Celebrating Italian flavors: from the fields to your table

Every season brings its harvest of fresh and appealing vegetables and fruits. There is no greater satisfaction than to prepare them in a healthy meal for your friends and family. As a good doctor will tell you, vegetables and fruits are a great source of minerals, vitamins and fiber. All good check outs for a healthy diet! At the time of choosing your vegetables, you might consider growing your own at the convenience of your own garden, or buying them at your local supermarket or farm market. Nothing can beat the fact of getting fresh vegetables and fruits from the fields to your table. It is almost as good as having your own garden!

When buying vegetables and fruits, quality and freshness are crucial. They should be firm to touch, with good color, no withered or yellowing leaves. So, next time you visit your local farm markets examine your vegetables and fruits closely. Smell them, touch them, and learn how to know how they should look like in order to taste good. Choosing the right ingredients with the best quality and freshness are the key for any successful meal.

Now that you had successfully completed “Vegetables and Fruits 101”, get your apron, your chef’s knife and be ready to make them shine in a healthy and simple meal. Remember, when you choose the right ingredients, you are on your way to a great meal. Let your food speak for itself.  There are few ways you can show off your fresh produce. Take advantage of the sunshine and your grill before cold weather comes. Cooking vegetables and grilling fresh fruits in a grill pan or over a barbecue enhances their natural flavors. Serve them with a drizzle of good Italian olive oil; finely chopped herbs (like parsley, garlic, basil, etc); pair them with fresh crostini or your favorite bread and you have fixed a quick, simple and healthy meal.  For dessert, grille some fresh peaches, plums, apricots, drizzle them with lemon flavored honey, sprinkle with roasted walnuts or have a good quality chocolate sauce ready for dipping.

Once you have mastered the art of choosing your vegetables and fruits, the possibilities for preparing them in healthy and fresh meals are endless. So, next time you ask yourself what’s for dinner? Remember your local farm markets, the goodness of the products of their land and bring them to your table. Why not start right now trying this delicious and healthy Italian recipe? Let’s cook!

 Recipe:

Conchiglie pasta with hearty pomodoro sauce

Serves 4-5

Ingredients:

500 g Conchiglie Italian pasta (shells)

2 onions, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 carrot, finely chopped

1 celery stick, finely chopped

1 cup mushrooms, finely chopped

1 sweet red bell pepper, finely chopped

1 sweet green bell pepper, finely chopped

1 small eggplant, diced in cubes

1 cup broccoli florets

1 cup very ripe tomatoes, finely chopped

1/3- cup sun dried tomatoes, cut in halves

3 cups fresh tomato sauce (you can replace it by a good quality store bought tomato sauce)

½ cup of Spanish olives (pitted)

Fresh basil leaves, to taste

Fresh Italian oregano, to taste

Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Pinch of sugar

Freshly grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese, for serving

Good quality Italian olive oil

Procedure:

1. – Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan. Add the onion, garlic, carrot and celery. Cook the vegetables in medium heat stirring occasionally.

2. – Add the bell peppers, eggplant, mushrooms, and broccoli florets and diced tomatoes. Keep on eye on your vegetables by stirring occasionally.

3. – As they start to cook add the tomato sauce and sun dried tomatoes. Lower the heat, cover the pan and cook until soft but not mushy. Add the Spanish olives; season the sauce with salt, pepper, fresh herbs and a pinch of sugar (to reduce any acidity from the tomatoes).

4. – Bring a large pot with cold water to boil. Before adding the pasta shells, season it with salt and add a few drops of olive oil to prevent pasta from sticking. Once your water reaches the boiling point, add the pasta and cook until al dente.

5. – Drain the pasta and transfer it quickly to the pan with the hearty pomodoro sauce. Gently toss until combined. Serve immediately in large bowls or dinner plates. Drizzle with Italian olive oil and freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese. Add few fresh basil leaves on top. Bring to your table, enjoy and Buon Apetito!

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