With the beginning of Lent on February 13, Roman Catholics throughout the world observe the season by forgoing meat. Some say goodbye to red meat altogether while others skip it only on Fridays, but giving something up for Lent is part of a centuries-old tradition. For observant Catholics, vegetarians and lovers of Italian food, many meatless meals may feel more like an indulgence than abstinence.
Salads are an excellent way to start a lunch or dinner at any time of year, and they fit beautifully with Lenten observations or vegetarian dining. The key to a perfect salad is combining the right flavors and textures. The best salads incorporate tangy, rich, crunchy, salty and sweet flavors and textures in the right proportions. Carlino’s fruit salad is a great example; with sweet fruit, crisp mesclun greens, rich and salty Romano cheese and tangy balsamic dressing, it hits all the high points. Without the cheese, the salad goes from vegetarian to vegan.
Pasta is a perfect base for meatless dining. Topped with shrimp or clams, it’s a Lenten classic; with vegetables and a delicate cream sauce, it’s a taste of spring in any season. Meatless marinara sauce rich with garlic, basil and olive oil is all a great plate of pasta needs sometimes. Who says Lenten meals have to be dull? No one who’s ever tried pasta puttanesca, certainly. With its briny capers and pungent anchovies, this luscious dish packs enough flavor to keep anyone from missing meat.
During Lent, consider making vegetables the star of the show instead of a side dish. Eggplant, broccoli rabe and portobello mushrooms get regal treatment from Italian cuisine and deserve their share of the spotlight. Try an eggplant parmigiano sandwich for lunch or an eggplant rollatine bursting with flavorful mozzarella for dinner and discover how versatile the vegetable can be. Carlino’s has a wide variety of sandwiches that are perfect during Lent or at any time of the year.
Pizza, America’s favorite food, is also a great Lenten meal if you choose the right toppings. Skip the sausage and go heavy on the vegetables for a healthy, flavorful pizza. Anchovies and shrimp are also fine for those observing Lent and for pescetarians. All of Carlino’s pizzas are made to order, so let us know if you have special requests for toppings.
Seafood of any sort has long been a staple for Lent. Finding flavorful fish, shrimp and clams may be a challenge in some parts of the country, but New Yorkers don’t have to suffer through their seafood dishes. Clams Posillipo, tender mussels and buttery shrimp scampi are at their best near the coast. Spicy shrimp fra diavolo may have a wicked-sounding name, but the piquant dish is as virtuous as any Lenten meal. Lobster, one of the most luxurious foods you can enjoy, is also welcome on the table for Lent.
The beauty of Italian food is its inclusiveness. No matter what you eat or how you eat it, you’ll find something to please your palate. It’s the perfect solution for large parties because everyone can enjoy something on the menu. With hundreds of years of experience creating phenomenal feasts for Lent, Italian food is excellent for vegetarian and vegan diners as well as observant Catholics. Those who like to indulge in a sausage pizza or spaghetti with meatballs will find all these favorites on the menu, too.
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Some of the longest-lived people in the world come from the mountains of Sardinia. Just 250 miles off the Italian coast, Sardinia shares much of its culinary heritage with Naples. Its hundreds of miles of shoreline and hilly interior enjoy the same sunny Mediterranean climate that makes southern Italy a favorite vacation destination. It also boasts more people over the age of 100 than almost anywhere else in the world.
Molecular biologist Dr. Gianni Pes of Italy’s University of Sassari noticed this remarkable longevity and decided to identify the places where people lived the longest. These regions became known as blue zones, areas of longevity far beyond the average. Sardinia contains one blue zone, but so do Loma Linda, California; Okinawa, Japan; and another Mediterranean island locale, Ikaria, Greece.
People in Sardinia, Loma Linda and Okinawa eat vastly different diets, but the proportions of what they eat are similar. In all the blue zones, people eat plenty of whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables with their meals. Fresh salads and greens dressed with olive oil are popular in the Mediterranean blue zones, but they’re also a favorite in California’s longest-lived population.
