A Host Mom

In Otranto thesis the most common pasta shape. "Little ears"

In Otranto thesis the most common pasta shape.
“Little ears”

In Puglia, they eat raw octopus.  Fishermen net it, bring the animal to shore, turn the head inside out, pound it against the rocks. Then they eat it. Crudo. With a few drops of lemon juice.

We don’t do raw octopus, but I often prepare the traditional pasta of Puglia, Orechiette with Rape.  Orechiette, by the way means ‘little ears.’

Here’s my recipe:

Cook a pound of semolina orechiette according to package directions.

Meanwhile, wash and then steam a bunch of rape* for about 3 minutes.  The rape should remain rather bright green. Let the vegetables cool a bit before roughly chopping the bunch into small pieces.  Small pieces give better pasta coverage.

Please note that you can use any strong-flavored greens, such as mustard greens, collards, broccolini, kale, and chard in addition to or in place of the rape.

Pour 1/2 cup of good green olive oil (preferably from Puglia) into a large skillet.  Heat the oil add 3-5 cloves of chopped garlic.  When the garlic begins to be transparent, add the chopped greens, being careful to get out of the way of hot oil when it spits as you add the moist greens.  Stir and continue to cook for about 4 minutes.

When the orechiette are cooked drain. Be sure to reserve 1/2 cup of the water in case you need it; the reason you would need it would be because you didn’t use enough olive oil to lubricate the greens and pasta.  Add pasta to the vegetable and oil. Stir from the bottom so as not to break any of the pasta. If needed add the 1/2 cup reserved pasta cooking water.

Season with salt and pepper, as you like.

Variations:  Add a can of anchovies to the garlic and oil mixture.  Add  1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes.


soup fills you up

Barley is such a good food for weight loss for two reasons. 1) It fills you up; there’s a lot of density and bang for the calorie in barley.  2) When cooked, barley is a slippery, so it gives you a rich feel in your mouth and is very satisfying.

When I lost my first 20 pounds I did it by eating a barley salad (recipe in future post)everyday for lunch.

This soup is very light and uplifting, simple to make, and filling.

Make it in the morning so it’s ready for lunch.

Pack a portion in a thermos to take to work.  Serve the rest for dinner.  You can add more water, if needed. Makes enough for 4 servings.


  • 1/2 cup barley rinsed well and soaked overnight in 2 cups water
  • 1 carrot cut into cubes
  • 2 stalks celery cut into cubes
  • 1 shitake mushroom dry or fresh.
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • 1 t olive oil.
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 1 t shoyu (special Japanese soy sauce, use regular soy or tamari if you don’t have shoyu)
  • 1-2 T chopped parsley
  • Put barley and water into a soup pot.  Bring to a boil. Turn off heat and let sit overnight. In the morning add an additional 2 cups water and the vegetables.   Bring to a boil, turn down heat  and put a lid on the pot and simmer for 15-20 minutes.  Add the garlic, olive oil, salt and shoyu. Simmer for another 5 minutes. Garnish with chopped parsley.

100 calories per serving

Options: Add a pinch of fresh rosemary/ or a sage leaf/ or a chopped tomato

By sunny, I am referring to the warm color of this rich, satisfying soup. Both the color and the weight of the soup go straight to the core of your body, stoking up a delightfully warm and protective sensation; so good for us human being in cold weather.

My “sunny” recipe is a variation on the traditional thick bean soup made in Lucca, my ancestral Italian home town. The traditional soup includes cabbage/kale, lots of olive oil,  and a chunk of day-old crusty bread at the bottom of the bowl.  I’ll include an option for serving the soup the traditional way at the end of the recipe.

Less oil than the traditional Tuscan bean soup


prepare ahead:

2 cups cooked pinto, small brown or cranberry beans ( I prefer dry beans which have been cooked in the morning or on the previous day; canned beans are acceptable)

bean cooking water (Italians call this “slippery water”: the water saved from cooking the dry beans;  toss the water from canned beans since it is usually very salty)

1/2 cup barley soaked overnight in 2 cups of water and a pinch of sea salt. Cook the barley for 30 minutes in the soaking water..  Drain, saving the barley water.

  • 2 cloves garlic chopped
  • 1 small onion chopped
  • 3T olive oil

Heat olive oil in soup pot.  Add onions, stir and cook 2-3 minutes.  Add chopped garlic, stir and cook another 3 minutes.

