A Slice of Italy in Allston

by Megan Maisano

It’s the end of the semester. Motivation for cooking and weekly meal prep is low. Are you yearning for some Italian comfort fare, but don’t want to make the trek to North End? Fear not. This hidden gem will fill your heart and your belly.

As soon as I walked into the restaurant, I felt at home and part of la famiglia. Packed in tightly among 12 tables were families and friends, hunched over their meals in conversation, accompanied by glasses of wine and fresh bruschetta. The small room was filled with stories, laughter, and the smell of warm tomato sauce. I turned to my husband, Andrew, and got a nod of approval. It was our first time at Carlo’s Cucina in Allston.

Snuggled between a Vietnamese and Chinese restaurant on Brighton Ave, Carlo’s Cucina (pronounced coo-CHEE-nah) was nearly full on a Tuesday night. We snagged a table next to the kitchen in the back, with optimal views of the place in action. Paintings of the Italian countryside covered the walls and wisps of white painted clouds dotted the blue ceiling. Servers scooted between tables, waiting their turn to walk through the narrow passes, cracking jokes in Italian with regulars along the way.

The restaurant itself offers a no-frills dining experience. The table is set with paper placemats and napkins, and not much space for elbow room. While the ambience at Carlo’s Cucina may not compare to the gusto of dining in Boston’s North End Italian restaurants, the food will keep us coming back.

As someone who married into an Italian family and once took a cooking class in Tuscany, I like to believe I have developed a taste for authentic Italian food. But just to be sure my taste was true, I invited Andrew along for a second opinion. And let me tell you, we experienced some anguish when deciding what to order – we wanted to try it all! In addition to the usual spread of antipasti (appetizers), primi (pasta dishes) and secondi piatti (protein dishes), there was also a Specialità della Casa section.

While we examined the menu, our server brought us complimentary toasted bread, pimento stuffed olives, and olive oil. We did our best not to overindulge before our meal, but it was hard to pass up the aroma of freshly baked bread and olive oil.

For our antipasti, we ordered the fried eggplant, Melanzane Ripiene ($10). Laid over a large plate was eight inches of crisp eggplant rolled up with ricotta that oozed out of its sides, and topped with marinara sauce and broiled mozzarella that stuck to our forks. It was heavenly. In a rare act of self-control, we asked for a box to save half of this God-sent dish for later.

We decided to skip the primi piatti: with their generous portion sizes, I can’t imagine ordering more than one course here again. For the secondi piatti, we ordered off the specialty menu. I chose the Pollo Gerardo ($20), a chicken Marsala dish with tomatoes, peppers, and olives. Andrew chose the Vitello Carlo ($23), a popular Yelp pick of veal stuffed with artichokes, prosciutto and Fontina cheese, and topped with tomato sauce, mushrooms and sautéed onions.

I’m a sucker for a good Marsala sauce, so the Pollo Gerardo hit the spot. The dish had an appropriately oversized piece of chicken, lightly battered and pounded thin. The Marsala sauce was reduced to a thick texture and while it tasted just fine with the toppings, I missed the earthy sautéed mushrooms that traditionally accompanied it. Perhaps next time I’ll stick with the traditional Pollo Marsala dish ($20). Andrew picked the Vitello Carlo because of his love for artichokes. This dish had a lot going on, in a good way. The combination of flavors from the tender veal, plum tomato sauce, artichokes, and creamy Fontina kept us picking at it long after we had our fill. And while we planned to get desert, our stomachs begged for mercy. Next time, Cannoli… Next time.

Pollo Gerardo and remnants of the Melanzane Ripiene. Photo: Megan Maisano

Pollo Gerardo and remnants of the Melanzane Ripiene. Photo: Megan Maisano

By the end of the night, we had sung happy birthday twice to strangers, clapped, and raised our glasses to their fortune. It felt like we were a part of a large family gathering, spread across tables in a dining room, enjoying home-style comfort foods from our very own kitchen.

