1. Keep it seasonal
Wherever possible, ingredients should be bought in season as the typical Italian diet uses fresh produce. This helps to give dishes a fantastic flavour and means you don’t have to add loads of fat, salt or sugar to improve taste. Fresh, seasonal ingredients are also usually more nutrient dense and therefore better for you. Italians love to wander around local markets to select their ingredients – it’s part of enjoying food.
2. Don’t overdo the pasta
When you are preparing to cook pasta you shouldn’t allocate more than 120g of dried pasta per person. Often people make the mistake of throwing the whole bag of pasta in the pot and end up cooking and eating far too much. Also take care not to overcook your pasta as al dente (firm to the bite) pasta has a lower glycemic index than soft, overcooked pasta – so it is good for filling you up and keeping you satisfied for longer.
3. Change your oils
Swap your regular cooking oil for a good quality olive oil. Olive oil is much better for you than many regular cooking oils and definitely better than cooking with butter or margarine if you are trying to be healthy. Virgin olive oil is high in good fats like monounsaturated and omega 3 as well as containing anti-oxidants.
Try to eat at least two portions of oily fish a week. Fish is a very important part of the Italian diet and we are also use a lot of shellfish, which are high in nutrients – you can’t beat a tasty seafood platter.
5. Make mealtimes an occasion
Every mealtime in Italy is a big occasion, and as a result we are very aware of and appreciate the food we consume each time we sit together. Avoid TV dinners and other distractions and concentrate on what and how much you’re eating to help control portion sizes.
6. Cook from scratch
The satisfaction you’ll get from your food will be much greater if you manage to cook a couple of meals from scratch each week. You’ll also know exactly what’s going into your pot and onto your plate. Make your own sauces and meatballs from scratch, and at the weekend, when you have more time, have a go at making your own pastry and pasta.
7. Watch your sauces
Italians lightly coat their pasta instead of drowning it with sauce. Excessive smothering just piles on the calories and fat content without adding any extra flavour. If you’re watching your weight, avoid tube shaped pastas such as rigatoni and penne as they soak up a lot more sauce.
9. Salad dressing
When dressing your salads use a good quality and flavoursome balsamic vinegar so that you can reduce the amount of oil you mix with it. Balsamic vinegar is low in calories and to make a healthy dressing just mix it with a little virgin olive oil as a replacement for creamy salad dressings or mayonnaise.
To add plenty of flavour to grilled steak or grilled fish use a gremolata instead of a creamy or oily sauce. A gremolata is an Italian garnish of raw, finely chopped garlic, fresh parsley and lemon zest and when it is sprinkled on top of your fish or meat at the end of cooking it adds huge amounts of flavour without the calories or fat.
Try out Gino’s top tips in our favourite Italian recipes