Wed, Feb 22 2012 at 9:12 AM
I am Italian from Puglia, a region in Southern Italy, where I run a cooking school with the goal to promote the Mediterranean Cuisine & Lifestyle. I would like to say that, at least for my region (but I am sure it's the same in all Southern Italy), it is true that the Mediterranean-style food we eat today is what our grandparents used to eat. There is now even a big trend in our region to bring all those traditions back. Please note that the cuisine that you find in Southern Italy is very different from what you find in the North of Italy. It is different in the ingredients we use and also in the way we prepare them. The Mediterranean-style cuisine Ancel Keys referred to, was not the Italian in general but the Southern one. Also, in all the countries by the Mediterranean sea (Spain, France, Italy, Greece etc) you find a Mediterranean-style cuisine. The principles are the same. But what we actually eat and how we prepare it is different. In Southern Italy we would never use canola oil! I think my mother and grandmother don't even know what it is. We ONLY use extra virgin olive oil for everything, even for sweet. Butter is very rare. We are big producers of extra virgin olive oil....so we use what has been in our tradition for centuries. If you come to Puglia you find olive trees with more than 1000 years every where! Also, we use very little olive oil when we cook....not because we follow any trend, but because we prefer to pour it raw on top! that's when you taste all its flavors. It is true that we make salty olives, anchovies, salami etc. This comes from the fact that in our tradition we don't import anything. We eat only what's local and we preserve food for the season when we can't find fresh things. However one very important principle in our cuisine is that we eat everything in MODERATION. So we eat salami, sweets, pizza, all sorts of things.....but we never eat a whole salami at once and we never eat it every day. Eating those things for us is a special thing that we only do on special occasions and in moderation. As for using spices and herbs.....I could not imagine our cuisine without them. Oregano, rosemary, arugola grow wild everywhere. We don't buy them. For us it's normal to go to the garden pick some bay leaves or rosemary or arugola and add to our food. Our food is not very salty, not only because we add hearbs, but also because our ingredients are so seasonal, fresh and tasty (because we have lots of sun) that we can eat them ....the way they are. Having been brought up by my Grandmothers who taught me everything about food, I can tell you that culinary traditions here have not changed much. Today, in Southern Italy you will never find white bread or white pasta! We still ONLY make bread and pasta from good grains (barley, farro, durum wheat). Traditional local pasta is not made with eggs. Proteins still come mainly from legumes which we eat at least twice a week, from lots of fish that for us is cheaper than meat (which we eat may be once a week). We do eat cheese, but it's very fresh with very little (or NO) salt (i.e. ricotta, giuncata etc). Again olive oil is used for everything and we eat LOTS of vegetables at both lunch and dinner. Finally I would say, that the Mediterranean-style food has to go with a balanced lifestyle. You can't eat healthy food and then ...smoke, or have a stressful or very sedentary life.