Brain Healthy Cooking in Tuscany: New recipes from Sempre Sano
Teach brain healthy cooking in Tuscany? Join a panel of distinguished experts on longevity and nutrition to talk about brain health during Sempre Sano? I couldn’t say “Yes!” fast enough when Dr. John Tew invited me to participate in Sempre Sano — Italian for Forever Healthy — an incredible wellness conference held each year at the hilltop hamlet of Monteverdi in Tuscany, Italy.
What we learned at Sempre Sano
I’ll be writing soon what I learned from my colleagues about the latest research on healthy aging. Lectures by Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Dr. John Tew, and Dr. Giovanni Vizzini combined cutting edge medicine with inspiring tips for optimal health. For now, all I can say is: meditate daily, do interval training when you exercise (think Tabata and HIIT), and consider the benefits of a whole food, plant based diet. (Read more about the Sempre Sano faculty here.)
Brain healthy cooking in Tuscany
But first, I can’t wait to share a few recipes from the cooking classes I taught at Sempre Sano. One of the highlights, for me, was getting to work with Giancarla Bodoni, the immensely talented executive chef at Monteverdi. Giancarla is a master at making artisanal pastas, a big fan of spiralizing vegetables, and is devoted to clean, organic products. Together, we were like two peas in a pod.
By combining my favorite brain healthy ingredients with Giancarla’s Tuscan accents, we created a menu of recipes that will taste just as good in your own kitchen. In case you are wondering: How a Brain Works cooking class teaches Alzheimer’s prevention.
5 top techniques I learned from Chef Giancarla in the Monteverdi kitchen
- Anchovies + cannellini beans = a simply divine soup. Ginacarla has an ingenious way to amp up the flavor and brain healthy nutrition of a simple cannellini bean soup. Anchovies (from a tin, packed in olive oil) are first sautéed with aromatics — onions, garlic and rosemary. Canned cannellini beans and water are added, and after a brief simmer, the soup is pureed until creamy (without the need to add cream.) The anchovies melt into the background, adding umami and depth of flavor. The anchovy flavor can be subtle or bold — you decide by playing with how many of the tiny, omega-3 packed fishes to add. This Tuscan Cannellini Bean Soup with Anchovies is a soup that turns anchovy haters into anchovy lovers.
- Roast your lemons. Lemons are sliced, brushed with olive oil and cooked in a grill pan over low heat until brown and caramelized. Chopped grilled lemons add a bright ping of flavor to so many savory dishes — think grain salads, simply prepared salmon and chicken. We chopped up the roasted lemons, rinds and all, and folded them into my Moroccan Forbidden Rice Salad, which we made from the black rice (riso nero) grown in the lush Po valley region of Italy. Just be sure to choose organic lemons; you’ll want to eat the rinds. (Read here the 5 reasons why black rice is one of my favorite brain healthy grains.)
- Be gentle with your extra virgin olive oil. Giancarla adores finishing her dishes with the EVOO from local purveyors. She drizzles it onto soups, over spiralized veggies, and bakes it into her cakes. But when cooking with EVOO, she is careful not to use intense heat. High heat cooking can break down the brain healthy polyphenols in olive oil and transform some of the healthy unsaturated fats into unstable fatty acids.
- Cauliflower power. Just like me, Giancarla is crazy for cauliflower. We both make cauli couscous and roast heads of it whole before slicing into “steaks.” Giancarla taught us her drop dead simple Salsa Verde for spooning atop cauli steaks. And have you tried Cauliflower Risotto? Giancarla tops hers with the zuccinni blossoms that are so abundant in Italy in the fall. (Recipe coming soon!)
- Quinoa for dessert. I am a huge fan of quinoa for its nutty flavor, chewy texture, and complete profile of amino acids. But I had never considered turning quinoa into a satisfying dessert. Giancarla combines quinoa and chia seeds, another great source of omega-3s, with freshly made cashew milk for a beautiful, comforting pudding. We topped our puddings with the black Tuscan grapes that were in season, but back home in Wyoming I use whatever fruit is in season — berries, mango, or even frozen acai puree. Give it a try at home: Quinoa Chia Seed Pudding with Passionfruit and Grapes.
Sempre Sano 2018
Great news! We have set the dates for Sempre Sano in 2018 and I am thrilled to be returning to Monteverdi next November. The Sempre Sano team is putting together another incomparable seven day experience that includes lectures, meditation, exercise, nourishing meals, cooking classes, and excursions all around the Tuscan countryside.
Won’t you join me? Giancarla and I will be dreaming up a whole new menu next fall. And, since truffle season will be in full swing, you can bet we’ll be discussing the health benefits of eating (and foraging for) wild mushrooms.