Saturday, March 29, 2008


Some wise words from Carlo Middione, VIVANDE

We are cooks, not nutritionists, nor food biologists, nor scientists. However, we talk to lots of people who love to eat, many of whom are experts in food science.

An eminent animal nutritionist in Bologna reminded us that wheat, to be
digested at all by humans, must be first cooked in liquid. If we were ruminants, like cows, our multiple stomachs would send the cud to be chewed and chewed again, which would take care of this just fine. But humans have only one stomach; it needs care, attention, and respect.

Pasta, as we have been told, is best eaten al dente “to the teeth”, meaning it must be chewed and not just inhaled or slithered down the throat because it is gelatinous from over-cooking.

If the pasta is cooked correctly, or very firm with the “anima”, the “soul” in the middle of it barely visible, then it can be successfully chewed, which means it will remain in the mouth longer to promote more taste and enjoyment (we don’t taste or appreciate texture once food has passed our mouth) as well as digestion.

And, because the starch of the pasta remains intact longer when slightly UNDERcooked, it will act more like a complex carbohydrate, allowing you to digest it more slowly over a period of time. In this way, the food value has more staying power; you feel sustained, buoyant and happy. Even pastas cooked and served in soups should be cooked and served “al dente”.

When pasta is overcooked, - beyond “al dente”, it gets soft and mushy, and is more quickly converted to essentially simple sugar which hits the blood-stream immediately it is ingested, to produce a huge rise in energy.

However, this type of energy is short lived; it dies down almost immediately.
When that happens, you feel slow, dull and overly full.

This promotes gas and discomfort, and it will let you down to become hungry again, sooner; which tends to make you gain weight.

It might take a bit of trial and error and experience at the table and even in the kitchen to learn to enjoy eating pasta “al dente”, but once you do, you will never again accept overcooked pasta. You can count on it!

Buon Appetito !

Saturday, March 15, 2008


Carlo and Lisa Middione at VIVANDE

Travel in Italy and you won’t see as much obesity as in the United States.
Yet, the Italians eat 65 lbs. of pasta per capita per year, as opposed to 20 lbs. per capita per year eaten by Americans. How do the Italians manage to stay so slender ?

In Italy by law dried commercial pastas are made ONLY from pure durum
wheat and water, with NO artificial colorings or preservatives. Commer-
cial egg pastas must, by law, contain at least 5 whole fresh eggs for every 2 pounds of durum flour. Such complex carbohydrates, especially if unrefined, give muscle tissue plenty of food to grow on and little fat to worry about.

Hard durum winter wheat, the flour and semolina ground from it, is rich in gluten, stronger and superior to ordinary flours for making pasta.

In America while some commercial water based pastas use only durum flour, others may be made with the addition of ordinary white processed flour, enriched with fortified vitamins. Powdered dehydrated vegetables are used in colored pastas, or just vegetable based dyes. Commercial egg pasta is generally made with frozen eggs or egg solids.

In Italy, handmade or partially handmade fresh pasta from only durum flour with whole egg to tenderize the dough, is still widely used. Some believe it is the only true pasta experience.

In America, some makers add ordinary white flour to fresh pasta to soften the durum so it can more easily be worked by hand or by smaller machines.

Pasta in Italy is never overcooked. Pasta chewed “al dente” releases its energy gradually by breaking down the starches over a period of time.

Pasta in America is often cooked too long, turning the starch more quickly to a simple sugar. This can even give a “rush”, then make you feel hungry sooner to eat more often.

In Italy the pasta is central to the “sauce” which is often not a “sauce” at all, but a favorite vegetable-in-season or shellfish sauteed with a little extra virgin olive oil, a splash of the water in which the pasta was cooked, maybe a drop of wine, and always fresh herbs.

In America pasta dishes generally take their name from the sauce, which is often too rich and over-powering. Such sauces drown out the pasta which takes second place in the dish.

No wonder nutritionists have detected literally hundreds of calories difference between the way the same pasta recipe is eaten in Italy and America ! No wonder the Italians who eat pasta are lean, whereas alot of American pasta eaters are fat !

So, what are you waiting for ? You, too, can eat pasta the way the Italians do, and enjoy it fully without worrying about gaining weight !