Monday, November 12, 2012

Eating Forever

Michael Pollan forever changed the way we think about food when he cited seven words in his book In Defense of Food: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." That, more or less, is the short answer to the supposedly incredibly complex and confusing question of what humans should eat to be maximally healthy. A little meat won't kill you, although it's better approached as a side dish versus a main, and it's better to eat whole fresh foods rather than processed food products. 

It's been a few years since it was published but its influence persists. However my attitude was reinvigorated after reading this recent article about people from a small island in Greece who seem to literally forget to die. Their diet follows closely with Michael's mantra. It made me once again think about food, my health and our society. So I'm recommitting to Meatless Mondays, proving to myself that meat really can be just a side dish and how much I really do enjoy eating my veggies. 

This dish is great for a cold Fall night, and wonderful when entertaining, as you can assemble it ahead of time and then just pop it in the oven when your guests arrive. All you need is a salad and a bottle of red wine to complete the meal. It's been my "go-to" dish this Fall, making it for at least a half-dozen occasions. It's easy enough to whip up and drop off at a friend's house as a surprise dinner and it's so comforting and delicious they'll praise you for it. It also happens to be healthy if anyone cares. And people always tell me they hate licorice and therefore won't eat fennel. Well, guess what? I hate licorice but that doesn't mean you don't like fennel. 

It actually cooks down into this caramelized mess of goodness. You add in the onions and the radicchio and you end up with this rich and earthy mixture. Add in the gooey ricotta and Fontina and the fresh parsley and you're pretty much golden. If I could eat like this every night, I wouldn't want to die either. 

I'm also going to follow closely the other tips for "healthy living" from these islanders:
1) Take more naps
2) Have more sex
3) Drink less soda
4) Drink 2 - 4 glasses of wine a day, preferably with friends
If that isn't the secret to a happy life, I don't know what is! 

Ricotta-and-Fontina-Stuffed Shells with Fennel and Radicchio
from Food& Wine

2 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium sweet onion, thinly sliced
2 lbs fennel bulbs, thinly sliced
2 medium heads of radicchio (10 oz total), chopped
12 oz jumbo pasta shells
2 cups fresh ricotta cheese
6 oz Italian Fontina cheese, shredded (1 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 large eggs, beaten
3 cups marinara sauce (I like Rao's jarred sauce)
1/2 cup heavy cream

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a deep, large skillet, melt the butter in the oil. Add the fennel and onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally until lightly browned, about 15 minutes; add water as needed to keep the vegetables from scorching. Add the radicchio and cook until very soft, about 10 minutes, adding water as necessary. Scrape the vegetables into a bowl and let cool.
2. Meanwhile, in a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and cool under running water. Pat the shells dry. 
3. Fold the ricotta, 1 cup of the Fontina and the parsley into the vegetables and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the eggs.
4. In another bowl, mix the marinara sauce with the heavy cream. Pour 1 1/2 cups into a 9x13-inch baking dish. Stuff each shell with a slightly rounded Tbsp of the filling and nestle the shells in the sauce as close together as possible. Drizzle 1 cup of the remaining sauce on top and sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup of Fontina. 
5. Bake shells for about 40 minutes, until golden. Let rest for 15 minutes. 

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