Monday, January 5, 2009

Spaghetti al Bianco--Healthy Comfort Food for 2009

While I am not a strong believer in New Year's resolutions (mostly because it seems like I can never actually stick to them), it does seem like a good time to take stock, evaluate where you are currently and figure out how you want to move forward.  I won't bore you with all of the changes I want to make in my life but one does especially pertain to this blog.  About two years ago, I lost about 25 pounds, but through a combination of stress eating and food blogging in 2008, I managed to put back on 10 of those pounds. During my weight loss and for the year following, I did a cleanse and then ate pretty "clean", focusing mostly on healthy, good for me foods.  That sort of went out the window with the blogging and life in general, and it's time to get back on the path to better health.  I am not going to promise to cook only healthy foods, I still loves me some chocolate and some butter now and then and don't feel deprivation is the answer. However, I am going to make better choices, eat better foods and where the recipe is selected for me (hello Ina!), try my best to lighten it up a bit.  Since all veggies and no chocolate make Deb a very boring girl, I'll still have room to post the occasional indulgence, but I plan to make them the exception rather than the rule.  

Last week, as I was recovering from being ill, I was getting tired of eating just soup and wanted something a bit more substantial.  This simple pasta dish from Good Cooking, The New Basics by Jill Dupleix seemed perfect as sometimes I want pasta without tomato sauce, but still meaty and soul-filling. Since it's made with lean meat and vegetables, and dried mushrooms flavor the broth, this is a pretty healthy option.

Spaghetti al Bianco
Good Cooking, Jill Dupleix
Serves 4

Jill says:  "When Italians feel the need to look after themselves, they cook "al bianco", or "white" food without the acidity of tomatoes.  This lemon-scented "white" meat ragu has the power to make us all feel better."

1/3 oz dried wild mushrooms
1 leek, trimmed
2 celery stalks
2 carrots, peeled
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
4 thyme sprigs
1 Tbsp chopped parsley
1 1/2 lb lean ground beef
1 Tbsp plain flour
sea salt & pepper
2 cups hot stock or water
14 oz spaghetti
1 Tbsp grated lemon zest
freshly grated Parmesan for serving

Soak the dried mushrooms in 1 cup boiling water for 30 minutes. Finely slice the leek and celery, and finely dice the carrots. Heat the olive oil and butter in a pan and cook the leek for 5 minutes. Add the carrots, celery, thyme and parsley, and cook for 5 minutes. Add the beef and cook, stirring, until nicely browned. Sprinkle with the flour, sea salt & pepper and stir for a minute or two to cook the flour. Add the mushrooms with their soaking water, discarding any sediment. Gradually stir in the hot stock or water, then simmer, partly covered, for 45 minutes or longer.

Cook the spaghetti in plenty of boiling, salted water until al dente--tender but firm to the bite. Drain well, then toss with the meat sauce and add the grated lemon zest. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan.

Notes/Results:  I had a pound of ground, grass-fed buffalo that I used in place of the lean ground beef. (The recipe calls for 1 1/2 pounds but I found that one pound was plenty) Buffalo or bison is high in protein and minerals and has less fat and calories than beef and is very flavorful, so it was excellent in the sauce. I omitted the butter and used just olive oil and I also realized that I forgot to get celery but I used a bit more carrot, leek and mushroom and it worked just fine.  I used dried shiitake mushrooms, as that's what I had on hand, and I liked the earthy flavor that the mushrooms and their soaking liquid gave the sauce. I used up some fresh pasta I needed to use but this would have been great and even better for me over some whole grain pasta. Delicious, hearty but not too heavy, and it probably tasted even better re-heated so this is a recipe that I will make again.

If you are considering joining Tyler Florence Fridays now is a great time to do it!  
  • It's flexible, you can pick what recipe you want to make each week!
  • There is a random monthly drawing for members and the winner gets one of the new Tyler cookbooks (a gift from Tyler's publisher)
  • We are looking for an avatar/logo (Another great way to win a Tyler cookbook if you create the winning logo!)
  • Starting in January there is even more TFF fun with Megan's Challenge, an optional recipe for TFF members to make and post as a group, selected by Megan of My Baking Adventures.  January's pick is Spinach and Three Cheese Calzones.
You can get all the details at the TFF site here.


  1. I'm with you in so many ways! Two years ago I lost 15, and this past year I've gained 5. That's where I draw the line. I've cooked healthy for many years - mostly - so I know what I need to do, and just have to re-figure how to balance the increased baking. I've ordered some mini pans today, and I have to go back to giving the sweets away... Now we need to have recipes that I don't like as much!!

    This pasta looks great - hearty and meaty but not heavy. Looks like a winner to me!

  2. Looking forward to your posts, Deb! Truly inspiring!

  3. Love your pasta, I could eat pasta every night.
    Not big on being good though, I like my nightly bowl of ice cream before bed too much...

  4. I will enjoy following your healthy cooking in the New Year! I've gained upwards of 5 pounds since I started blogging, and I need to reign that it, because I really do enjoy doing this, but I can't keep gaining 5 pounds for every 6 months of blogging! So I will be focusing on the abundance of healthy, beautiful, delicious recipes in the food blogosphere. And this looks like one of them! It looks hearty and delicious!

  5. Although I used to cook in a quite healthy way, I have been baking a lot of "sinful" treats since I started blogging and I must stop doing this, although I still have a lot of recipes I have not posted. Your pasta dish sounds great but I would prefer it without the ground meat in it.

  6. I'd be thrilled if I'd kept my gain to 5 or 10 pounds. Suffice it to say that 10 years ago I wore a size 4-6; today it's 14. Yikes! Food blogging has been one of the culprits, but retirement, loss of my mother and a close cousin, and plain old boredom has contributed the rest. This dish looks amazing, but for these opening weeks of good intentions, I'm eating fairly simply. I will try it eventually, though, since red sauce isn't my favorite either.

  7. Oh dear, that looks so very good. Did someone say healthy??? :)
    Oh and buffalo kicks the pants off beef in so many ways.


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