Tag Archives: almonds

Pleasures of Pantelleria

In the salted caper room at Bonomo and Giglio on Pantelleria

 

One of my favorite ingredients – whether sprinkled on pizza, tossed into a salad or paired with olive oil and lemon to adorn grilled fish – are capers.  Slightly sweet, mostly salty with a tangy bite capers add a bright note to many dishes.  

Caper plants clinging to the earth bound for Bonomo and Giglio 


Capers are the unopened flower buds of bushy plants that cling to stonewalls or are cultivated close to the ground. On the tiny Italian island of Pantelleria, off the coast of Sicily just 36 miles from the coast of North Africa, the volcanic soil and Mediterranean sun produce high quality capers prized for their flavor. “They are the best capers and I like them because they are cured in salt and not pickled,” says chef Piero Premoli of Pricci Restaurant. Premoli is featuring a menu of Sicilian dishes throughout October including a cured tuna with capers and the region’s classic caponata stew with eggplant and capers.
Olives, tomatoes, onions, basil and olive oil love in Pantelleria


Pleasures of 

Pantelleria 

If you haven’t been to Pantelleria or even heard of it, join the club.  I was invited by a non-profit food and nutrition organization called Old WaysPreservation and Exchange Trust to join a group of writers and culinary experts for a symposium to discover the island’s uniquely healthy food and lifestyle habits.  
It’s a desert out there. The island of Pantelleria gets very little rain fall. 
The rocky island is pummeled by the wind forcing olive trees, grape vines and caper bushes to lie low growing outward not upward. Citrus trees are cradled in walled gardens to protect the fruit.

“There’s still a little magic out there,” says Phil Meldrum of Food Match a specialty foods importer attending the symposium. “When you find something with a taste particular to that area it gives me goose bumps.”

 Pantelleria capers on freshly caught swordfish makes me swoon. 
Stone cliffs, stonewalls, stone buildings, and piles of stone create a harsh landscape surrounded by the crashing sea. Minimal rain means cactus blooms and bougainvillea blooms offer the only color. 

“It was frozen in time,” says dietitian Sharon Palmer, author of The Plant Powered Diet, “We had very little red meat. It’s primarily a plant based diet that’s nutritionally really balanced with carbs from pastas, healthy fats from almonds, olives and olive oil and dishes flavored with herbs, fennel and capers.”  
Sharon Palmer and I enjoying ‘studying’ nutrition on Pantelleria.
Other common cooking ingredients included eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes. Since cows were not a traditional part of farm life here, there is very little cheese and pasta dishes and potatoes are sprinkled with seasoned bread crumbs instead of parmesan.  
Just so you believe me. Pantescans add breadcrumbs to pasta.
Palmer notes, “We had traditional dishes handed down through the generations in an isolated farming environment so we had what they have there.” 
Even though there is a tradition of sweet cookies made in intricate patterns and shapes, the principal sweetener is made from reducing grape juice not refined sugar. 
“It’s nice that the healthiest traditional eating patterns happen to be the most delicious,” says Sara Baer-Sinnott, President of Oldways.   

Mediterranean Medicine

The health benefits of the Mediterranean diet – rich in vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts, seafood and olive oil – are well documented. Dietitian Kathy McManus, Director of the Department of Nutrition at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston says, “Since this diet is not low in fat people enjoy the foods more, lose more weight and they tend to eat more vegetables because they can add olive oil.”  The Mediterranean lifestyle leads to longevity, too. 
Olive oil contains more than healthy fats, it’s rich in plant nutrients and antioxidants to promote good health.
Ligia Dominguez, MD of the University of Palermo says, “We want an active life in old age not frailty. The Mediterranean diet is high in antioxidants which can add years to your life and life to your years.”

Dominguez says being “kissed” by the sun for at least 15 minutes a day boosts vitamin D levels naturally and getting enough sleep is important too. “I took a nap every day in Pantelleria,” admits Baer-Sinnot, “It’s the joy of resting to reduce stress.”

Grape harvest bonanza during my stay on Pantelleria.


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Recalculating Calories for Almonds

Down on the farm, well orchard to learn about California almonds.

When is a 100-calorie pack not a 100-calorie pack? When it’s filled with almonds.
The calorie count for California almonds turns out to be 20 percent lower than previously measured according to new studies conducted by nutrition scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). So, that 100-calorie pack of dry roasted almonds you might grab to snack on actually contains 80 calories. 
Nutrition researcher Sarah Gebauer gets out of the USDA lab to grab almonds in the orchard.
The almonds are not any different, but the way the USDA calculates calorie content is new and improved.  
California almonds ready to harvest in Lodi. You can snack right from the tree.
Historically, samples of food are burned in the lab to measure the amount of heat given off which is measured in calories. Now USDA researchers have enlisted the help of human volunteers at the Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center to determine the number of calories actually digested and absorbed from almonds as part of typical American meals. 

Mmmm toasted almond and heirloom tomato crostini 
“We are excited to have this approach to look at calories in a mixed diet,” says David Baer, PhD who led the research published this month in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. “How we count calories is an important issue as we look forward.”
Recalculating

“Recalculating. Recalculating.”  That’s what you may hear from an auto’s GPS system when you drive off the suggested route.  USDA nutrition experts are recalculating too.  Their new course is a bit more complicated because measuring digestion and absorption in human volunteers means collecting samples of feces, “It’s a dirty job but somebody’s got to do it,” says Baer. The analysis revealed that the fat in almonds is not absorbed as easily as fat in other foods due to the nut’s fiber content.  

Almonds in the Stewart & Jasper Orchard processing plant in Newman, CA.
 “Fat is stored inside the cell walls,” explains Chris Rosenbloom, registered dietitian and professor emerita of nutrition at Georgia State University, “If the cell walls are not completely broken down through chewing and normal digestion then not all of the fats, therefore not all of the calories, will be available to the body. So, foods, like almonds, that are high in fiber and a ‘hard’ nut, actually have fewer calories based on the usual calculations.” (Similar studies with pistachios conducted by the same research team found five percent fewer calories than previously measured.) Can Georgia pecans be far behind? 

Food labels may need updating to lower calorie counts on hard nuts  such as almonds.
The Skinny on Almonds

Another diet discovery – even though subjects were fed meals designed to maintain their weight during the USDA study and were consuming about 70 almonds a day – many lost weight because the available amount of calories was actually 100 or 150 calories fewer per day because 20 percent of the nut was not being digested.  Rosenbloom says she’s always recommended almonds for health benefits, “So if you avoid almonds because of the calories, you should think again. Almonds can help you feel full longer so are good food to include for weight management.”

Jim Jasper is super creative with almond products. Coconut cream Pie and Key Lime Pie flavors! 
Also worth noting, scientists report that the more almonds are chewed up or chopped into slivers or pureed into almond butter, the easier they are to digest and therefore higher the ultimate calorie count.

“This new research opens the door for scientists to take a fresh look at how the body uses the energy stored in foods,” says Rosenbloom. “So, a calorie may not be calorie -at least as far as the food label goes.”

Baer reports that other commodity groups are clamoring to have their foods retested so it’s a busy time at the Beltsville lab, “My colleagues are going nuts.”

I’m nuts for these savory flavors of almonds. Perfect for Happy Hour. I’m happy almonds contain fewer calories.

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