*OPTIONAL NON-VEGAN ingredient- Add 1 t chopped pancetta or prosciutto to the garlic and onion mixture

While the onions and garlic are cooking, dice & slice:

  • 1 carrot diced
  • 1 stalk celery diced
  • 5 button or crimini mushrooms sliced

Add the vegetables to the onion and garlic. Stir.  Put a lid on the pot.  Lower the heat.  Cook about 5 minutes, lifting the lid and stirring every minute or so.  Add a pinch of sea salt.

Meanwhile, cut chunks the size of half-a-thumb:

2/3  to 1 cup butternut squash. You can use another variety of winter squash–buttercup, curry or hodaiko– if that’s what you have in the house.

Stir squash into the sauteeing vegetables. Cook 2 minutes.

Add the beans and 2 cups of liquid–bean cooking water, barley water, regular water–into the soup pot with the vegetables.

*OPTIONAL NON-VEGAN ingredient: Add a 2-inch square of parmesan heel ( the hard part of the cheese you can’t grate)

Cook the soup for 45 minutes with a lid.  Put the pot on top of a heat deflector so as not to burn the bottom of the soup. Stir every once in a while.  While the soup is cooking, add about 1/2 t sea salt.  Add more liquid, too, if needed.  Soup is neither as thick as mud nor as thin as broth.

*OPTIONAL VEGAN ingredient: Add a dash of liquid smoke…just a dash..and don’t use the liquid smoke if you’ve used the pancetta or proscuito.

After 45 minutes take your potato masher in hand and stampede it around the soup pot, breaking up the butternut squash chunks and some of the beans. Serve immediately or turn off the heat and wait until suppertime.  If dinner’s more than a four hours away, cool off the soup and put it in glass jars and into the refrigerator. Reheat at mealtime.

Before serving, heat the soup.  Add the cooked barley during the last minute of heating. Ladle “sunny” soup into big flat soup bowls, or pasta bowls. Garnish with a sprig of parsley and an optional drizzle of olive oil.   Sprinkle sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper on top to taste.

4 servings. 320 calories each serving.


Don’t use barley.

Steam and drain a cup of finely chopped cabbage, kale, collards. Potatoes, thinly sliced are another delicious addition.

Slice stale bread in thin diagonal strips.  Rub the bread with garlic. 

Pour a good amount of great green extra-virgin olive oil in the bottom of each soup bowl. Line soup bowl with bread. Add a bit more oil on top of bread.  Scatter the steamed cabbage. Ladle the “sunny” soup over the bread.  Serve with more olive oil.

Tangy surprise at bottom

I first tasted this soup at a macrobiotic Thanksgiving Party and it really wowed everyone at the table. It’s creamy, like full freight heavy cream, and it’s white, like cream, but not a speck of milk product in it–and very, very little oil  The leek saute buried at the bottom has a sour-ish snap.  At first I thought: lemon. But no.  When I asked the cook–Mary from Alaska–she showed me the sauerkraut saute she added to the bottom of the bowl.

For the Soup:

1/2 large head of cauliflower ( whole head if it’s small)

1/2 bulb celery root, if it’s as big as a grapefruit. Use an entire celery root if it’s the size of a tennis ball.

Big pinch of sea salt.


Scrub the celery root well with a vegetable scrubber.  I don’t peel it but rather trim any stubborn dirty parts.  Your option to-peel-or-not-to-peel. Cube the root into 1-inch dice.

Trim away the green leaves and minimize the root of the cauliflower.

Chop cauliflower and put in a soup pot with the celery root cubes.  Cover vegetables with  water to about 1/2 inch over the top of the chopped veggie. Add salt.  Bring to boil and simmer, covered with a lid, for about 35 minutes, until cauliflower is very soft.

Pass soup mixture through a food mill ( passata verdure, in Italian) or puree cooked cauliflower in a blender.  Pour the soup back into the soup pot.

For the Surprise at the bottom of the bowl:

1 thick leek ( White and about half the green part)  cut in half, rinsed well, and thinly sliced into half moons.

Sea salt

2T olive oil

3 T sauerkraut

Be sure to rinse sand out of the leek. Heat oil in a large skillet.  Add leeks and pinch of salt.  Saute until soft and slippery.  Squeeze excess water from sauerkraut and add to leeks.  Turn off heat.

