Want to Become a Vegetarian? Think Italian!

Want to become a vegetarian? Think Italian!

As the health benefits of a vegetarian diet become more evident, a greater percentage of the population is choosing a diet void of meat. While a vegetarian diet is a good choice for people who want to lose weight, lower their risk of chronic illnesses, and lead an overall healthier lifestyle, many fall short of the goal. One of the main reasons people fail to stick to a vegetarian diet is the feeling that they are being cheated or deprived. While you may have no problem eating cereal and fruit for breakfast or a salad and potato for lunch, by the time dinner rolls around you will probably be longing for something a little more substantial. Whether your reason for becoming a vegetarian is moral or health related, it can often be difficult to make such a drastic change in your diet. A vegetarian diet doesn’t have to be bland or bad tasting but it will require a little time and effort on your part in planning meals. By slightly altering some of your favorite meals, you can enjoy a diet that is both delicious and healthy.

Pizza and pasta are both long time favorites of the American diet. Did you know in Italy these dishes are often prepared without the addition of meat? Fresh vegetables play an important part in the Italian diet. Unlike the United States, organic foods are very popular. Most of the vegetables purchased are grown locally without the use of pesticides.
Antipasto, gnocchi, polenta, soup, rice, pasta, and pizza are all foods you can indulge in without deviating from your diet.

Antipasto

Antipasto which means “before the meal”, can be a hot or cold appetizer. It can consist of a cold salad or grilled vegetables. Be sure to choose items that aren’t too filling. Remember, the purpose of antipasto is to tide you over until the main course. Crostini, thin slices of toasted bread, are also a popular appetizer in Italy. Crostini is served year round and topped with many different ingredients such as olives, arugula, sun-dried tomatoes, and eggplant. You can also make a vegetable spread to serve with crostini. The ingredients served with crostini usually consist of whatever vegetables are in season.

Gnocchi

Gnocchi, which are called Italian dumplings, are traditionally made from potatoes. However, there are other variations that use cheese instead, most often Ricotta. Gnocchi are very versatile and can be served as either a main or side dish. There are also types of gnocchi for dessert that contain milk, vanilla, and sugar.

Polenta

Polenta means corn meal in Italian. It is a popular staple throughout Italy especially in the Northern region. The main ingredients in polenta are corn meal, water, and salt. To spice up the flavor of polenta, try adding some mushrooms, corn, cheese, peppers, or cauliflower.

Soups

A good vegetarian soup depends on the broth and homemade is the preferred choice. When preparing the broth you should always saute the vegetables in olive oil. This helps to bring out the flavor and keeps the soup from tasting bland. Once you have mastered how to create the perfect vegetable stock, use the recipe in your rice dishes and pasta sauces too.

Rice

Rice which is an important source of carbohydrates, is used often is side dishes and salads. Risotto is a popular choice among vegetarians. It is rice that is sauteed in oil and mixed with a broth. The combination of cooked rice and broth creates a creamy texture that is delicious. You should use Arborio rice when preparing risotto.

Pasta

You can create an endless variety of vegetarian dishes with pasta. It doesn’t matter if you use fresh or dried pasta. However, when cooking dried pasta, be sure to use plenty of water so the pasta will not stick together. You should also be generous in adding salt while boiling for added flavor. Never rinse pasta while you are draining it. This will remove the starch from the outside of the pasta that helps it to blend with the sauce. With a few simple ingredients such as tomatoes, olives, and garlic you can create a flavorful sauce that won’t leave you yearning for the meatballs. The key to taste again comes from sauteeing the vegetables.

Pizza

There are many variations to the traditional pepperoni pizza that you can indulge in. In America, the choices for pizza toppings have grown immensely over the years. Forget about the pepperoni and sausage, many restaurants now sell specialized pizzas such as vegetarian or Hawaiian. You can also make your own pizzas and use ingredients that are popular in Italy. Red onion, tomato, arugula, rosemary, oregano, artichoke, eggplant, and almost any type of cheese are popular pizza toppings in Italy. Try different combinations and create your own recipes.

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