Scenes from an Italian Diet: Recipes from the "Sorcerer's Apprentice"

My mother-in-law chuckles and calls me "the Sorcerer's Apprentice." And she's right. In 12 years, I think I've seen her cook following a recipe maybe a half-dozen times...

She comes over to my place however and my glasses are on my nose while my nose is buried in a cookbook perched on my trusty cookbook stand. Beakers, measuring cups, scales and ingredients are everywhere! I'm just missing Mickey Mouse and his broom (which might actually have come in handy at cleanup!)

In all those years, my poor boyfriend-then-husband has rarely had the same dish twice. After all, I've got dozens of cookbooks with hundreds of recipes!! (Not even counting the cooking magazines...) And I practically never cook without one. That is... until now.

On this year's trip to Italy, I embarked upon a diet. This, needless to say, has not been easy! A person whom I at least consider a dear friend queried, "Why would anyone go to Italy and start a diet?!"

Good question. But here the lifestyle is less sedentary, the junk food less obiquitous, and frankly the fruit and veggies are so much fresher tasting here that it's easier to be sated with a good dish that's not too caloric.

Of course, it's also far, far easier to be tempted to keep eating just because it's really, really good. And so far it seems that my diet's been harder on my mother-in-law than me! She's an absolutely wonderful cook (see above!) and loves feeding her loved ones utterly fantastic food. After baby asparagus risotto and sauteed eggplant on the side...

La Suocera: "Would you like some cheese?" (Tantalizingly holds out a platter of only about 5 different kinds...)

Me: "Um... no thanks. I'd better not have any cheese at this point..."

La Suocera: "Okay... (silence) Then how about salami? (pause) Gelato??"

Then there was the day last week when I skipped lunch at their place in order to visit the new Ikea in Padua, and she said, "Darn! And I'd fried you some fresh fish..."

Needless to say, I can't even begin to count calories when I'm there. Not that I'm complaining!! I eat wonderfully at my in-law's house... I just have to limit my courses to, say, the first three or so!! :-)

But at home I have to be more virtuous to compensate. No stockpiling of groceries from the supermarket. (And certainly no Nutella!) I cook with the limited ingredients I either have on hand or I can get fresh that day. Cooking based on the ingredients you have on hand rather than buying lots of ingredients according to a complicated recipe... What a concept!

So, here's my first foray into making my own recipes! Yes, it's pretty simplistic, but - hey - you gotta start somewhere!!

Michelle's Pasta Salad Caprese (serves two)

First of all, you should be sure to have eaten a real insalata caprese (like this one, for example!) in order to get an idea of the tastes we're going for here!

  • 150 grams fusilli (spiral) pasta, cooked al dente and cooled
  • 250 grams (or about 1/2 cup) cherry tomatoes, sliced in half (Note: you can go way heavier on these... they're calorically "cheap"!)
  • 1 ball fresh mozzarella, cubed (usually about 100 grams)
  • 2 tablespoons prepared pesto
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

    Whisk pesto, olive oil and vinegar into a vinegarette that still tastes more "basilly" than anything else. Toss with remaining ingredients. Serve cold. Enjoy!!

    Calorie count (the best I can figure...)
  • Pasta (about 262 calories per serving)
  • Cherry tomatoes (about 17 calories per 100 grams... total about 43)
  • Lowfat fresh mozzarella (about 79 per serving)
  • Pesto (about 160 calories per serving)
  • Olive Oil (about 119 calories per serving)

Total: about 663 calories per serving!

Wow!... I thought it tasted skinnier than that! Drat!!

Time for the Sorcerer's Apprentice to go back into the kitchen to whip up a new, more dietetic version! (Let's see if we can't get those calories down by half!!)

Oh well... In the meantime, buon appetito!! :-)

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