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Be kind to your mind & body

Chef Kim Baretta shares a few tasty, brain-boosting Mediterranean recipes.

Kim Baretta is the volunteer chef-in-residence at Memory Matters. She graduated with distinction from the Leiths School of Food and Wine in London. 

What does food have to do with the brain? Intuitively, we know if we eat well, our bodies will function better. But science goes steps further. Researchers discovered that a protein found in the brain — brain-derived neurotrophic factor or BDNF — helps brain functions such as keeping brain cells alive, growing new neurons and aiding cognitive function. Low levels of BDNF have been linked to Alzheimer’s, accelerated aging, poor neural development, neurotransmitter dysfunction, obesity, depression, and even schizophrenia. Research has found that one way to increase BDNF is to follow a Mediterranean diet (fruit, vegetables, beans and whole grains with olive oil as the primary fat source) thereby cutting out saturated fats and refined sugar. We reached out to a local chef Kim Baretta, an expert on the Mediterranean lifestyle, for recipes that taste good, while being kind to the mind and body. 


Kim Baretta

Blackened shrimp grain bowl

Serves 4

Ingredients (rice)

1 yellow onion, diced

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper

1 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon oregano

1 cup brown basmati rice

2 cups vegetable broth

Directions

Sauté onions in olive oil until soft. Add spices and sauté briefly. Add rice and broth. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer on low until cooked through, about 30 minutes.

Ingredients (corn and bean salad)

4 ears of corn, kernels removed

1 red pepper, diced

1/4 cup cilantro

Juice and zest of one lime

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 can black beans, rinsed well

Directions

While rice is cooking, sauté corn kernels in olive oil. Add red pepper and beans and cook until peppers just begin to soften. Remove from heat. Add lime zest, juice and cilantro and season well.

Ingredients (avocado cream)

1 avocado

1/2 cup non-fat plain Greek yogurt

1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

1 clove garlic

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Purée all ingredients in food processor

Ingredients (shrimp)

1 pound fresh shrimp, peeled and de-veined

1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika

1 1/2 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon onion powder

Salt and pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 

Directions

Toss shrimp in spices. Saute in olive oil until cooked through.

Ingredients (other)

2 cups fresh spinach

1/2 cup crumbled queso fresco or cotija cheese

Directions

To serve, place spinach in bowl. Top with rice and then corn and black bean salad. Finish with the shrimp and a sprinkle of cheese. Serve with avocado cream.  


Kim Baretta 

Gingered squash and pear soup with turmeric

Makes 8 cups

Ingredients 

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 chopped onion

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric

1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into chunks

2 ripe pears, peeled, cored and chopped

4 cups gluten-free vegetable broth

Salt and pepper

Toasted pumpkin seeds to garnish

Directions

[1] Sauté the chopped onion, grated ginger and turmeric in olive oil in a large pot until onion is tender. If onion starts to stick to the bottom of the pan before it softens, add a bit of the vegetable broth. [2] Add the squash and pears. Add the vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes until squash is tender. [3] Cool slightly, then puree until smooth. A blender or Vitamix will yield the smoothest, creamiest soup, but a food processor will also be fine if you don’t have a blender. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with toasted pumpkin seeds just before serving.

Chef’s note: 

This soup is so quick and easy and it’s absolutely delicious. I have adapted it from a Halloween magazine, but it can be served all winter long. It also freezes well. I love that it is gluten and dairy free. Turmeric is known to be an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.


