shells is that you can freeze them. Freeze them! And they still taste just as good when you take them out. I mean, what would your rather receive if for some reason people were providing you meals (maybe you just had a baby, maybe you lost someone)–a casserole or these babies? I mean, come on.
What I love about Nonna, besides the million of other things, is she willingly shares her recipes. There is no secret sauce. Just like she cooks with generosity, she shares her recipes as well. I love it and her.
1lb. box of jumbo shells
Cooked by the directions on box
Drain and rinse with cold water, then drain again (It makes them easier to handle)
In a medium to large pot, brown, 1 1/2 lbs of ground round meat, 1/2 lb. of ground pork or 1/2 lb. of veal
Do not overly cook meat
Add 1 medium sized onion, finely chopped
Add 2 small cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Add chopped parsley (small handful)
Salt and pepper to taste
Remove pot from stove
Add 2 or 3 slices of soaked bread (squeeze moisture from bread)
Add 2 eggs, mixed well
Add 1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese
Add 1 10 oz pkg of chopped spinach (cooked and drained; use a fork to cut the spinach into smaller bits)
Add a sprinkle a little nutmeg (to taste)
Stir mixture thoroughly
Put whatever type of sauce you have made on the bottom of a 9 x 13 pyrex pan
Fill each shell with meat filling and line shells in pan
Add more sauce to the top of the shells, and top off with additional parmesan cheese
Cover with aluminum foil
Cook 30 to 35 minutes in a 350 degree oven
If You Are Freezing Them
Do not put them in the oven
Wrap entire pan (top and bottom) with aluminum foil
Remove from the freezer before you are ready to eat with enough time to thaw
Let them thaw naturally on kitchen counter
Then cook 30 to 35 minutes in a 350 degree oven
I will warn you. These are easy to make…but they will not taste as good as Nonna’s the first several times you make them. I know this from first hand experience in my family. It’s true for most of Nonna’s recipes since she’s been making them for many years (I am not about to put an age on her on the blog). But seriously they are worth it. I cannot emphasize that enough.
So, have I whet you appetite? Do you think you’ll attempt them?
It’s time for another one of Nonna’s recipes. I have to tell you, for Christmas, I gathered all the photos I’ve taken for the blog and took some more, as well as over four generations worth of photographs and gave Nonna her own cookbook for Christmas. It was a huge hit (the idea goes to my mom; she is so clever with gifts)! But as the family came to this page, with this dessert, my dad was a bit up in arms.
“Ice Box Cake?” he asked incredulously. “Since when is this called an Ice Box Cake?”
“Nonna gave me the recipes with the titles,” I told him. I was super sly about it too and asked for them for the blog so she had no idea what was coming.
“That’s not what it is called!” Dad insisted.
Maybe because it’s always been called Dad’s favorite’s dessert? And then when my brother came along, it was called Joe’s favorite dessert? Nonetheless, no one heard the term “Ice Box Cake” until Nonna named it officially. Her friend, of the same generation, backed her up on Christmas as well so…It’s an icebox cake, for better or for worse, and apparently always has been.
Nonna’s Ice Box Cake Recipe
1 pkg each KOSTCO, vanilla and chocolate pudding (NOT INSTANT) (listen to her capital letters, ha!)
Line a 8×8 or 9×9 square glass dish with squares of graham crackers
Cook chocolate pudding according to package, pour over graham crackers
Place another layer of graham crackers on top of chocolate pudding
Cook vanilla pudding according to package, pour over graham crackers
Cool, then refrigerate
(This can be made the day before)
The day of serving, slice bananas (round), and cover top of vanilla pudding with bananas
Whip, small container of real whipping cream, until peeks form, then add a little powdered sugar (to taste)
Cover the bananas with whipping cream
Refrigerate and serve cold
Enjoy everyone’s favorite dessert!
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Sundays were for family dinners–several courses–and afterwards came coffee and dessert. More often than not, it was this biscotti, dunked deliciously in coffee. As a little girl, I wanted to be one of the adults sitting around the table, warming my hands with a mug of coffee or a cappuccino. Even though there were no frostings or sprinkles adorning the biscotti (Italian for cookies), I nibbled on them, my ears perked with the adult conversation because I wanted to be a grown up.
A coworker went out of her way for me last week and I asked her what I could do to make up it up to her. “I know,” I finally told her. “I’ll bring you my Nonna’s biscotti.”
You see, I’ve seen people pour their hearts out as they dunk this biscotti into their coffee cups. It’s the talk–with my Nonna–that cures them and me. But it’s Nonna’s Biscotti that opens the door. The ingredients are simple but so is hospitality. I’ve learned that from my Nonna too: a full belly won’t fix your problems and it won’t change the world but it might change your night. You might remember the hands that made it so well. You might remember the warmth and love in her kitchen. And when you find yourself with a cup of coffee in hand at the end of the meal, after lots of talking and some debating (Italians), you find yourself a little sad to see the evening ending because for a a few hours you were safe and loved and your belly was full.
Dunk your biscotti and savor the moment. Linger around the table for a few extra moments. Whatever is on your to do list can wait just a little bit longer. Maybe this moment is more important than the laundry or the work to be done. Maybe moments like this add up to a beautiful life.