Posts Tagged ‘The Mediterranean Diet’

Casserole Chartreuse of Fresh Salmon, a toast to the Mediterranean Diet

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013


I published a column discussing the long history and solid science behind the Mediterranean Diet on February 8th – but, because on February 25 The New England Journal of Medicine declared it gospel i I’m offering another recipe that mirrors the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, this one with Provencal roots.



I found La Chartreuse de Saumon Frais a la Provence in the 1973 gastronomical darling , “The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth,” in which the great food writer Roy Andries de Groot tires of answering his guests’ questions about the green bottle of liquor on his table after every meal, and flies to France to chase down the mysteries of the 130-herb liquor – Green Chartreuse –  produced by hermits in the Chartreuse mountains.  Only two monks ever know the exact recipe at one time.   Once in the Chartreuse, Mr. De Groot’s senses are hijacked by the bewitchingly faultless meals and critically superb wines presented to him each day by the two women running the small hotel – The Auberge – where he is staying.  The subject of his trip and book are no longer Carthusian Monks but Les Mesdemoiselles Artaud and Girard and their perfect seasonal cuisine of the southeastern corner of France.


This recipe is unusual – unusual to prepare, unusually simple and unusually delicious.  Onions, Boston lettuce, tomatoes and lemons are layered in a sauce pan, and then covered in fish fillets.  The same layers are piled on top of the fish, only in reverse, starting with lemons and ending in onions.  White wine is poured over all; it’s covered tightly, and disappears into a low oven for 2 1/2 hours.  All those vegetables, a bit of fresh fish and a bit of olive oil?  This dish could be the Poster Child for the Mediterranean Diet.



The recipe recommends that you uncover the dish at the table, allowing the fragrant steam to hit your guests in their appetites.  I prepared this with salmon, but Les Desmoiselles also recommend fresh tuna.  The whole ends up being a stewy pile of braised fish and vegetables balmy with lemon, blushing with summer.  (Yes, this would be best made in season, but I welcomed the aromatic lightness of this dinner, even made with leafy grocery store lettuces and vine-ripened tomatoes.)  Crack the baguettes, pour the dipping oil, fill your glasses with wine, and make a toast to the best diet in the world.



Casserole Chartreuse of Fresh Salmon 

La Chartreuse de Saumon Frais a la Provencale

from The Auberge of The Flowering Hearth, by Roy Andries De Groot


serves 4-6




2 pounds tuna or salmon

approximately 1/4 cup olive oil

6 medium onions, thinly sliced

8 medium tomatoes, peeled and sliced

2 medium heads Boston lettuce, washed, dried and shredded

4 lemons, peeled and cut into thin slices

salt and pepper

2 cups white wine




Choose a tightly lidded casserole or enameled iron pot so that it can be used for frying on top of the stove and for braising in the oven, and one that is also handsome enough to come to table as the serving dish.  Set it over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and quickly brown the fish steaks on both sides, then lift them out with a slotted spatula and hold.


Preheat oven to 275 degrees.  Now put into the pot half the slices of onion and let them just gild.  Then add, in neat layers half the slices of tomato, half of the shredded lettuce and half the lemon slices.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Lay the fish steaks on this comfortable bed, then cover them with the same vegetable layers in reverse:  lemon, lettuce, tomatoes, raw sliced onions, and at the end more good sprinkles of salt and pepper.  By now the various juices will have gathered at the bottom of the pot.  Adjust the heat until you hear a merry bubbling from below and let it continue for about 5 to 10 minutes, to reduce the liquid and concentrate the flavors.  Then, add the 2 cups of wine and bring it up quickly to the boil.  When wine is boiling, put on the lid and set the pot in the center of the oven to braise, poach and steam the contents very slowly for about 2.5 hours.  When you bring the pot to the table, do not lift the lid until your guests are assembled – the first puff of the superb bouquet will raise the appetites to a fever pitch.  This dish is equally good hot or cold.


Linguini with Capers and Lemon; The Mediterranean Diet

Friday, February 8th, 2013



Remember the Mediterranean Diet?  Do you still eat like a Greek widow or have you stashed all that away with Atkins and South Beach?

In 1993 Oldways Preservation Trust launched a symposium in conjunction with the Harvard School of Public Health, declaring The Mediterranean Diet the optimal diet for good health.   We were still living with no-fat Puritanism then; it was the age of The Snack Well, that monster unleashed by the USDA when in 1977 the U.S. Senate changed the warning on their Dietary Goals to, “for good health, reduce fat.” All fat.  Even the good stuff. (Gifford Dun.  A symposium:  Dietary Fats, Eating Guidelines, and Public Policy.  The American Journal of Medicine, Volume 113, supplement 9B)

The Mediterranean Diet, as put forth by Oldways and Harvard, reclaimed not just a healthy way of eating but a healthy way of living, one that celebrated good food, particularly fresh vegetables, fruits, olive oil and fish, and one that wasn’t shackled to fat content.

Dun Gifford founded Oldways the year he launched the Mediterranean Diet.  By all accounts, Gifford was an uber-charismatic man who lived many lives:  He survived the Andrea Doria sinking as a child, was legislative assistant to Edward Kennedy, and campaign coordinator for Robert Kennedy.  Gifford was beside Robert Kennedy in the Ambassador Hotel kitchen when Kennedy was shot, and was one of the group who wrestled Sirhan-Sirhan to the ground.

