The Italian Job

7 Jul

I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t like Italian food. There’s nothing that makes a house smell better than a fresh pot of sauce simmering away on the stove all day. But what do you do when bread and pasta make you feel awful suddenly? Let me take a moment to explain why this happens.

Because a good portion of the small intestine is bypassed during the RNY procedure, a meal rich in simple carbohydrates can be a ticking time bomb. Those carbohydrates get digested too quickly and move directly into the bloodstream causing a spike in blood sugar. This is known as “dumping syndrome” because the sugars are literally dumping into the bloodstream. Symptoms include intense nausea, faintness, weakness, sweating and cramping. This is the main reason why RNY patients avoid bread and sweets like the plague. It’s just not worth it. Trust me.

So, as I contemplated Italian food, it seemed to me that I’d have to somehow remove those simple carbohydrates and replace them with something that would be flavorful, filling, and most importantly, rich in some kind of lean protein.

I tackled filled pasta first. There are a lot of different vegetables that work well as a replacement for pasta. For instance, replacing the noodles in manicotti with grilled or sautéed zucchini works well. But early on, I found that the one I liked the most was also the very simplest. I call it the ricotta bowl!

Just cut a small tomato in half, scoop out most of the insides and season it with salt and pepper. Next, fill it with about a 1/4 cup of ricotta (also seasoned) and sprinkle young asiago cheese and fresh parsley on top. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil. You can throw it under a broiler if you wish, but I find it a perfectly refreshing summer snack when served cold. When made with part-skim ricotta, it’s all of about 95 calories when finished.

As for non filled pasta dishes, it was my father who gave me the idea of replacing elbows or penne with cauliflower. Cauliflower is one of those wonderful foods that takes on the flavors of whatever it’s cooked with. Thus, a slow braise in a mix of canned tomatoes, homemade marinara sauce, herbs, sautéed onions, mushrooms imparted so many of the flavors of the dish it was based on that I didn’t even miss the noodles. I usually serve mine over a spoonful of seasoned light ricotta for extra protein, and finish the top with grated parmesan and fresh parsley.

And then there was pizza. Or pizza crust at least. It wasn’t the toppings that were the problem, it was their method of delivery. Whole wheat pizza dough was delicious and rich in complex carbohydrates, but it was so heavy that it often felt uncomfortable to eat it. However, a whole wheat tortilla was just enough to deliver a thin, crispy crust while withstanding the weight of any toppings.

After preheating an oven to 425 degrees, I brush both sides of the tortilla with extra virgin olive oil and then add sauce, herbs, cheese, and whatever might be on hand in the fridge. It’s a great way to get rid of left over cut vegetables and meats. After 10 minutes in the oven, this is what you have:

Nope, I’m definitely not missing out on anything.

Mangia bene!

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