I recently had the pleasure of meeting America’s favorite Garden State housewife, Teresa Giudice. Teresa  stars on hit Bravo TV show the Real Housewives of New Jersey and is the proud author of her own book of fairytale feasts, Skinny Italian, which landed itself on the New York Times bestseller list.

The full name of Teresa’s cookbook, co-written by Heather MacLean, is “Skinny Italian: Eat it and Enjoy It – Live La Bella Vita and Look Great, Too!”  This slogan sums up Teresa’s overall message in the book – you don’t have to starve yourself to look sexy!  Skinny Italian is not your typical diet book, but rather a book that attempts to teach one how to cook the REAL Italian way: using fresh, healthful, wholesome ingredients. Teresa wants people to know that you CAN indulge in REAL food and look great too!

I first had the chance to taste these healthful recipes last weekend when Teresa ventured outside of Jersey and took a trip down Interstate 80 to Mount Airy Casino and Resort in the Poconos.  There, Teresa held a book signing and hosted a dinner at Mount Airy’s Italian restaurant, La Sorelle Cucina, which prepared a menu using recipes straight from Teresa’s cookbook.  For $59 a person, Teresa’s guests received a copy of Skinny Italian and feasted on a generous tasting menu of her favorite dishes.  The highlight of the night was, of course, Teresa, who personally greeted each guest, posed for photos, and signed each book.
When I first sat down for dinner, I will admit that I was a little bit nervous to meet Teresa.  After all, even though she is portrayed as a feisty, but loving mother and wife on the Real Housewives, she did coin the phrase “prostitution whore” and infamously flipped over a dinner table at a restaurant following a dispute with former Real Housewives cast mate Danielle Staub. (Teresa also memorably pushed Bravo TV executive and host Andy Cohen on the Season 2 Reunion show!)  With these events in mind, I prayed that no tables would flip if I was brave enough to ask Teresa some questions about this food blog.
When Teresa came to our table, any worries I had quickly dissipated. “Hello,” she said with a smile oozing enough warmth to melt the snow in the sub zero temperatures outside. “What’s your name?”  

Teresa looked even more beautiful in person than I expected.  Complete with a signature New Jersey tan and big hair that shined like silk, Teresa commanded an audience.  She wore a black sequined harem pants suit, something that only Teresa could wear AND look gorgeous in.  (I made a mental note for myself: “Start making Teresa’s Skinny Italian recipes.”)  Her stilettos were silver and matched her diamonds, which sparkled and had a life of their own.  Teresa, who is also infamous for her financial troubles, has said she often wears costume jewelry that looks like the real thing.  Costume or not, the bracelet and ring adorning her hand were the pinnacle of every girl’s dream.  
But the most sparkling thing about Teresa was her warm, vivacious personality.  I introduced myself to her and I told her I would like to write a piece about her cookbook for my blog.  Teresa happily agreed and said we would be in touch.  (I didn’t hold my breath. I am still waiting for Bethenny to get back to me.)  She shook my hand and said how nice it was to meet me.  “Wow,” I thought to myself, “she’s polite too.”  Indeed, Teresa took the time to speak to each guest at the restaurant, pose for photos, sign books with special messages, and converse with each fan. “That’s just how I am,” she would tell me later. I quickly realized that THAT was the real Teresa – a nice, friendly, down to earth girl from New Jersey with the added bonus of having style and class – and enough spirit to flip a table, if she was ever pushed to that point.
When Teresa personally called me days later, my impression of her as a nice girl was solidified.  “Hi Diana,” she said. “This is Teresa.”  And so, Teresa and I proceeded to chat about the things that two things that Italians love most: food and family. 
Teresa, a loving wife and mother of four beautiful girls, dedicated Skinny Italian to her mother and daughters. She credits her parents, especially her mother, with teaching her how to cook the old-school Italian way.  Teresa’s parents, her husband’s parents and her husband were all born in Sala Consilina, near Salerno.  “I’m first generation,” said Teresa, who was conceived in Italy. “My parents took the boat here.”  The family can be seen taking a trip to their native homeland on the Second Season of the Real Housewives of New Jersey. 

