Italian cuisine is often perceived as being unhealthy due to the popularity of dishes like pizza, pasta, and gelato.
However, Senior Chef de Partie Claudio Simone, who grew up in Italy and has extensive culinary experience, insists that Italian food can be healthy and full of nutritious ingredients.
Claudio has worked at various esteemed establishments throughout Italy and Ireland, honing his expertise in creating healthy and flavorful meals.
He emphasizes that true Italian food is not supposed to be processed and relies heavily on fresh and seasonal ingredients, such as tomatoes, herbs, and vegetables.
He says: “These ingredients are packed with essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are crucial for a healthy diet. We also incorporate olive oil, which is high in monounsaturated fats and has been linked to numerous health benefits.”
Claudio adds while some Italian dishes are known for their heavy sauces, the majority use simple cooking methods that preserve the natural flavors and nutrients of the ingredients: “For instance, grilled or roasted vegetables are a popular side dish, and seafood is often cooked with minimal seasoning to let the natural flavors shine.”
Currently the Kitchen Supervisor at The Westgate Hotel in San Diego, California, he has worked as Senior Chef de Partie at The Farnham Estate Luxury Hotel, in Cavan Town, Ireland.
Claudio grew up in a small town north of Rome where he learned about healthy Italian dishes: “It was where my passion for cooking began. I would go wild mushroom-picking with my Dad. I did also love sport. I used to play football but switched to basketball because it was a bit less violent! Football can get that way in Italy!”
He was just five years old when he started creating his own meals: “I was in the Boy Scouts and when we went to Summer Camp we would take it in turns to cook the meals. Everyone seemed to love mine and I enjoyed making people happy with food.”
The first meal he cooked for his family included a basic tomato sauce: “My family were very appreciative and it was a hit! It gave me the passion to continue.”
Claudio points out that pasta, which is often criticized for its high carbohydrate content, can actually have health benefits: “Many Italian dishes, including pasta, are made with whole grains that are high in fiber and essential nutrients. We also use whole grains like polenta, risotto, and farro, which are good for you.”
Claudio says Italian cuisine offers multiple vegetarian and vegan options: “Bruschetta, Caprese salad, and minestrone soup are all very tasty vegetarian dishes. They are typically low in calories and high in nutrients, making them a healthy choice for those looking to incorporate more plant-based meals into their diet.”
He adds: “The key to healthy Italian cuisine is to focus on fresh, whole ingredients and simple cooking methods. I love creating menus and coming up with ideas for large groups.
“I find joy in bringing happiness to people through food. While Italian cuisine may not always be the first choice for those looking to eat healthy, it can be a delicious and nutritious option when prepared properly.”