Monday, March 12, 2012

He made, she made and then I made Ellie Krieger’s Pasta Puttanesca

Bobby Deen's Light Baked Spaghetti versus....
Pasta Puttanesca from Ellie Krieger
         Unless you live under some media-free rock, you have likely heard of the kerfuffle surrounding the announcement that Paula Deen, the Food Network’s Diva of Southern Cuisine, has contracted Type II diabetes.  The news came in a barrage of Deen-related press releases informing us that not only had Ms. Deen admitted to her much-rumoured diabetes, she had also signed on as the paid spokesperson for an insulin replacement therapy.  Coupled with this shocker was the introduction of Paula’s son Billy’s new television program “Not my Mama’s Meals” in which Ms. Deen’s son would re-create his mother’s high fat, high calorie dishes into something healthier.  All this was greeted with jeers from Ms. Deen’s harshest critic, Anthony Bourdain of “No Reservations” TV fame and the author of “Kitchen Confidential”. Mr Bourdain, who had earlier attacked Ms. Deen calling her “the most dangerous woman in American”, jumped into the fray with the following Twitter post: He said: 'Thinking of getting into the leg-breaking business, so I can profitably sell crutches later.' My own take on Ms. Deen’s diabetes was similar to hearing the news that the Marlboro men of cigarette fame, carried oxygen tanks on the back of their horses.  Cause meet effect. 
         I have actually never made a single Paula Deen recipe. As a matter of fact, I purchased her eponymous magazine only once, read through the entire thing and didn’t want to cook a single thing in it.  I have been known to clip recipes from In-Flight magazines, soup cans and cracker packages.   But there was not one single recipe in that sole issue of Ms. Deen’s magazine that I wanted a thing to do with.  Too fat, too loaded with carbohydrates, too high in calories, too fried--too everything I try not to put on the table.  But I was intriqued with son Bobby’s recipe for his mother’s Baked Spaghetti, a lavish casserole of cheese, pasta and chicken sausage.  It appeared in “The Light Issue” of Food Network magazine, January-February 2012.  So I made it.  After all, Paula informed us that "Bobby is the most health-conscious member of our family". 
         Highlighted in yellow ink, the changes that Bobby Deen made to Mama’s recipe were the following.  Bobby recommended using whole wheat angel hair pasta (6 0z of the stuff) to Mama’s 8 Ounces of regular angel hair pasta.   He used ½ pound of sweet Italian chicken sausage in lieu of Paula’s 1 ½ lbs of ground beef.  And finally he used ½ cup of part-skim mozzarella and ½ cup of cheddar cheese replacing 1 cup of Cheddar and 1 cup of Monterey Jack.  Are you getting the picture?  Bobby lowered the quantities as well as the fat count.  In fact he really lowered the quantity.  His dish went into a 2 quart casserole. The original Paula Deen dish went into a three quart baking dish. Despite all this cutting back, Bobby only lowered the calorie count by 100 a serving.  And since neither recipe included any nutritional information at all, it’s safe to say Bobby accomplished very little other than portion control.  Face it, eat less and you will weigh less. 
Ellie Krieger
         And how was the recipe?  Mind-blowingly bland.  But what do you expect when you put ¼ tsp. of Italian seasoning, ½ tsp. of seasoned salt in a two quart casserole?  I mean if you take out the fat, the flavor carrier, please replace it with something to give some boost to your flavor profile.  I confess that our dinner guest the night I served this dish more than enjoyed it. In fact he took all the leftovers home with him mostly because Andrew and I had had quite enough of our Light Baked Spaghetti.  But what to make in it stead? That’s when I poked around and found Ellie Kreiger’s recipe for Pasta Puttanesca, a wonderful Roman dish adapted by Ms. Krieger, a dietician and host of the Food Network’s “Healthy Eating”.  She has a master’s degree from Columbia University and an inate understanding of how to make healthy foods terrifically appealing. Here's a quote from Ms. Krieger: “I crave food that is bursting with flavor and aroma, food that draws you in and leaves you satisfied and guess what?  That food can also be healthy”.    
         The original Puttanesca has a fascinating back story.  It literally means  ‘in the style of the whore’ (putta in Italian).  Legend has it that the ladies of the evening would cook this particular pasta between gentleman callers.  It was incredibly fast cooking and full of the flavor of capers and olives and tomatoes.  Another legend has it that the dish was invented by a Roman chef who, faced with customers arriving very late in the evening, threw the dish together with what ever was left over in his kitchen and whatever he could put in front of his late arrivals pronto.  The name of this creation was thought to have been given by the chef because he was like an old prostitute who had to satisfy all comers.  At any rate, it’s a fantastic dish and healthy as all get out. Meatless, it uses whole wheat pasta—I used the thinnest spaghetti I could find--and it’s highly aromatic.  Since olives of any kind are not on Andrew's diet, I made the dish without them.  I mixed pasta and sauce in the skillet then served Andrew's portion before I added the olives to my own.  I loved the olives.  They give the dish another layer of deep flavor.  The whole thing comes together very quickly—in the time it takes the pasta to cook.  So just mis-en-place before you start cooking the pasta.  I served it with a green salad and a whole wheat baguette.  Here’s the recipe:
Recipe for Pasta Puttanesca from Ellie Krieger.

Serves 4. Preparation Time 17 minutes.

8 ounces whole-wheat thin spaghetti, vermicelli or angel hair
     1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
     2 cloves garlic, minced
     1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
     1/4 cup pitted chopped Spanish or      Greek olives
     2 tablespoons capers
     1 teaspoon anchovy paste
     1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
     1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
     1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes, preferably "no salt added"
     3/4 cup chopped fresh arugula
     1/4 cup grated Parmesan

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add pasta and cook according to the directions on the package.
While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a large skillet over a medium flame. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the parsley, olives, capers, anchovy paste, oregano and crushed red pepper to the skillet, and saute for 2 minutes more. Add the tomatoes and simmer for about 5 minutes. Stir in the arugula and simmer for 1 minute more, until the greens wilt slightly.
When the pasta is done, drain it and add it to the skillet, tossing it with the sauce to combine. Top with grated cheese.