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Dining Out, Italian Style

For anyone counting his or her carbs, it comes as good news that Italian food is a lot more than pizza and pasta with red sauce. Italy has a rich and varied culinary heritage that goes far beyond the Southern Italian food we're generally become used to.

A Collection of Varied Cuisines

Northern Italian food is reminiscent of French cuisine without the pretensions. It features rich butter and cream sauces, highly developed flavors and carefully prepared fresh ingredients. Tuscan foods are prepared to emphasize the essential flavors of individual ingredients. The signature element in Florentine dishes is spinach, and from the French border to Venice, you’re unlikely to find pasta on the menu at all. Instead, rice dishes called risottos or cornmeal dishes called polenta are the regional starches.

Low-Carb Strategies

There are three basic secrets to enjoying the food at an Italian restaurant while complying with the Atkins Diet:

  • Avoid the usual sides of spaghetti and any dishes that are cornmeal or rice-based.
  • Don’t let the waitperson bring the breadbasket of hot garlic bread or crusty Italian bread. Instead, as a starter, ask for a bowl of olives.
  • Steer clear of breading. Italian chefs probably do more wonderful things with veal than anyone else in the world, but it’s sometimes breaded and battered or floured before being pan-fried. Some chefs bread everything in sight; others limit breading to only a few dishes. So at one establishment you might find the Veal Marsala and Veal Florentine breaded, but not at the place across the street. Ask if you aren't sure or it doesn’t say on the menu.

On the Menu

You'll find many dishes featuring chicken, veal, seafood or pork—or a combination—that offer the essential flavorings that mark Italian food, but without the sides of pasta, rice, or polenta. Some not-to-be-missed foods include prosciutto, a delicious variation of ham that’s usually sliced very thin, and usually served with melon or asparagus. You may see it offered with melon or wrapped around fresh asparagus and served with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese as an appetizer, or layered with veal medallions in Veal Saltimbocca. You'll also find some delicious dishes made with fish, shrimp or other shellfish.

Try This Instead of That

  • Have a seafood salad instead of fried (and battered) calamari.
  • Rather than an appetizer of fried mozzarella sticks, order mixed grilled vegetables or grilled portobello mushrooms.
  • Instead of garlic bread, enjoy a salad of arugula and fennel with shaved Parmesan cheese.
  • Order an antipasto platter (assorted meat, cheese, and marinated vegetables), caponata (eggplant and caper salad) or most other salads instead of baked, bread-stuffed clams.
  • Have an escarole or Stracciatella soup, an Italian version of egg-drop soup, instead of Fettuccine Alfredo.
  • Enjoy one of the roasted or grilled seafood dishes instead of linguine with clam sauce or deep-fried calamari.
  • Have a grilled chicken breast or pork loin in place of any risotto dish.
  • Order Veal or Chicken Piccata or Scaloppini (with lemon and capers), instead of Veal, Chicken or Eggplant Parmesan.
  • To end the meal, order caffè breve, made with half and half, instead of cappuccino, made with milk.

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