Mediterranean recipes that boost brain and mood

Mediterranean recipes that boost brain and mood

Research shows that eating a Mediterranean diet is one of the most effective ways to protect and enhance brain health, halt inflammation, improve symptoms of depression, and help reduce daily stress.

Building off their best-selling cookbooks “The 30-Minute Mediterranean Diet Cookbook” and “The Sustainable Mediterranean Diet Cookbook”), registered dietitians Serena Ball and Deanna Segrave-Daly offer new recipes layered with Mediterranean flavors and a focus on the most potent brain-boosting ingredients for all meals and gatherings. Here’s one of them.

Fettuccine with Prosciutto, Prunes, and Black Pepper

  • Serves 4. Prep time: 15 minutes. Cook time: 20 minutes
  • Intrigued by a pasta recipe calling for dates, Deanna swapped in the prunes she had in her pantry and—long story short—she created one of her very favorite dishes, ever. While pairing dried fruit with pasta might not seem typical, Mediterranean cuisines regularly match grains with the intense natural sweetness of dried fruit to balance out other flavors—here, salty prosciutto, savory Parmesan, and spicy black pepper. Dried fruit-like prunes can enhance a dish’s appearance and serve as a concentrated source of vitamins and minerals that help maintain brain health and mental activity.
  • Recipe:

1½ teaspoons kosher or sea salt

½ (1-pound) package fettuccine

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

½ red onion, thinly sliced in half rings

2 ounces prosciutto, thinly sliced

8 pitted prunes, chopped

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for serving (optional)

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided

Fill a large stockpot with water. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the salt and then stir in the pasta. Cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente (a slight bite to the noodle) according to the package instructions.

While the pasta cooks, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until softened–5 minutes.

Add the prosciutto and cook, stirring frequently, until crispy–3 minutes.

Add the prunes and black pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant–2 minutes.

Add ⅓ cup reserved pasta water and stir until everything is mixed well. Using tongs, transfer the cooked fettuccine to the skillet and toss to coat. Stir frequently until the liquid is almost all absorbed, about 1 minute, and then add an additional ⅓ cup reserved pasta water. Continue to stir frequently until almost all the liquid is absorbed, about another minute. Add ¼ cup cheese and mix well. Mix in 2 to 3 additional tablespoons reserved pasta water to help incorporate the cheese and toss well. Remove from the heat.

Mix in the remaining ¼ cup cheese; toss well until the pasta is coated and almost all the liquid is absorbed. Top the pasta with more black pepper, if desired. Serve immediately. 

  • Healthy kitchen hack: Experiment with other chopped dried fruit in this recipe. Pitted dates, dried figs, or golden raisins are all fabulous flavor swaps for the prunes. And if you have different types of peppercorns, like red, pink, green, or white, try those, too.
  • Per serving: Calories: 409. Total Fat: 12g. Saturated fat: 4 g. Cholesterol: 10 mg. Sodium: 569 mg. Total carbohydrates: 61 g. Fiber: 2 g. Protein: 16 g.


In their newest book, “The Smart Mediterranean Diet Cookbook,” scheduled for release in May 2024, dietitians Serena Ball and Deanna Segrave-Daly share more than 100 recipes formulated with brain and mood in mind.They include Mediterranean Sun Gold Granola, Berry Smart Seeded Dressing Over Greens, Green Falafel Fritters with Red Pepper Sauce, Sizzling Shrimp and Peppers with Cilantro, Chicken Kebabs with Grapes and Olives, and Moroccan Spiced Hot Chocolate. Segrave-Daly, who lives in Philadelphia, and Ball, of St. Louis, each have 25-plus years of experience as nutrition experts. More information and their books are available at