If you’re looking for authentic Italian dishes without making the arduous trip to the North End, Carlo’s Cucina is your spot. Make reservations, come hungry, and leave a part of la famiglia.

Carlo’s Cucina Italiana
131 Brighton Ave., Allston, 617.254.9759, http://carloscucinaitaliana.com/

Megan Maisano is a second-year Nutrition Communications student, an RD-to-be, and is generally disappointed by small portion sizes. After traveling and eating her way through 24 countries, Italian cuisine remains her personal favorite.

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Fueling your Performance with Fall Flavors

by Megan Maisano

Gearing up for this year’s Turkey Trot? This month Megan Maisano shares seasonal foods and recipes that will fuel your best performance.

Photo: Megan Maisano

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, it’s not the winter holiday yet, but the season runners have patiently waited for over the last ten months: Fall.

After the heat and humidity of its summer, New England graces us with a pocket of blissful conditions before winter forces us back into the gym. Running just feels more effortless with crisp air, stunning foliage, crunchy leaves to step on, and trendy tights to rock.

The fall is also prime harvest season. So, when you swap your Mango Peach Salsa Yankee Candle with Apple Spice, be sure to do the same with your grocery list. Your palate and your legs will thank you.

Below are a few fall favorites you can count on to fuel your workouts, recover quickly, and perform your best.

Photo: Pixabay

Beets

Nitrates, baby. There is growing evidence on their performance-enhancing effects. While nitrates are found in nearly all vegetables, beetroots take the lead with more than 250 milligrams per 100-gram portion.1 Dietary nitrate is converted into nitric oxide, where it functions in blood flow regulation, muscle contraction, glucose and calcium homeostasis, and mitochondrial respiration. By increasing blood flow and decreasing oxygen needs during exercise, beets may improve your speed and stamina.1-4

This simple, yet hearty, Food Network salad balances the earthy taste of beets with creamy goat cheese and crunchy nuts. Add chicken or quinoa to make it a well-rounded meal.

Photo; Pixabay

Winter Squash

Pumpkins, butternut squash, and acorn squash are all in the same family of winter squash. Compared to their summer squash cousins, they have thick skins which means longer storage life and obligatory decoration on your kitchen counter.

Their bright orange color is a clear indicator that they’re packed with beta-carotene, an antioxidant that will keep our immune system in check and support our vision. But they’re also an excellent source of carbohydrates, potassium, fiber, and vitamin C. Eat before workouts to keep you energized and hydrated, or eat afterwards to replenish glycogen stores and repair muscle tissue.5-9

Don’t toss those pumpkin seeds either! They offer a tasty source of protein, iron, and magnesium – nutrients that must be replenished after strenuous exercise. Bonus — pumpkin seeds are also rich in tryptophan, an amino acid involved in the synthesis of serotonin and melatonin.10-12 Toss seeds on salads, roasted squash, or soup to reap benefits on mood and sleep.

Pumpkin or butternut? Can’t decide? Have both. Try this Food & Wine soup as an appetizer for your post-Turkey Trot meal.

 

Photo: Pixabay

Cabbage

A stomach can be a runner’s worst enemy, but cabbage is a stomach’s best friend. High in fiber, cabbage will keep you feeling full longer and keep your digestion system, ahem, on track. There’s also emerging research on the benefits of probiotics, like cabbage kimchi, on athletic performance via enhanced recovery from fatigue, immune function, and GI function maintenance.13

Still on that Oktoberfest kick? Try this German-inspired Eating Well dish that pairs pork chops with a sweet-and-sour cabbage side. Hefeweizen optional. Prost!