In Ikaria and Sardinia, tomatoes are a staple and appear with every meal of the day. Tomatoes are rich in antioxidants such as lycopene and high in vitamins A and C, but that isn’t why they’re so beloved in Sardinia; they’re a favorite because they taste delicious fresh or simmered into a savory marinara sauce. Red wine is a perfect foil for tangy sauces and is almost always on the table for dinner. Sardinians also accompany their meals with pecorino cheese from the sheep that graze in the hill country.
People in blue zones also enjoyed seafood. It’s no accident that so many blue zones are in or near coastal communities; seafood’s typically high in omega-3 fatty acids and protein but low in fat. Just as important, though, is that it’s high in flavor, which is why blue-zoners eat it five times a week or more. Mussels, clams, squid and whitefish keep the menu varied for people in blue zones.
For people who’d spent a century or more living in these blue zones, it wasn’t just what was on the plate that mattered. They shared another common bond: They enjoy life with family and friends. Meals are occasions to celebrate and connect with loved ones. Their community sustains them as much as the food they eat and laughter is as important a part of a meal as the wine served with it.
No one can promise that great Italian food, lively company and laughter will help you live longer, but it’s a great way to make sure you enjoy life more. Spend an evening with friends, a bottle of good red wine and a plate of clams Posillipo; and perhaps you too will live for 100 years!
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When looking at what famous Italians have eaten throughout history, it’s impossible to overlook Italian-American cuisine, and few people appreciated it as much as Frank Sinatra. One of the century’s greatest entertainers, the Chairman of the Board stayed in touch with his Italian heritage by ordering his favorite dishes no matter where he traveled.
Marinara sauce was one of Sinatra’s culinary passions. He published the recipe for his mother’s tomato sauce in a cookbook and even launched his own line of bottled sauce in the late 1980s. His recipe called for ripe roma tomatoes, olive oil, not too much onion and plenty of garlic. His daughter, Nancy, recalled in her memoirs that her father told her to order spaghetti in marinara sauce as a first course in an Italian restaurant, asserting that if they got the sauce just right, they’d do the rest of the food justice.
Another way Sinatra loved a rich tomato sauce was with eggplant Parmigiana. Following his mother’s recipe once again, his favorite version calls for dredging and crisping the eggplant in a pan before layering it in a dish and baking it with Parmesan and mozzarella cheese. Quickly pan-frying the eggplant before it goes in the baking dish turns it lusciously soft and tender by the time it leaves the oven. The combination of crisp and creamy textures is just as irresistible to other fans of this Italian favorite as it was to Ol’ Blue Eyes.
Clams Posillipo takes its name from a Neapolitan neighborhood, but like Frank Sinatra, it’s an Italian-American classic. Littleneck clams with a light tomato sauce enriched with olive oil and a splash of the flavorful broth in which the clams were cooked was a delicious and economical Friday meal in the Sinatra household, and Frank never lost his taste for the dish and swore the West Coast versions just weren’t the same as the clams he remembered in New York.
Although he loved his mother’s recipes, Sinatra also appreciated his father’s skill in the kitchen. One of his favorite dishes to make was veal Milanese, a simple dish of veal pounded thin and rolled in breadcrumbs before pan-frying. A little grated Parmigiano-Reggiano in the breadcrumbs and a twist of lemon at the end were his secret ingredients to a perfect veal Milanese. Carlino’s version also features the lemon wedge that adds just the right tartness to set off the mild, crisp veal.
Sinatra enjoyed Italian wines, but he occasionally enjoyed something a little stronger before or after dinner. Although he liked martinis, the classic Manhattan was always a favorite, especially with a good blended whiskey in place of the standard rye. He also favored two fingers of Jack Daniel’s on ice with just enough water to cover the ice – not too much ice, though, or he’d admonish the waiter that he “wanted to drink it, not skate on it.”
Frank Sinatra was a legendary entertainer on stage or on film, but to his friends and family, he was just as skilled at throwing a lavish party with outstanding food and drinks. As an ambassador for Italian-American dining, he helped shape what America ate, bringing once-exotic foods to the rest of the country along with his incomparable velvet voice.
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