Meatless Italian Food for a New Generation

November 28th, 2016

headshotsquareWe’re always on the lookout for new twists on meatless eating, so we couldn’t possibly resist registered dietitian Alexandra Caspero Lenz‘s new cookbook “Fresh Italian Cooking for the New Generation.” After all, it’s a book about pasta! We asked Lenz what’s new about the recipes her book provides.

Tell us a little about your background. What makes you so passionate about vegetarian and Italian food?

I grew up with an Italian father and Danish mother, so food was (and is) the center of everything. We were the family that was talking about lunch at breakfast. My mom adapted most of my Dad’s family meals for busy weeknights, and we enjoyed Italian food most days of the week. Of course, I didn’t realize it was a different cuisine, it was just the food I grew up with. I went vegetarian in high school on a whim, then picked it up again in college after reading “Diet for a Small Planet” in an ethics class. My vegetarian beliefs have evolved over the past decade, while I was at first interested in the nutrition aspect, now I’m much more passionate about the animal rights and environmental impacts. My goal is to show that plant-based Italian food is satisfying, wholesome and mouth-watering.

The title of your book is “Fresh Italian Cooking for the New Generation.” What’s different about these recipes that will appeal to this new generation?

To me, the new generation is interested in plant-based eating, even if they don’t consider themselves “vegetarian” or “vegan”. This book aims to show that the Mediterranean way of eating naturally incorporates a lot of plants, without feeling forced or different. The new generation is looking for healthy, quick meals that don’t require hours in the kitchen.

Italian food lends itself very well to being meatless but it also has a reputation for being indulgent. How did you reconcile these two concepts to deliver healthy meatless meals?

Exactly, that’s what I wanted to dispel. Traditional Italian cuisine, while not vegetarian, is heavy on plants. Lots of antipasti, cortoni (side dishes) and pasta with in-season produce. That’s how I grew up eating; we never had alfredo sauce and rarely enjoyed heavy dishes. It was mostly spaghetti with a variety of vegetables. Most of the recipes in this book follow my nutrient-density approach to food. Yes, I ate pasta daily, but it was rarely in excess. Instead of cups and cups of pasta, we were served a smaller portion, rounded out with vegetables and legumes.

What are your favorite recipes to recommend to someone who’s new to eating meals without meat?

I love meals that are naturally vegetarian, that don’t feel forced or trying to replicate a familiar meat dish. I don’t rely much on mock-meats, but instead like to get my protein from beans, lentils, tempeh and tofu. My caramelized onion fettuccini is really rich and satisfying, thanks to cooking onions on low until they almost fall apart.

fresh_italian_cookingWith the holidays coming up, what recipes do you recommend that provide something special without relying on meat?

I like presenting recipes in a unique and show-stopping way, much like we approach main meat dishes. For the holidays, this usually looks like a vegetable wellington, stuffed squash or my wild mushroom lasagna in the book. Each is a special meal and looks gorgeous on the holiday table!

Looking for a unique holiday gift? Check out Fresh Italian Cooking for the New Generation and inspire a friend or family member to go meatless without giving up their favorite Italian food.