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Local celebrity chef Mike Isabella's diet secret

Friday - 7/26/2013, 3:50pm  ET

The secret to Mike Isabella's diet? Eat more olive oil. (Courtesy Greg Powers)

WASHINGTON - It makes sense. If you eat fat, you get fat. Right?

Well, yes and no. It all depends on the kind of fats you eat.

Local celebrity chef Mike Isabella knows this all too well. He is dropping pounds with some help from the menu at his new 14th Street, N.W. restaurant, Kapnos.

"It has actually helped me a lot opening up the Greek restaurant," Isabella says. His secret is to stick to a Mediterranean diet. "No butters, full of olive oil," Isabella says.

It turns out, the former Top Chef contestant may be on to something. Olive oil is one of the healthiest fats around, and researchers say a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil can help combat obesity.

A 2011 study from the University of Cordoba found that a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil does not contribute to obesity. And research from a 2010 study conducted at São Paulo State University shows olive oil improved myocardial oxidative stress.

Of course, the key to any healthy lifestyle is to indulge in moderation.

Try your hand at cooking a meal full of healthy fats. Isabella passed along a recipe for olive oil-poached cod with squash blossom pesto from his cookbook, "Mike Isabella's Crazy Good Italian."

Olive Oil-Poached Cod with Squash Blossom Pesto

Cod is a popular mild, white fish. It's lean and flaky and handles olive oil poaching better than almost any other fish. The squash blossom pesto is the perfect accompaniment.

Serves 4 as a small plate

Active Time = 25-30 minutes

You'll need:

1 quart extra virgin olive oil

1 sprig thyme

1 bay leaf

1 clove garlic, smashed

Peel of 1/2 lemon (no pith)

1-pound cod filet, skin removed, cut into 4 equal portions

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/4 cup canola oil

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon water

8 squash blossom petals (from 2-3 squash blossoms)

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

3/4 cup Squash Blossom Pesto (recipe follows)

1. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, bring olive oil, thyme, bay leaf, garlic, and lemon peel to 170°F. Clip a candy thermometer onto the inside of the pot to measure the oil's temperature.

2. Season the cod filets with salt and poach in the hot olive oil for 6-8 minutes or until fully cooked. Use a cake tester to check doneness: it should slide out easily with no resistance, and the end should be warm to the touch.

3. Heat the canola oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat.

4. In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and water. Lightly brush each squash blossom petal on both sides with this mixture.

5. Pan-fry each petal for 30-45 seconds on each side or until lightly golden and crispy. Drain on paper towels and season with sea salt.

6. Spoon Squash Blossom Pesto onto a serving dish. Use a slotted spoon to remove the cod from the oil and place on top of the pesto. Garnish with crispy petals and serve immediately.

To make the pesto

Makes approximately 3/4 cup Active Time = 20 minutes

6 threads saffron

1/2 cup small-diced yellow squash

Petals from 6 squash blossoms

2 tablespoons pine nuts

1/4 cup grated Pecorino

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1. Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil. Set a bowl of ice water to the side. When the water is at a full boil, add the saffron threads and yellow squash and blanch for 1 minute. Remove the squash from the boiling water with a slotted spoon and shock it in the ice water.

2. Keeping the water boiling, blanch squash blossom petals for 30 seconds and shock in the ice water. Remove the squash and petals from the water and pat dry with paper towels or a clean dishtowel.

3. Toast the pine nuts in a dry sauté pan over medium heat for 5 minutes, shaking the pan often to prevent burning.

4. In a food processor, combine the squash, squash blossom petals, toasted pine nuts, Pecorino, and salt. While the processor is running, slowly add olive oil until a paste forms, approximately 30-45 seconds.

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