Q&A with Amy Riolo, Mediterranean Diet advocate and Cookbook Author

This month, we sat down with Amy Riolo, author, chef, television personality, cuisine and culture expert, educator, and Mediterranean Diet expert. We chatted with Amy about how the Mediterranean Diet is part of a healthy lifestyle, what pasta means to her, and how pasta is prepared in foreign countries. Read below for all Amy had to say!

1. We know from your bio that you’re a big advocate of the Mediterranean Diet. Tell us why and what are some of your favorite ways to incorporate these foods into your diet?

When I first went to Southern Italy, I noticed that our family here was very similar to our family there, however over there none of them had the same health problems that we do in America. People were living longer and were just healthier overall. I realized that not only diet, but also lifestyle plays a huge factor in health quality. That’s why I became a Mediterranean Diet advocate decades ago, and wrote many book on the subject. In January, I started a 30 Day Mediterranean Resolution initiative to promote the Mediterranean lifestyle. This online support group features tips and recommendations for making the Mediterranean Diet work for you and is a great resource for Mediterranean-style cooking.

Additionally, I’ve learned that food is so much more than what you buy. It’s important to think about where it comes from and the mentality you have when you buy it, and as you prepare the food and enjoy it. I started thinking this way and incorporating it into my career with my cookbooks.

2. As a Mediterranean Diet advocate, we expect you hear misconceptions about pasta being unhealthy. Can you clarify these and discuss why you recommend eating pasta?

My mission is to prove to people that pasta is healthy. I think this misconception that pasta is unhealthy arises because people cook it improperly or dress it improperly. Usually it’s the unhealthy sugar and sodium laden jarred sauces that get people in trouble – not the pasta. It’s unfair to call pasta unhealthy when you’re adding 30 g of sugar to your pasta with a heavy sauce.

Additionally, last year a survey went out that showed Italians were voted the healthiest people in Europe – and it’s significant to note that pasta is one of their main meals. It’s important that people know Italians eat pasta differently than Americans. They make their own sauce or buy it with good ingredients or instead use vegetables and olive oil to top it instead of sauce. There was also the recent study showing that pasta doesn’t cause weight gain that shows pasta’s health benefits.

I personally eat pasta every day and I think it should be part of everyone’s diets. It’s something I recommend both for pleasure and for health.

3. We know you come from Calabria, Italy. Can you talk a bit about their pasta traditions?

Calabria is really unique because it comes from Magna Graecia which was a part of ancient Greece. They actually had pasta about 4,000 years ago and were using it commonly as part of the diet. Laganon was the type of pasta they ate and it became lagane, which is still a type of pasta they eat today. Cavatelli is their more commonly known pasta that is eaten today.

Pasta is really popular in Calabria and continues to be passed down from generation to generation. Older generations are even helping to teach younger chefs today so that recipes don’t get forgotten. More than just sustenance, the time honored recipes are very closely linked to the cultural identities of specific communities.

4. With both a passion for the Mediterranean Diet and your Italian background, can you share what pasta means to you?

Pasta is my favorite food. It’s something I look forward to eating. I love that it can be something you can either make very quickly or turn into a masterpiece.

Culturally, it means a lot to me too. There are different types of pasta for different times in life. As children we are given pastina as a first food. Sunday dinners and celebrations showcase more intricate recipes and so on. That’s in addition to my love for its flavor, comfort, and texture.

5. With your own culinary and cultural blog, you’ve experienced so many different types of culinary traditions. Do you have a favorite cultural pasta dish?

I don’t have one favorite cultural pasta dish, but I do enjoy finding the most ubiquitous pasta dish wherever I go. For example, I just led a culinary tour in Morocco and loved experiencing their love and use of cous cous. Making it properly there is truly a craft. In Egypt they have a dish called kushari that’s Egyptian rice with pasta, lentils, and a spicy tomato sauce that is absolutely delicious and represents Egypt to me. In fact, I even nicknamed it “Cairo in a Cup” and featured it on the cover of my second book, Nile Style: Egyptian Cuisine and Culture.

I like finding different cultures and it’s a lot of fun for me to explore the cultural dishes each country has.

6. Finally, can you share one of your favorite recipes with us? 

I can share two! Here is my Whole-wheat Ziti with Goat Ragu and my Italian Pasta with Chickpeas.

About Amy Riolo:

As an award – winning, best-selling, author, chef, television personality, cuisine and culture expert, and educator, Amy Riolo is known for sharing history, culture, and nutrition through global cuisine. A graduate of Cornell University, Amy is considered a culinary thought leader who enjoys changing the way we think about food and the people who create it. Amy is a food historian, culinary anthropologist and Mediterranean Diet advocate who makes frequent appearances on numerous television and radio programs both in the United States and abroad, including Fox TV, ABC, CBS, NBC, The Hallmark Channel, Nile TV, The Travel Channel, Martha Stewart Living Radio, and Abu Dhabi Television.  She also created and appeared weekly in ninety second cooking videos entitled “Culture of Cuisine” which air on nationally syndicated news shows on 28 different channels across the United States, totaling a reach of over 300 million  people.

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