In the 1980‘s, few people described themselves as foodies; glassblowing and pottery were artisanal, not food.  But Gifford had traveled extensively in Greece, Italy and Spain, and was part-owner of the Harvest restaurant in Cambridge.  He became passionate about the beautiful food he had experienced in his Mediterranean travels, and convinced of its cultural merits.  Gifford was determined to defeat the 1980‘s trend that made dining an unpalatable, exhaustive game of fat hide-and-seek.  He wanted to revive not only the nutrition, but the culture these foods symbolized: slow, respectful meals among friends, wine included.

Gifford died in 2010, but his partner Sara Baer Sinnott continues the Oldways work.  “Health through heritage,” is the banner still snapping at the Oldways offices on Beacon St. in Boston’s Back Bay.

Here are some interesting anecdotes about the Mediterranean Diet:  The first study recognizing that something was going on in southern Europe was done by the Rockefeller Foundation in 1948.  Greece had invited the foundation to do a post-war analysis of Crete, examining if industrialization may or may not be a fit there.  It was a “comprehensive survey of the demographic, economic, social, health, and dietary characteristics” of the members of 1 out of every 150 households, run by Leland Allbaugh, published as a monograph in 1953. (Marion Nestle, Mediterranean diets:  historical and research overviews.  The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, volume 61, number 6(s).)

In that study Greek Red Cross nurse volunteers inventoried and weighed the kitchen contents of 128 Cretan households for periods of seven to ten days, concluding that “olives, cereal grains, pulses, wild greens, and herbs, and fruits, together with limited quantities of goat meat and milk, game, and fish have remained the basic Cretan foods for forty centuries, no meal was complete without bread…Olives and olive oil contributed heavily to the energy intake…food seemed literally to be ‘swimming in oil.’  Wine was consumed with the midmorning, noon, and evening meals.” (Nestle)

In the early 1960‘s Cretans had one of the lowest incidences of chronic disease and the highest life expectancy in the world; the Mediterranean Diet (capital M, capital D) “is used in practice to refer to dietary patterns” these families were putting on their tables in those years.  (Nestle)

American physiologist Ancel Keys, developer of “K-rations,” was at Oxford University in 1951, and was invited by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to chair their first conference on nutrition in Rome.  When Keyes asked a Roman Physiologist about the new epidemic of coronary vascular disease, the Italian answered, “we don’t have that here.”  Alarms rang for Keyes, and he scurried to the Mediterranean with his wife to take random serum cholesterol levels.  He found olive oil running in their veins, metaphorically, except for members of the Rotary Club, who were eating a heavier diet of red meat. (Keys Ancel, Mediterranean Diet and public health, personal reflections, Supplement to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, volume 61, number 6(S).)

These observations moved Keyes to the Seven Countries Study, the first epidemiological longitudinal study linking diet to coronary heart disease.  Keys remained a lifelong advocate of the Mediterranean Diet, and maintained a second home in Southern Italy.  Here he describes his interpretation of the Mediterranean diet, as practiced in his village:

“The heart of what we now consider the Mediterranean diet is mainly vegetarian:  pasta in many forms, leaves sprinkled with olive oil, all kinds of vegetables, in season, and often cheese, all finished off with fruit, and frequently washed down with wine…No main meal in the Mediterranean countries is replete without lots of verdure.”  (Keys)

Oldways Preservation Trust understood not only the nutritional legitimacy of the Mediterranean Diet but also its power to preserve cultures: by purchasing couscous and artisanal pastas from countries that hem the Mediterranean, a consumer helps preserve those cultural traditions.

But Oldways has expanded beyond the Mediterranean.  Having developed “Heritage Food Pyramids” for different cultures – Asian, Latino, Vegetarian and African – Oldways hopes to remind or re-introduce these groups to foods and a way of eating that is their heritage, dishes that have sustained these people for centuries and from which they perhaps have been distanced.  In response to National African Heritage and Health week in early February, Olways ran programs in fifteen different cities promoting the African food pyramid, and teaching its recipes.

Oldways works with consumers, health professionals, nutritionists, scientists, journalists, chefs, food professionals, and government policy makers.  Oldways holds conferences, symposiums, and culinary overseas trips in which they introduce food professionals to “nourishing traditions around the world.”  A recent trip to the island of Pantellaria introduced guests to the nutritional benefits of capers, for which the island is renowned.  Capers, even in the small amounts that season meat or pasta, are a great source of antioxidants, flavonoids, and vitamins.

There are zillions of caper and pasta dishes that look more beautiful, with tomatoes and basil that aren’t in season now, but I think this pasta dish is faultless, sharp with that beloved vitamin C and flavonoid duo, lemon and capers, the exact dinner to send a sharp elbow into winter’s side, and gain some Mediterranean points.


Linguini with Capers

serves 4


4 tablespoons olive oil

2 shallots, chopped

1/2 cup white wine

3 tablespoons capers, rinsed if salted, or drained from brine

juice and peel from two lemons

red pepper flakes


1 pound linguini

1/2 cup parmesan or pecorino cheese



Heat a large skillet to medium heat.  When the oil is hot, add shallots, and cook until softened.  Pour in wine, and reduce heat to a simmer for five minutes.  Add capers, lemon peel, lemon juice, and red pepper flakes, and swirl around in pan for a minute on medium heat.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add linguini and cook accordingly.  Drain, reserving a few tablespoons of the water.

Add cheese to the lemon and caper mixture, and pour all over pasta.  Toss well, adding the reserved water.  Keep tossing until all is blended and the sauce has become creamy.  Serve immediately.  Add extra cheese if desired.