 

Photo: Pixabay

Clementines

When the days get shorter and darker, a fresh clementine can brighten up your day. Get your “Christmas-orange” while it’s in season from late October to early February. The citrus smell that the peel leaves on your hands will keep you feeling rejuvenated through afternoon class. Rich in vitamin C, magnesium, and potassium, these easy-to-peel snacks can help reduce exercise-related oxidative stress, support a healthy immune system, and keep you hydrated.14-17 Vitamin C also plays a role in the production of collagen, which is important for joint and tissue recovery after a workout.14,15

Combine citrus with cinnamon spice after your workout with this One Green Planet breakfast bowl. Bonus—cinnamon has anti-inflammatory effects that may decrease muscle soreness in response to cell damage.19 

Resources:

  1. Murphy, M et al. Whole Beetroot Consumption Acutely Improves Running Performance. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2012;112(4):548-552.
  2. Coleman, Ellen. Reap the Benefits of Beetroot Juice — Evidence Suggests It Improves Heart Health and Athletic Performance. Today’s Dietitian. 2012;14(2):48.
  3. Shannon, Oliver et al. “Beet-ing” the Mountain: A Review of the Physiological and Performance Effects of Dietary Nitrate Supplementation at Simulated and Terrestrial Altitude. Sports Medicine. 2017;47(11):2155-2169.
  4. Peeling P, Cox GR, Bullock N, Burke LM. Beetroot Juice Improves On-Water 500 M Time-Trial Performance, and Laboratory-Based Paddling Economy in National and International-Level Kayak Athletes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2015;25(3):278-84.
  5. Krustrup et al. Sodium bicarbonate intake improves high-intensity intermittent exercise performance in trained young men. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2015;12(25).
  6. Feldman, Donna. Why Sodium-Potassium Balance Is Critical for Better Hydration. com. <https://www.active.com/nutrition/articles/why-sodium-potassium-balance-is-critical-for-better-hydration&gt;. Accessed October 2017.
  7. Mansfield, Beth. Fall Nutrition means Winter Squash! Peak Performance. <http://peakperformance-ca.blogspot.com/2010/10/fall-nutrition-means-winter-squash.html&gt;. Accessed October 2017.
  8. Peternelj, T, Coombs, J. Antioxidant Supplementation during Exercise. Beneficial or Detrimental? Sports Medicine. 2011; 41(12): 10342-1069.
  9. LeBlanc K, Nelson, A. Beta-Carotene and Exercise Performance.: Effects on Race Performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 1999; 31(5):118.
  10. Brown, Mary. Top 11 Science-Based Health Benefits of Pumpkin Seeds. Authority Nutrition. June 2016. < https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-benefits-of-pumpkin-seeds#section1&gt;. Accessed October 2017.
  11. Ristić-Medić et al. Alpha-linolenic acid and cardiovascular diseases. Med Pregl.2003; 56(1):19-25.
  12. Chollet et al. Magnesium involvement in sleep: genetic and nutritional models. Behav Genet. 2001;31(5):413-25.
  13. Pyne et al. Probiotics supplementation for athletes – Clinical and physiological effects. European Journal of Sport Science. 2014; 15(1):63-72.
  14. Economos C, Clay W.D. Nutritional and health benefits of citrus fruits. FAO Corporate Document Repository. 1998. <http://www.fao.org/docrep/x2650T/x2650t03.htm#TopOfPage&gt;. Accessed October 2017.
  15. Shaw et al. Vitamin C–enriched gelatin supplementation before intermittent activity augments collagen synthesis. American Society for Nutrition. 2017;105(1):136-143.
  16. Organic Facts.9 Best Benefits of Clementines. <https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/fruit/clementines.html&gt;. Accessed October 2017.
  17. Adams AK, Best TM. The role of antioxidants in exercise and disease prevention. Phys Sportsmed. 2002;30(5):37-44.
  18. Baur, J. What fall produce should I eat? Runner’s World. 2017;10:p 36.
  19. Mashhadi et al. Influence of Ginger and Cinnamon Intake on Inflammation and Muscle Soreness Endued by Exercise in Iranian Female Athletes. Int J Prev Med. 2013; 4(1): S11–S15.

Megan Maisano, referred to as Megatron by family, is a second-year NICBC student and an RD-to-be. As a marathoner, triathlete, and military veteran, she’s interested in how nutritious food can best fuel endurance performance. She loves to plan and has a special place in her heart for mixed nuts and her pup, Nala.