Pasta Risotto & You

By Nancy Caivano


Healthy Pasta


Hello! Welcome to the January edition of Pasta, Risotto and You. I hope that you have had a wonderful Holiday season, and that this is a year of wondrous things for you.

This is the time of year that everyone makes "resolutions" to do things better; live better, treat others better, work better, and most of all, EAT better. More diets are started January first, than at any other time of the year. The problem with most weight-loss diets is that they are either very restrictive, or strange, forcing the person to eat a very limited number of things. This is not something that most of us can do for any extended period of time. So, instead of going on some restricted diet, why not try to make the foods that you normally enjoy better for you. I prefer Jacques Pepin's style of cooking. He doesn't totally eliminate fats from his cooking, but uses smaller amounts of them at the point in the recipe where it would give the most flavor. He also adds a lot of fresh vegetables and herbs to make the dish taste wonderful.

Pasta has recently enjoyed being the center of the "healthy" food trend of more carbohydrates and less fat. Unfortunately, most people took this to mean that they could eat pounds of it, as long as it didn't have a fatty sauce. This is not the case. But, the good news is that Pasta can be a shining star in a good food plan. On its own, it is virtually fat free, and has good carbohydrates and protein. Combining it in light sauces and with vegetables makes it a great and filling addition to your table.

Risotto is definitely NOT something that anyone would think of as "diet" food. But, there is absolutely NO reason to eliminate it from a healthy diet. You will see in this month's recipes, the basic recipe stays the same. I have reduced the amount of oil, butter and cheese in the recipes, but did not eliminate any of them entirely, as they are all crucial to the recipe. These fats won't kill you (or your figure) in the small amounts. For example, the risottos contain about 2-4 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 tablespoons butter and 1/4 cup of grated cheese. But this is not the serving you are eating, as the recipe makes 6 servings. So, each serving contains about 1/2 teaspoon olive oil, 1/3-teaspoon butter, and 1/2 teaspoon grated cheese. Not as bad as it looked when you read 4 tablespoons olive oil!!

I also use flavorful vegetables, oils and cheeses to make the most of the dish. I mainly use Pecorino Romano cheese, which is a sheep's milk Italian grating cheese. It is a little lower in fat than Parmesan (not by much though), but it is much sharper, so less goes a lot farther in the dish. I also only use olive oil, not just for its heart healthy properties, but because it is very highly flavored, which makes the entire dish taste terrific. Strong flavored vegetables, such as kale, escarole, and artichokes, all are very healthy for you, and are strong enough to be in a dish without a lot of fat to help it out. I think that you will find this style of cooking to your liking!

Vegetable Lasagna This month's recipes are recipes that I think will become staples. They are all vegetarian, not that I advocate a total vegetarian diet, but I thought that you might like to try the reduced fat versions of the pastas and risottos with just vegetables and no meats to add any other flavor. First up is Pasta with Turnip Greens. This is a wonderful recipe, using a very healthy green. It is combined with pasta, flavored with garlic and onion and topped off with lightly toasted breadcrumbs. The recipe for homemade breadcrumbs is included with this recipe. Next is a truly luscious Vegetable Lasagne. It has tons of vegetables, carrots, onion, garlic, eggplant, mushrooms, spinach, and zucchini. I use reduced fat ricotta and mozzarella, as I personally do not like the non-fat cheeses, but you can use what you like. This recipe also includes a very versatile tomato sauce, which I use in a number of different recipes. Lastly, is Pasta with Broccoli Sicilian Style. This is the way that my grandmother made Pasta with Broccoli, with raisins, tomatoes, anchovies and pine nuts. These give the pasta a fabulous combination of flavors. Once you taste it, you will never just toss pasta with steamed broccoli again!

The risottos this month are all vegetarian also. First is Risotto Verdura, or Risotto with Vegetables. It combines carrots, spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes and peas, for a beautiful as well as tasty dish. Next is Risotto di Carciofi, or Risotto with Artichokes. This is a special dish. It includes a recipe for braised artichokes, flavored with white wine, thyme, garlic and onion. I make these artichokes all on their own as an accompaniment to chicken or pork. It is heavenly combined in this risotto. The last risotto is Risotto Verde, or Green Risotto. This is a very beautiful dish. It is chock full of healthy greens, spinach, escarole, basil and parsley for a healthy dish that doesn't taste remotely healthy!!

I hope that you enjoy this month's recipes. Have a good month, keep warm, and I will see you again in February.

See you next month,

Nancy Caivano


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