Authentic Italian dishes that are rich, flavorful, and taste amazing – AND happen to be healthy, loaded with whole grains, and full of gluten-free options? Yes, it’s possible!
I recently had the pleasure of connecting with Fina Scroppo – an award-winning writer and editor, real food lover, and author of the beautiful cookbook The Healthy Italian: Cooking For The Love Of Food And Family. Fina has been hanging around the kitchen since she was tall enough to stand over the stove, making homemade tomato sauce and meatballs. At the age of eight, she learned to spin her own homemade pasta sheets for her mom’s divine lasagna. Today, as a busy mom, she leans on what she knows best – Italian cooking – to deliver healthy meals to her family.
When I learned about Fina’s cookbook, I knew immediately that I wanted to share it here on Taste Of The Place. What a fantastic fit, right? Regional, REAL food, shared by someone who is passionate about where they come from and what they eat.
There are 150 recipes in the book, ranging from starters like crispy calamari rings, and grilled portobello mushrooms and polenta; to pastas and entrees like asparagus farrow risotto (recipe below), and walnut-crusted cod with raisins; to decadent desserts like lemon polenta cake, and Christmas fig cookies. It all sounds delicious!
The Healthy Italian: Cooking For The Love Of Food And Family is available at Amazon.com and select stores in Canada. (You can find a complete list of retailers at TheHealthyItalian.ca/book)
Fina was kind enough to share her recipe for asparagus farro risotto with us. Yay!
It was a leisurely dish to bring together (like any good risotto should be!), so pour yourself a glass of crisp white wine and enjoy cooking! This farro-based risotto (farro is a nutty-flavored grain with a chewy texture) has just the right amount of acidity to support the nuttiness of the grains. The asparagus and fresh herbs are perfect for spring, and the swirl of goat cheese and grate of parmesan at the end make it rich without being heavy. So yummy!
Excerpted from The Healthy Italian: Cooking for the Love of Food and Family by Fina Scroppo
Asparagus Farro Risotto (risotto di farro agli asparagi)
“When my twin sister was diagnosed with celiac disease more than 20 years ago, our whole family had to learn to cook creatively without gluten. That was a huge feat for an Italian family whose main staples were pasta and bread. At the time, boxed gluten-free pastas were scarce – I made regular trips to the children’s hospital, one of the few places in the city that sold gluten-free pastas. So, until Ma mastered making her own alternative pasta and pizza, we leaned on what we knew best and what tasted best in our home-cooking repertoire – risottos, traditionally made with high-starch Arborio rice and accompanied with either fragrant spices, vegetables or seafood. I’ve adapted what I learned then to make risottos with other healthy grains (not all gluten-free). The result: rich, creamy dishes with no compromise on taste or texture.”
- 1 bunch asparagus, about 20 medium spears
- 3½ cups reduced-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
- 2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tsp light butter
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 1½ cups semi-pearled farro (see tip)
- ½ cup white wine
- 2 tbsp crumbled light goat’s cheese (1 oz/28 g)
- 2 tbsp each: chopped fresh parsley and fresh basil
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for serving (optional)
Snap off tough ends from each asparagus stalk and discard. Cut asparagus into ¾-inch (2-cm) pieces and set aside.
In a medium pot, heat broth over medium heat and keep hot.
In a large pot, heat olive oil and butter over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until onions are softened, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add farro and stir continuously to coat well, about 1 minute. Add wine and cook until almost completely absorbed, stirring continuously. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add half of the cut asparagus.
Add hot broth slowly, one ladle at a time to allow liquid to be absorbed before adding more. Stir continuously for about 20 to 25 minutes or until farro is al dente and chewy. Add remaining asparagus about halfway through cooking time.
Stir in goat’s cheese, parsley and basil. Serve hot with freshly grated black pepper and a sprinkle of freshly grated cheese, if desired.
TIP: Don’t confuse farro with spelt. While they have a similar aesthetic, farro – which is Italian for emmer wheat – has a nutty flavor like spelt but doesn’t require the prerequisite soaking and it holds its chewy texture while cooking quickly.
4 Servings | 40 min or less | Meatless
For more recipes, inspiration and details on where to buy the cookbook, visit TheHealthyItalian.ca