I recently discovered a dish in a local restaurant that is simply marvelous. It incorporates eggplant and black olives into a creamy tomato sauce with fettuccini. The dish is so delicious it is one of those you almost wish you had not discovered; rich, flavorful and satisfying. And I know that while my mouth is savoring every bite, my heart and blood vessels are screaming for temperance. It is perfectly appropriate when following a healthy lifestyle to enjoy rich foods on a periodic basis. With the holidays approaching, this reminder is especially poignant.
But what if I wanted to enjoy this dish more often? That’s where spending some time in the kitchen becomes a particularly valuable experience. In the past, you have seen how I alter recipes to reduce saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and calories while maintaining rich and diverse flavors. Recall the Braised Beef and Gravy with Rice recipe; the Better Ranch Beans; the Roasted Pork Loin with Mango Salsa. Knowing what you want from a recipe in flavor, texture and appearance, becomes a matter of altering the recipe to achieve the desired end product with less fat, cholesterol and sodium. Knowing foods helps to find good replacements for harmful ingredients and flavor elements to maintain desirability. A rule of thumb when altering recipes is that the final product is close enough to the original that one cannot tell the difference. Sometimes this requires more than one try to achieve a good product.
Eggplant is one of those vegetables many Americans underuse. It absorbs flavors well and can be used to carry flavors to the palate. Instead of frying the eggplant, I season and roast it. The browning from the roast intensifies the flavors of the olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. In addition to carrying flavors, it will provide texture much like meat would, without the saturated fat and cholesterol.
An Al Freddo sauce is made from heavy cream, butter and Parma cheese. So, I alter the recipe by making a white sauce where we keep the butter, thicken with flour and use skim milk instead of cream. Tomato paste will add color and flavor. Try substituting Romano for the parmesan cheese. They are both dry cheeses meaning less fat, cholesterol and fewer calories but the Romano has a distinctive flavor that works well in this recipe. The onions, garlic, herbs and spices are important flavor elements. By creating an array of flavors, your palate does not miss the cream. Plain yogurt is used to add richness and body to the sauce replacing the cream and allowing us to reduce some of the cheese. As noted in the recipe, adding the yogurt to the hot sauce requires a specific procedure to maintain its creamy texture. A little white wine at the end adds yet another flavor and gives you some variation in the thickness of your sauce.
Don’t overcook your pasta. You want it to have good texture and hold together as you stir it into the rich sauce. Cook it one minute less than package directions for al dente.
Before we bring it all together, the sauce, eggplant, pasta and olives, note the various flavorful ingredients; garlic, onion, tomato paste, roasted eggplant, butter, cheese, wine and black olives. This is a feast of flavors! Now look at the textures; a smooth, thick, rich sauce; pasta that holds the sauce well and delivers flavor in every bite; the eggplant that mimics the texture of meat. And lastly look at the eye appeal; a light red sauce achieved by adding tomato paste; black olives and flecks of fresh green parsley. This elegant dish is a perfect marriage of flavors, textures and eye appeal! Now I can enjoy a rich delicious pasta and sauce as part of my healthy eating plan.
Tim Scallon is a registered dietitian nutritionist with years of experience practicing nutrition therapy in local hospitals and clinics, teaching nutrition and developing healthy recipes. He helped create the popular TV show Memorial Cooking Innovations celebrating the world of food and health. Memorial Cooking Innovations is produced by St. Luke’s Health and the City of Lufkin. It currently runs in 62 cities and is locally available on Sudden Link cable TV channels and online at www.chistlukeshealthmemorial.org.