Lean cuisine boasts tradition at table in Italy

January 13, 1993|By Franco Romagnoli | Franco Romagnoli,Contributing Writer

We think of lean cuisine as a 20th-century American invention, but in Italy it is anything but new. Cucina di magro is the diet prescribed for Lent, Advent and other fast days, and it dates back to early Christianity. Magro on its own means lean; cucina means kitchen or cooking. Together they signify a meatless meal for a fast day. (Italians take a balanced approach to life, however: Cucina di grasso is the rich food for feast days.)

This ancient regimen is a wonderful resource for the modern cook who is looking to cut fat. The diet is based on fish and vegetables, and eschews animal fat. Desserts are not part of cucina di magro, but fresh or dried fruits are welcomed. Wine, considered nourishment, flows freely.

Salt cod, Roman style

Baccala is cod that has been salted on board ship and then dried on land. In Italy, the fishmonger sells the baccala pre-soaked. Here you will need to soak it in cold water for a day or two to flush out the excess salt. It is sold in fillets, often packed in wooden boxes.

1 pound boneless salt cod

1/4 cup golden raisins

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 Spanish onions, thinly sliced

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 28-ounce can plum tomatoes (with juice)

1 tablespoon pine nuts

freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

In a large bowl, cover salt cod with cold water. Cover and let soak in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours, or until the flesh is soft, changing the water frequently.

In a small bowl, cover raisins with warm water and set aside to soak.

In a non-stick skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute for about 5 minutes, or until softened. Add wine and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes, or until the wine has evaporated. Add tomatoes and mash them with a fork. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until slightly thickened. Drain raisins and stir into the sauce, along with pine nuts. (The sauce can be prepared ahead and stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Reheat before continuing.)

Shortly before serving, drain the cod and pat dry with paper towels. Cut into 3-inch-square pieces and squeeze gently to remove excess moisture. Season the cod with pepper and place in the sauce. Simmer, covered, over low heat for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the cod flesh flakes easily. Sprinkle with parsley and serve. Serves 6.

Per serving: 274 calories; 43 grams protein; 5 grams fat; 12 grams carbohydrate; 1,184 milligrams sodium; 98 milligrams cholesterol.

Flounder with parsley and caper sauce Parsley and Caper Sauce 3 tablespoons olive oil

1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley

3 tablespoons drained capers, rinsed and chopped

3 tablespoons dry sherry

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon fine dry unseasoned bread crumbs

0 Flounder and poaching liquid 1 onion, peeled and halved

1 carrot, scrubbed and halved

1 celery stalk

1 bay leaf

5-6 black peppercorns

2 teaspoons salt

6 flounder fillets (1 1/2 pounds total)

make sauce: In a small saucepan, heat oil over low heat. Add parsley, capers, sherry, lemon juice and breadcrumbs. Stir over low heat until the mixture has a sauce-like consistency. If too thick, thin sauce with up to 1 tablespoon warm water. Season with salt, if desired. (The sauce can be prepared ahead and stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 8 hours. Reheat to serve.)

To cook flounder: In a large saute pan or wide saucepan, combine 2 quarts water, onions, carrots, celery, bay leaf, peppercorns and salt; bring to a boil. Boil for 20 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove and discard vegetables, peppercorns and bay leaf. Reduce heat to low, add flounder and simmer gently for 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes, or until the flounder flesh is opaque.

With a slotted spoon, lift the fillets from the pan, draining well. Arrange on a warm serving platter and spoon the parsley-caper sauce over. Serves 6.

Per serving: 244 calories; 28 grams protein; 9 grams fat; 11 grams carbohydrate; 849 milligrams sodium; 77 milligrams cholesterol.

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