Teresa takes pride in cooking healthful meals from scratch for her family. “After I had my third daughter, Milania, Joe started to cook too.”  On the first episode of the second season of the Real Housewives of NJ, Teresa can be seen in her garage with her family, parents and in-laws included, canning over 160 jars of homemade tomato sauce. This technique to preserving homemade sauce is clearly explained in Skinny Italian. 

When I spoke to Teresa, I asked her what all want to know: What is her secret is to looking so good, especially after having four girls?  “I’m on the bike now,” said Teresa. And suddenly, it made sense to me why she sounded a little bit breathless. “We just got it not too long ago.”  Then, being the modest and polite person that she is, she thanked me for the compliment.

Teresa said she is a strong believer in eating healthy and keeping active to maintaining a svelte figure.  “Working out is also really important for your health, for your heart,” she said.  Still, Teresa admitted that as the mother of four young girls, including a 16-month old, she doesn’t always have time to work out.  So she fits in workouts when she can, running and making use of the exercise bike and hand weights that she keeps at the house. “So what would you tell someone who wanted to lose weight?” I asked. “Eat the recipes from my book,” said Teresa. “Cook your own meals and watch your portions. You can have pasta, but just don’t have a large bowl. Have an appetizer portion.” 

Teresa was also excited to tell me she has a new cookbook in the works. “Fabulicious” is scheduled to be released on May 4, 2011.  Unlike Skinny Italian, Fabulicious won’t be so health-centric. Rather, this second cookbook is a collection of Giudice family specialties. “It’s going to have all our family recipes,” said Teresa excitedly, “including lasagna!”

Now, I am not a stranger to Italian cooking.  My grandparents were both from Sicily and worked as chefs at the Gramercy, (the Brownstone of Pittston!) for over 75 years.  I grew up eating real, traditional Italian dishes but I am still really excited to add Teresa’s Skinny Italian to my library of cookbooks. Why?  Because it’s fun, young, easy to understand and filled with signature Teresa-isms.  (I laughed out loud when I read the heading in her cookbook entitled, “OO, VOO, EVOO, WTF” and her little tidbit warning us to “avoid stripper food,” a.k.a. food with the words “candy” or “cupcake” in them.) 
But even without her playful anecdotes and the “Juicy Bits from Joe,” Skinny Italian is a solid cookbook filled with over 60 recipes that are simple, tasteful and timeless Italian staples that everyone should know how to make. (Plus, there are recipes for limoncello and nutella pizza that I am really excited about!) “Cooking really is not hard,” Teresa said. “You just need to try it! You’ll get used to it. If you make something you don’t end up liking, just try again!”  As Teresa gave this advice, my grandfather’s words of wisdom immediately echoed through my mind, “It takes practice, Diana Marie,” he always tells me. “It takes practice!”  And they are right, because for every fairytale feast, there are a dozen fairytale failures. You just can’t give up! 
While Teresa couldn’t divulge any hints about what we can expect from Season Three of the Real Housewives of New Jersey, she did say it will likely air on Bravo TV sometime this year.

(My own observation: Skinny Italian was released in May of 2010 and coincided with the premiere of the Second Season of the Real Housewives of New Jersey. So here’s to hoping that Season Three comes on in May and we won’t have to wait that much longer!)

 Here are some highlights from the Skinny Italian dinner at La Sorelle Cucina:
Italians are famous for the best appetizers and antipasto platters composed of mixed olives, cheeses, cured meats and pickled vegetables.  Not only are these appetizers popular and flavorful, but they’re easy to put together when entertaining. The appetizer course at La Sorelle Cucina was composed of two of Teresa’s classic Italian starters: Bruschetta Classica and Salerno Stuffed Mushrooms.  If you have read any of my previous posts, it’s obvious I am a lover of bruschetta and this dish was no exception! (I made it for the Superbowl last year, click here.) Teresa also has variations of the classic bruschetta recipe in her cookbook Skinny Italian. 
 (The bread basket at La Sorella Cucina was probably not a part of Teresa’s “skinny” menu, but I can’t say no to olive stuffed foccacia so I tried it anyway. It was delicious, so I included it here. Props to them!)
The next course was a fennel salad. Fennel is grown throughout the Mediterranean and in the United States. It looks like a large white bulb and is treated like a vegetable. Fennel can be eaten raw in salads and is also used in braising meats or in soups. Some people confuse fennel with anise, a similar looking vegetable that tastes like licorice. However, fennel is sweeter and has a fresh taste that cleans the palate.
I was so happy to see this recipe in Teresa’s cookbook, as I absolutely love fennel salad.  My family also makes a version of this dish with dill and fresh oranges.  Here, Teresa preserved the delicate flavor of the fennel by seasoning it with lemon juice and some fresh parsley. 

