If your idea of healthy eating excludes pasta and pizza, you may want to reconsider your options.
"You always hear Italian food is fattening. Italian food is extremely healthy and the Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest lifestyles in the world," DiSpirito tells The Huffington Post Canada.
This isn't to imply that your bowl of spaghetti and meatballs is the absolute best option for dinner, but there are ways to make your Italian meals healthier. Replacing your cooking oil (if you haven't already) with two tablespoons of olive oil or buying fresh mozzarella and skipping out on processed cheeses are all simple ways to get the most health benefits out of Italian cooking, DiSpirito says.
"One of the biggest mistakes people make with Italian cooking is imitating what chefs do on television with olive oil. They hose down every dish with oil and this is making it fattier," he says.
The Mediterranean diet, which is a plant-based diet, includes simple and natural ingredients of tomatoes, olive oil, dark greens and whole grains, according to EatingWell.com. It's also noted as one of the world's healthiest diets. Studies have shown that Mediterranean diets may help with weight loss, better control of blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of depression, according to EatingWell.com.
And if you're out on the town and your usual order of Italian means a deep-dish pizza slice or white pasta topped with cheese, meat and a few greens, opting for a thin crust and choosing grilled chicken are easy ways to cut some fat and calories, according to RealSimple.com.
Here are 5 ways to make your favourite Italian meals healthier, and three recipes from Dispirito's new book:
Replace Cooking Oils With Olive Oil
Chef Rocco DiSpirito suggests replacing all your cooking oils with olive oil and using at least two tablespoons per meal. Olive oil has been known to lower the risk of heart disease -- and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/05/oil-health-benefits-_n_1563407.html">tastes great on salads or as a sauce.</a>
Use Fresh Mozzarella
Fresh mozzarella, DiSpirito says, is usually stored in water and is about 60 calories per ounce.
Sugar-Free Tomato Sauce
Avoid canned tomato sauces with a high sugar content, DiSpirito says. <a href="http://blog.foodnetwork.com/healthyeats/2010/08/19/make-your-own-tomato-sauce/">Making your own tomato sauce</a> lets you control the ingredients.
Cut Down On The Salt
Salt doesn't have to be your main ingredient for flavour, DiSpirito says. A few sprinkles of salt with a mixture of fresh vegetables and cheese will add plenty of taste to the meal.
Choose your pasta wisely. Rice noodles are a healthier pasta option and can contain <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/05/23/healthy-pasta-alternatives_n_1539953.html">anywhere from 0 to 0.7 grams of fibre per serving. </a>
Recipe: Low-Fat Fettuccine Alfredo
<em>Ingredients</em> Salt 8 ounces whole wheat fettuccine 2 cups chopped leeks (white and lightest green parts only), 1 to 2 leeks 1 cup skim milk 1 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated 1 bunch medium asparagus, about 1 pound, peeled from tip to stem with a vegetable peeler until you get thin ribbons Butter-flavoured cooking spray Freshly ground black pepper 2 gratings from a whole nutmeg <strong>Method</strong> 1. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot and add 2 tablespoons salt. Add the fettuccine and cook according to the package instructions for al dente minus 1 minute; set the timer. 2. Place the leeks and the milk in a large microwave safe bowl, cover with plastic, and microwave on high until the leeks are tender, about 6 minutes. 3. Pour the leek and milk mixture into a blender and add three-quarters of the Parmigiano. Process until very smooth. 4. Scrape the contents of the blender into a large nonstick skillet, place over medium-high heat, and bring to a simmer. Once the timer goes off for the pasta, add the asparagus. Cook for 30 seconds, then drain and add the pasta and asparagus to the pan. 5. Cook until the sauce sticks to the pasta, 1 to 2 minutes. Coat with 16 pumps of butter spray and season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. 6. Divide the pasta among 4 plates and sprinkle with the remaining Parmigiano.
Recipe: Baked Ziti
<em>Ingredients</em> Salt 8 ounces whole wheat penne rigate 2 cups no sugar added marinara sauce 16 large fresh basil leaves, torn into bite-size pieces 1 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated Freshly ground black pepper 3/4 cup fat-free ricotta 2 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced into ¼-inch half-moons <strong>Method</strong> 1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. 2. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot and add 2 tablespoons salt. Add the rigatoni and cook for a minute less than the package directions for al dente. Drain the rigatoni and return it to the pot. 3. Add the marinara sauce, the basil, and half the Parmigiano to the pasta. Season with salt and pepper and mix thoroughly. 4. Transfer the mixture to a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish. Dollop the ricotta on the surface of the pasta, place in the oven, and bake until the sauce has coated the pasta, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the oven and scatter the mozzarella evenly over the top of the pasta and sprinkle with the remaining Parmigiano. 5. Turn on the broiler. Place the baking dish on the middle rack of the oven and cook until the cheese is melted and lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes. 6. Divide the pasta among 4 plates.
<em>Ingredients</em> 2 ounces fresh mozzarella Salt 8 organic whole wheat lasagna sheets Olive oil cooking spray 1 (10-ounce) box frozen chopped spinach, defrosted 4 large egg whites 2 cups no sugar added marinara sauce 1 cup fat-free ricotta 1 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated 24 fresh basil leaves, sliced into ¼-inch thick ribbons Freshly ground black pepper <strong>Method</strong> 1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. 2. Place the mozzarella in the freezer. 3. Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot and add 2 tablespoons salt. 4. Add the lasagna sheets and stir once to make sure they don't stick together. Cook according to the package instructions until the sheets are al dente, about 8 minutes. 5. Drain the sheets and run under cold water until cool. 6. Coat a large cookie sheet with 4 seconds of olive oil spray. 7. Spread the lasagna sheets over the cookie sheet in one layer. 8. Squeeze any excess water out of the spinach; place it in a bowl and set aside. 9. Beat the egg whites in a large bowl, using an electric mixer or by hand, until they form medium peaks. 10. Pour the marinara sauce into a large skillet over medium heat; bring to a simmer and simmer for 2 minutes. 11. Turn off the heat. 12. Add the ricotta and half the Parmigiano to the bowl with the spinach. Add all but 2 tablespoons of the basil. 13. Season well with salt and pepper (keeping in mind that the egg whites have no seasoning at all). 14. Fold in the beaten egg whites. 15. Place about 2 tablespoons of the cheese mixture on the top third of the pasta sheets and gently roll them into cylinder shapes. 16. Remove the mozzarella from the freezer and cut the chunk in half so there is a flat side to make slicing easier. 17. Cut the mozzarella into 8 thin slices. 18. Coat a 13 x 9-inch baking dish with 2 seconds of cooking spray. 19. Cover with a thin layer of tomato sauce and place the rolls on top, seamside-down. 20. Gently spoon the remaining sauce over the cannelloni, sprinkle with the remaining Parmigiano, and cover the pan with aluminum foil. 21. Place in the oven and bake until the egg whites are cooked and the cheese mixture is hot in the middle, about 6 to 8 minutes. 22. Remove the baking dish from the oven and place a slice of mozzarella over each roll, then place the dish back in the oven uncovered to melt the cheese, about 2 minutes.