Kim Baretta

Cucumber cups with hummus and ratatouille

Makes 20 pieces

Ingredients (hummus) 

2 cups chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/3 cup tahini (sesame paste)

6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)

A few dashes Tabasco

Cumin to taste, about 2 tablespoons

Salt and pepper, to taste

Ingredients (ratatouille)

1 clove garlic

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/2 red onion, diced small

1/2 eggplant, diced small

1/2 red pepper, diced small

1 small zucchini, unpeeled, diced small

1 tomato, cored, seeded and diced small

1 English cucumber (for cups) 

Directions

[1] Cut cucumber into about 20 3/4-inch thick slices. Cut each slice with a round pastry cutter to remove skin and make uniform in size. Using a melon baller, scoop out soft center to make a cup, leaving a 1/4-inch layer as the base. [2] Puree all hummus ingredients in food processor. Season with salt and pepper Place in piping bag with a star nozzle. [3] Sauté ratatouille ingredients in sauté pan until soft. Season with salt and pepper. [4] Pipe hummus into cucumber rounds. Sprinkle with ratatouille.

Chef’s note:

This is a great gluten-free, dairy-free hors d’oeuvre using beans, a key Mediterranean ingredient. All three elements of the dish can be prepared the day before. The ratatouille recipe makes more than what you need. Toss the leftovers into pasta for a lunchtime meal. 


The pesto’s yet to come

Take grilled salmon to the next level with this amazing basil pecan pesto from the team at Charlie’s L’Etoile Verte. You also can use it as a substitute for tomato sauce on a pizza or as a base for other sauces and vinaigrettes. This pesto is simply the besto!  

Charlie’s L’Etoile Verte 

Basil pecan pesto

Ingredients

6 ounces extra virgin olive oil 

50 basil leaves

1 clove garlic

3/4 cup grated Parmesan

Pinch salt

2 tablespoons pecans

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Directions

[1] Toast pecans for 4 minutes in an oven heated to 350 degrees. [2] Combine garlic, Parmesan and nuts in a food processor. Blend until fine. [3] Add lemon juice, basil, salt and continue to process. While still blending, add the olive oil until a smooth paste forms. [4] Keep refrigerated in a closed container for up to 3 weeks. 


Did it all for the gnocchi 

Gnocchi is a dumpling, but in some Italian families, they are fluffy pillows of love, often made by a favorite relative. Make some memories by inviting a little one to help make them. Practice makes perfect. In the colder months, toss your gnocchi with a seasonal mix of mushrooms for added texture and aromatic flavors. Here is a fantastic recipe shared by chef Nunzio Patruno. 

Nunzio Restaurant + Bar 

Gnocchi di Patate con Funghi

Serves 8

Ingredients (potato gnocchi)

2 cups of Idaho potatoes, about 6 medium potatoes, skinless and pre-cooked

3/4 cup of all-purpose flour

2 egg yolks

Pinch of salt

Directions

[1] Pass the potatoes through a food mill and allow to cool. [2] Place the potatoes on a flat surface and add the flour, egg yolk and salt. Lightly mix all together and roll the dough with the palm of your hand, creating a 3/4-inch thick rope. [3] Cut the rope with a knife into 3/4-inch pillows. As you cut the gnocchi, lightly dust them with flour and set aside. [4] Bring a medium pot of salted water to boil and cook the gnocchi for two minutes. As the gnocchi rise to the top of the water, remove each with a skimmer. Set the gnocchi aside on a flat tray and let cool.

Ingredients (mushroom sauce)

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

3 sage leaves

1 1/2 pounds of mixed mushrooms (shitake, baby portobello, oyster), sliced

1 teaspoon of flour

3 plum tomatoes, diced

1 glass of red wine

1/2 cup of chicken stock

1 cup of heavy cream

Directions

[1] In a sauté pan cook the garlic and onions until golden. Add the mushrooms and sauté for two minutes. Add the sage and flour. Stir the mushrooms with a wooden spoon and add the wine. [2] Let the wine evaporate and add the tomatoes, chicken stock and cream. Cook for five minutes and let the sauce reduce to half. Add salt and pepper and set aside. [3] Cook the gnocchi in boiling water until they float to the top of the water and drain. Sauté the gnocchi with the mushroom sauce and add 2 ounces of Parmigiano cheese and sprinkle with fresh parsley. Serve.