Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Lighter, Zestier Spinach & Roasted Garlic Alfredo

Classic Alfredo sauce is made with heavy cream and plenty of parmesan cheese, which means it's loaded with saturated fat and calories.  Add to that the simple carbohydrates of regular pasta (i.e., high-glycemic, diabetic-unfriendly carbs), and you have a gut-busting, diet-ruining disaster -- albeit a rather tasty one.

My Spinach & Roasted Garlic Alfredo lightens up the traditional cheesy cream sauce without sacrificing flavor by using skim milk, substituting olive oil for half of the butter and adding plenty of mashed roasted garlic and a healthy dash of red pepper flakes (yes, this version is a little spicy). Even if you don't usually buy organic milk, I highly recommend using organic skim milk because it has a much fuller, less "watery" flavor than conventional skim milk. And if you can afford it, use real Parmigiano cheese instead of the mass-produced stuff that comes in the green can. It doesn't need to be fancy or expensive, but ideally you want to buy a chunk and shred it yourself or at a minimum make sure it's all-natural and doesn't have "fillers" or "anti-caking agents."

My recipe also improves the nutritional value of traditional fettuccine alfredo by adding some just-wilted fresh spinach to the sauce and substituting whole-wheat pasta (I used shells for mine but you can use fettuccine or any other type)  for the traditional "white" pasta.  My version uses the sauce as more of a light "coating" on the pasta, rather than having the pasta "swimming" in a pool of artery-clogging cream.

The following recipe makes 4 servings.  If you try my lighter, zestier Spinach & Roasted Garlic Alfredo, please leave a comment to let me know what you think!

8 oz whole wheat pasta
6 oz fresh young or "baby" spinach
1 head roasted garlic OR approx. 30 cloves roasted garlic*
1 Tbs butter (do not use margarine)
1 Tbs olive oil**
2 Tbs flour
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp ground white pepper (or substitute black if you don't have white)
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 1/2 cups non-fat or skim milk (use organic for best flavor)
1/3 cup shredded (not grated) Parmigiano cheese
Optional garnishes: Additional shredded parmesan cheese, chopped parsley, red pepper flakes if you're a serious chilehead

*To save time & effort, you can buy already-roasted & peeled garlic cloves at Whole Foods or other similar markets, or you can use raw peeled garlic and follow my instructions for Easy "Roasted" Garlic (if you use this simple stove-top method, be sure to remove the cloves from the oil as soon as they have a little color or else they'll get too "crispy" to mash -- in which case, you can simply mince them).  Otherwise, after roasting the whole head of garlic and letting it cool to the touch, you'll want to separate the cloves and peel them by lightly pinching the bottom of the roasted clove to squeeze it out from the skin.

**If you have oil left over from roasting the garlic (you definitely will if you use my stove-top method), use a Tablespoon of this garlic-infused oil because it will enhance the depth & flavor of the sauce.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta in boiling water according to package directions. While this is going on, mash the roasted garlic with a fork to make a thick, coarse "paste" and set aside. Rinse the spinach in a colander under running water, drain off water & shake off excess, then transfer the spinach to a heavy saucepan (you want there to be some water still clinging to the leaves). Cook the spinach over high heat until just wilted (no more than 5 minutes), stirring a few times. Remove from heat, drain off as much water as possible -- you can give the spinach a gentle squeeze or press with the back of your spatula/spoon -- and transfer to a plate or bowl.

Wipe the saucepan dry, then add butter and oil. Heat over medium heat until butter is melted, then stir in the flour, salt, peppers & nutmeg and cook, stirring constantly, for about 30 seconds to a minute so that the flour loses its "raw" flavor but is still a very pale roux. Slowly pour in the milk, stirring constantly. Raise heat and bring to a boil, still stirring, and cook until sauce is thick (about 3 minutes or so, adjusting the heat as necessary). Remove saucepan from heat and stir in the cheese until melted. Add the roasted garlic mash and spinach, and stir to thoroughly combine (the wilted spinach leaves tend to clump together so you may need a fork to help you separate them).

Drain the pasta. You can now assemble and serve in one of the following ways: (1) Return drained pasta to pot, pour in the Alfredo sauce, and gently stir until the pasta is coated; OR (2) If your saucepan with the sauce is large enough, fold the drained pasta into the sauce in that pan and stir gently until the pasta is coated; OR (3) transfer the drained pasta onto serving plates and pour the sauce over each serving. I personally like method (2), because the drained pasta can sometimes stick to the bottom of the pasta pot if it is still very hot.

Zestfully yours,
Carolina Sauce Company

PS: If you're not vegetarian, my Spinach & Roasted Garlic Alfredo pasta is a wonderful accompaniment to grilled or roasted chicken.

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