I love carbs, but they don’t like me very much. For anyone watching their carbs, here is something to remember: Italian food is more than just pizza and pasta.
While it might seem like a sacrifice to skip the basket of garlic bread, side of spaghetti, risotto or gnocci, we still have some really great options that feature the essential flavors of Italy.
Whether creating at home or ordering in a restaurant, we need not suffer.
I know from personal experience that it’s not always easy to stay with a food plan. I won’t pretend or imply that it is. I do know, also from personal experience, that the more satisfying a food plan is, the better the chance that we will be able to stick with it. Perfection is not the goal, just choices that make a plan reasonable and doable.
Classic antipasti needs no adjustment. Created with meats, cheeses, seafood, marinated, fresh or grilled vegetables and olives, it provides several low-carb choices. This course is easy.
Primi Piatti, or the first course, has easy and delish choices, as well. A chopped Italian salad with a true extra virgin olive oil can be a meal in and of itself, actually. Chopped greens, tomato, olives, savory vegetables, hard boiled egg and some shreds of cheese offers crunch, and layers of flavor. Adding some bits of dry salami instead of croutons is not punishment at all.
Consider the simple Caprese salad, made from fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil. Again, be sure to use a stand out extra virgin olive oil to pop up the flavors.
Prosciutto, the delectable Italian variation of ham that’s sliced wafer thin, and served wrapped around cantaloupe (Tuscan melon) or asparagus is the opposite of a difficult decision.
Carpaccio would also work well as a Primi Piatti or an Antipasti.
Primi Piatti is the course where we would see pastas and other starches. You can still create a lasagna that the family will love. A simple substitution in your favorite recipe will result in a dish the whole family can enjoy together. Instead of pasta try using either zucchini or eggplant between your layers. The important thing to remember is that these two vegetables can be a bit watery, which is not ideal for lasagna. This is what you do.
Cut the zucchini/eggplant strips, which replace the pasta in this dish, should be cut 1/8th inch thick. Grill the strips first. I use my stovetop grill pan. After grilling, lay strips on double thickness of paper towels to soak up extra water. One extra step to be sure excess moisture is removed, lay strips on a baking sheet in a very low oven,170 degrees, for approximately 30 minutes. Then simply follow your recipe and bake as usual.
Primi Piatti can also include frittata. A simple artichoke frittata impresses and offers an interesting flavor profile when made with freshly grated Parmesan. When I offer as a first course, I serve this hot, but this frittata is also great served cold and could be cut into bite sizes and served as part of an antipasti platter.
If the family is craving your famous Bolognese sauce, no worries. Ladle generously over spaghetti for them, and over a combo of steamed cauliflower, broccoli and onions for you. Just remember that if you are using canned tomatoes to prepare your sauce, read the labels to ensure that sugar has not been added to the ingredients. My favorite canned San Marzano canned tomatoes have no added ingredients.
Secondi Piatti, the second and main course of the Italian meal, offers a melange of options.
Chicken Cacciatore needs no recipe adjustments. Chicken and vegetables. Not a potato in sight in an authentic recipe.
Chicken or veal scallopini, another delicious choice.
Pesto on chicken and vegetables is a savory choice and another Italian “thing.”
If you love breaded dishes like chicken, veal or eggplant Parmesan, Chicken Marsala or Veal Florentine, please enjoy. Using almond flour will make your dish carb friendlier, with only 6 grams of net carbs in 1 cup. Nobody will know the difference in your end result. It’s more expensive than standard flour, but has a good shelf life. I don’t mind paying a bit extra for the luxury of a bit of breading in certain dishes.
Cream sauces, not a problem. The heaviest of creams have zero carbs. Read your labels; many have only one carb per serving, but there are those with zero carbs. Butter and extra virgin olive oil, no carbs. Using an extra virgin olive oil adds other health benefits because of its natural antioxidants and heart-healthy fat.
Speaking of cream. I’ve adapted my panna cotta recipe so that I can prepare a carb-free, comfort food dessert everyone can enjoy equally. Using a heavy zero carb cream and substituting Splenda for granulated sugar there is nothing lost in translation.
Fresh fruits of the season alongside an assortment of special cheeses is yet one more classic Italian dessert idea.
Another helpful hint — eat like an Italian. Dine slowly and enjoy. Eat your meal leisurely, with several courses, seasoned with table talk and belly laughs. This is your best recipe for truly enjoying a meal.
Dining out? Low-carb options often hide in plain sight on the menu. Instead of pouting over the pizza and pasta sections of the menu, I consider the menu with a different goal in mind and without giving up on flavor and contentment. Mangia bene.
Chicken Scallopini with Brown Butter Sauce
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
½ cup almond flour (regular flour if not counting carbs)
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
1 lb. thin chicken scallopini (less than 1/4-inch thickness)
NOTE: You can buy breast fillets and pound into proper thickness
Brown Butter Sauce Ingredients:
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
1 ½ Tbsp. Red wine vinegar
1 ½ Tbsp. capers, drained
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 Tbsp. fresh parley, chopped
Combine flour, 1 tsp. salt and ½ tsp. pepper.
Pat chicken dry and dredge in flour.
Heat large skillet (preferably NOT non-stick) and add oil. Heat oil, but don’t allow to smoke.
Cook chicken until browned on each side and cooked thru. Turn only once. About 2 minutes per side. Transfer to plate. Set aside. Discard oils in the skillet.
Prepare brown butter sauce.
It is important for your butter to be room temperature before cooking. If butter is too cold, it will not melt smoothly and burns more easily.
Drop butter into a hot skillet. Swirl constantly until butter turns into a golden, almost hazelnut color.
Remove pan from heat and allow to cool 2 minutes. Swirl in vinegar, capers, salt and pepper until all ingredients are blended.
This sauce is incredibly simple and best prepared just prior to serving.
Return chicken to skillet and gently reheat for 2 minutes. Garnish with parsley and serve immediately.
1/3 cup cold water
2 tsp. unflavored gelatin
(typically 1 packet)
2 2/3 cups heavy whipping cream
1/8 tsp. salt
2 ½ tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup Splenda (regular sugar if not counting carbs)
Add gelatin into a small cup containing water. Mix until completely dissolved. Let stand in refrigerator for 5 minutes until it becomes semi-firm.
Pour cream into a medium sauce pan. Add salt and Splenda.
Turn to medium heat and stir often until the mixture shows tiny bubbles around the inside edge of pan.
This process takes only a few minutes, so stay by the stove.
When steam begins to rise, remove pan from heat. Be careful not to let mixture boil.
Immediately add gelatin mixture and vanilla. Stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved into the cream.
Pour into individual dessert cups. Each cup should hold 2/3 cups liquid.
Allow mixture to cool and then cover each with a circle of plastic wrap or waxed paper to prevent a “skin” from forming on top.
Refrigerate 4-6 hours until set.
Traditional panna cotta is served plain, but feel free to serve with a few fresh berries alongside.
2—13 oz. cans artichoke hearts in water
Important note: Make sure to squeeze all moisture out of artichoke hears or your dish will be watery and bland.
1 cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp. Worchestershire
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup cream
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
3/4 tsp. nutmeg
2 cups shredded Jack cheese
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Place hearts in a large pre-coated baking dish. Remember to remove any hard leaves.
In medium bowl lightly beat eggs, cream, Worchestershire and seasonings. Stir in Jack cheese.
Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.
Add Parmesan and bake an additional 5 minutes. Cool 10 minutes and cut into 15 pieces.