For the pasta course, we had Teresa’s Favorite Tagialtelle [prounced tah-lyah-TEH-leh]. Teresa said that this was her favorite recipe from the book. Tagialtelle are long, flat egg noodles that are about 1/4 inch wide, similar to fettuccine or linguine. This dish is made with peas and smoked ham, topped with a sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese.

For our entree, we had a choice of four different dishes: “Papa’s Steak Pizzaiola” a tender New York Strip Steak topped with Teresa’s special tomato sauce; “Voluptuous Veal Piccata;” “Sexy Swordfish with Capers and Lemon;” or “Gorgeous Garlic Shrimp” with rice and steamed asparagus. 
Each dish looked amazing and I was really torn.  Our server, who was kind, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable about each dish, said the “Sexy Swordfish” was her favorite so I went with that. Swordfish, a large fish averaging between 200 to 600 pounds, is found in temperate waters throughout the world. Like salmon, swordfish “steaks” are firm and dense and easy to handle when cooking. Swordfish can be grilled, sauteed, broiled, poached, etc.  Swordfish is very popular in the United States but contains high levels of mercury so it should not be eaten in excess, especially by women of child bearing age. 
Teresa’s Sexy Swordfish with Capers and Lemon was absolutely delicious and really blew me away. The portion was generous, the swordfish steaks were moist, flavorful and fresh. The capers, pickled flower buds from a bush native in the Mediterranean, provided just the right amount of saltiness to the dish. Combined with the lemon juice, this swordfish was fresh and delicious.  It made me feel good about myself.
Finally, for dessert we had strawberries soaked in Sambuca.  Sambuca is a colorless flavored liqueur made in Italy.  The name Sambuca is derived from Sambucus, the genus name for the fruit of the elderberry. Sambuca tastes somewhat like anise, or licorice, and has a strong scent.  Most Italians have a bottle of Sambuca in their homes! 

The strawberries soaked in Sambuca as a healthy alternative to a fatty dessert was a brilliant idea. I liked it so much I decided to make this dish at home. 

The beautiful “Gorgeous Garlic Shrimp” entree served at La Sorelle Cucina also inspired me to make my own at home. 
Teresa was gracious to share this recipe, for my blog, so I hope you enjoy it! I made it exactly as written, and being a garlic lover, I used about five large garlic cloves to REALLY infuse that flavor into the shrimp!

Gorgeous Garlic Shrimp
“If you’re a serious garlic lover (like I am), feel free to add more garlic to the recipe. I usually serve this with rice and steamed asparagus with a fresh lemon squeezed over the veggie.” ~ Teresa, Skinny Italian

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 1/2 pounds large (21 to 25 count) shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1. Heat the oil and garlic together in a large skillet over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the oil is hot and the garlic is softened, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add the shrimp and season with the salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the shrimp turns opaque, about 4 minutes.
2. Add the lemon juice and parsley and stir well. Serve hot. 

I used this bag of frozen shrimp from Wegmans that is already peeled and deveined. Make sure to thaw the shrimp first. I usually do this by letting it sit in a bowl of cool water for about 15 minutes.

I also made another recipe from Teresa’s book, Farfalle Con Piselli, a pasta dish with peas and parsley and a touch of light cream. It reminded me of the pasta and peas my Sicilian grandmother used to make for dinner so I will definitely be making this again.

The recipe for  Farfalle Con Piselli, the rest of the above dishes and many more Italian classics can be found in Teresa’s cookbook Skinny Italian, available online and at bookstores nationwide.  Teresa’s new cookbook, Fabulicious, is scheduled for release this May.

Teresa will also be embarking on a book tour so check her website for updates and details to see if she will be visiting your hometown so you can have your book signed! 🙂

Enjoy 🙂