Many of us have probably exaggerated with the panettone and the multi-course Christmas extravaganza during the holidays. In Italy this happens at exponential levels, with an eating stretch that lasts over two weeks culminating with the Befana’s candy outpour on January 6th. So detoxing after the holiday season is not only number one on our list of new year resolutions, but mostly a health priority. Our bodies are begging us for clean nutrients, crisp vegetables, vitamin-packed citrus, brassica and roots, which are full of fiber. But, no worries: as gourmands subjugated to our palate, we won’t need to undergo an excruciating juice cleanse to feel virtuous. In Italian kitchens, tradition and family regional recipes rescue us, filling our plates with satisfying seasonal dishes while maintaining healthy standards. Here is our list of favorite resolution-friendly winter recipes.
Pizza di Scarola – Escarole pie
Anyone with a quota of Neapolitan genes has this savory vegetable pie in their DNA. For purists the crust demands a hint of sweetness, some yeast and lard, but you can use regular bread dough for a lighter/vegetarian outcome. The filling is a tangy sauté of seasoned escarole, pitted purple olives, salted capers, toasted pine nuts, chili flakes and garlic browned in olive oil. For a little zip add chopped anchovies. When the veggie filling has cooled down, fill your pie shell, drape it with more crust, crimp edges, poke and brush the surface with egg wash. Pop in the hot oven and bake for about 20-30 minutes. Ideal pre-workout food.
Bagna Càuda – Hot dipping fondue
This piping-hot garlic and anchovy-packed “dip” is a Piedmontese classic my Asti-native Nonna would make on cold winter nights. It rates as comfort food and is a great way to pack in all those healthy winter vegetables with the excuse of dipping them, fondue-style. Melt some butter over extremely mild heat, add plenty minced garlic and let it simmer without browning. Add good quality olive oil and fold in some anchovy fillets. Gently simmer, stir and break up the fillets with the back of a wooden spoon for about 10 minutes, or until the sauce is creamy and evenly blended. Keep the bagna càuda heated as the name suggests (càuda is dialect for ‘hot’), and go crazy skewering and dipping cubed boiled potatoes, peeled Jerusalem artichokes, stripped cardoon ribs, cauliflower florets, radishes, carrot sticks and more…
Winter Pantesca – Beet, potato and onion salad
Salads are the big craze right now. Everywhere I turn, articles and recipe roundups feature salad in the current food press. Insalata pantesca is a classic Sicilian summer salad from the island of Pantelleria made with boiled potatoes, tomatoes, a handful of salt-packed capers, thinly sliced Tropea onion, fresh basil and obviously glugs of prime quality extra virgin olive oil. In winter, when tomatoes are not available, I substitute them with beets. Those who prefer can blanche them first, but slicing them raw will turbo-boost the dish’s health benefits with the root’s antioxidant powers. In place of the fresh basil, which may be hard to find in winter, feel free to sprinkle thyme or oregano, and season with a dash of sea salt.
Puntarelle – Curly endive salad
Puntarelle are the sprout tips of a chicory variety called cicoria catalogna, also known as ‘puntarelle chicory’ or ‘asparagus chicory’ picked while still young and tender. By cutting the sprouts and shoots of the puntarelle lengthwise into long, thin strips and soaked in acidulated ice-cold water for an hour causes the crunchy pale green strands to curl up, become juicier and less bitter. Rome markets sell these both whole (and in that case you need to get yourself a puntarelle cutter, pictured above-left) or already trimmed and curled. The punchy garlic, vinegar and anchovy dressing of this very particular salad dates back to ancient Rome. Perfect palate cleanser after a rich stew.
Orange and fennel salad
Talk about Mediterranean contamination: I first tasted this savory salad in Palermo when I was just a young child traveling with my Sicily-enamored mother. Then, years later as an adult, while on a complicated film shoot in the Maghreb, I got fed this cirtusy delight in a seafront tavern in Tunis. The two salads were identical in every way. Both featured thick slices of blood orange, shaved fennel and some of the fronds, slivers of red onion, a scatter of purple olives and emerald droplets of sublime extra virgin olive oil.
What does your post-holiday binge detox routine look like?
Eleonora Baldwin is a TV host, freelance food and travel writer, and culinary connoisseur based in Rome, Italy. Her writing appears in several food and travel publications. Her shows “ABCheese” and “Uazz’america” are broadcast on Italian food network Gambero Rosso Channel. Her podcast “iCheese” is recorded live on the Radio Food Live network.