To Serve:

Divide leeks into four bowls. Pour soup over leeks.  Garnish with watercress or dill. Sprinkle fresh cracked pepper on top, if you like pepper. Or a squeeze of Vietnamese red pepper sauce.

4 servings/ 80 calories a serving

a lot like polenta

My daughter , husband and I just adore this whole grain concoction and have christened it a comfort food.   It’s sweet-ish; whole grainy; bouncy between the teeth; great for dinner with a savory side dish and again for breakfast with syrup or fruit.  For a simple, healthy, low-fat, low-calorie and almost-Mexican meal, serve  Sweet Rice Corn Bread with black beans (soup or a side) and a cilantro, tomato and avocado salad.


1 cup sweet brown rice, rinsed and soaked 3 hours or overnight in 2 cups of water (available at health food stores; sweet brown rice is used to make mochi)

  • pinch sea salt
  • 1 cup  coarse ground polenta
  • 2 additional cups of water
  • 1 T corn oil
  • 1/2 cup currants or raisins
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds, rinsed and toasted*

Bring rice, soaking water, 2 cups additional water  and sea salt to a boil.  Add polenta in a slow stream, stirring constantly so polenta incorporates with water and rice without lumping.  Put pot on a heat deflector.  Place lid on the pot. simmer  for 40-45 minutes, lifting lid to stir often so that rice does not sink and stick to the bottom of the pot.

Combine the rest of the ingredients and add to the corn/rice mix.  Cook an additional 3 minutes, stirring.

Pour into 7 X 10 glass pan, or a 9” glass pie pan. Cool.  Slice.  Serve. To serve the “bread” hot,  pan saute cut serving -size pieces in a hot cast iron skillet or on a grill.

6 servings/ 200 calories each

* to toast sunflower seeds: put seeds in a pan over medium heat. Stir occasionally with wooden spoon until the seeds are lightly toasted.

This is a very special family recipe from Tuscany. If there’s only one cookie to be baked for Christmas at our house, this is it. The dough uses plain  white flour, white sugar and eggs–not the usual fare for this blog.  But it’s Christmas and we go off the Good Whole Food wagon every now and then.  Enjoy with espresso, tea, or vin santo. Plus, as an added benefit: your house will smell delicious for days.

Mix & cream together:

  • 1/2 pound butter
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 6 eggs

Sift together dry ingredients and add to butter & eggs:

  • 7 cups flour, or more
  • 1 t sea salt
  • 6 t baking powder

Mix together and add at the end:

  • 1/2 cup whisky
  • 2 t vanilla
  • *1 oz anise extract OR 1/3 t anise oil

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour baking sheets.  Divide dough into 4 equal pieces.  I weigh the pieces to be sure they are even.  Shape into loaves that are 1” high and 2 1/2 “ wide.

Bake 30-35 minutes.  Cool slightly.  Cut diagonally into biscotti.  Put slices back onto the tray for a second bake.  Bake an additional 15 minutes.

* never use old extract, it has no life, no taste.

When my daughter was a junior Olympic gymnast, she did back flips, front tucks, stag leaps and other spectacular moves on a 4” wide balance beam.  We fed her this soup to help keep her glued onto the beam, focused and poised.  Today, no longer a gymnast but a college student, she asks me to make this ‘centering’ soup for her during stressful exam sessions because it makes her feel warm, deep, sweet, stabile…and safe.

For adults, especially around the holidays and after any occasion of overeating cookies and chocolate, this simple butternut soup is a delicious balm.  It de-stress; it evens out sugar spikes by nourishing the pancreas (and therefore reduces the urge to eat more sugar); it soothes the digestive track.


  • 4-6 cups cubed, de-seeded, and peeled butternut squash ( buttercup and hokkaido squash are good too)
  • water to cover (usually about 4-6 cups)
  • 2 pinches of sea salt
  • 1/2 medium onion, sliced
  • 3 slices of ginger
  • garnish: choose parsley, scallion greens, watercress sprig, or croutons

Put everything in to a soup pot. Put lid on pot. Bring to  boil.  Lower heat.  Simmer for 30 minutes. Remove and discard ginger slices. Puree soup  in a passataverdure ( hand food mill) or in a blender. For thinner soup add water. Return soup to the soup pot. It’s good to let it sit in the soup pot for an hour or so before reheating if you use a blender: the blender is electric and quite aggressive.  The soup has a chance to become ‘unexcited.’ Garnish & serve.

4 servings: 78 calories a serving

The world is in good hands.


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