When celebrity chef and author of"Now Eat This! Italian", Rocco DiSpirito, joined me on Mondays with Marlo I just had to ask him if he would recommend any fabulous Italian restaurants in New York City. Although he says he loves Mario Batali's restaurants, he also told me that, in general, he doesn't like going to Italian restaurants.
For more advice on healthy cooking, check out the twelve ingredients Rocco recommends you have in your kitchen:
All-Natural Greek Yogurt
It may seem strange for a food item prefaced with "Greek" to be used in Italian cooking, but the benefits of this low-fat, naturally creamy yogurt extend far beyond Greek cooking. Greek yogurt has more than twice the protein of regular yogurt and only half of the carbs. It can be used as a healthier (and some may argue, tastier) alternative to heavy cream, sour cream and butter.
This versatile flat-leaf herb can be paired with other seasonings to enhance their flavors and should always be kept on hand. It has a sweet, herbalicious flavor and leaves that are softer, flatter and easier to chop than curly parsley.
Whole Wheat Panko Bread Crumbs
Panko is a crustless bread of Japanese origin that works as a wonderful alternative to traditional bread crumbs. Light and airy, it can be used to coat anything that is usually coated in traditional bread crumbs. It's especially great for "faux-frying," which is my term for coating chicken, fish and vegetables in the crumbs, lightly coating with cooking spray and baking at high heat. <em>Photo courtesy of Flickr User: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/tinytall/">Tiny Tall</a></em>
Unrefined flours are healthier and retain more fiber, vitamins and minerals. Coconut flour is produced from the fiber of coconut meat after most of the coconut oil has been extracted. The consistency of coconut flour is very close to whole wheat pastry flour, but it is even higher in fiber.
Textured Vegetable Protein
Usually derived from soybeans, textured vegetable proteins are usually sold in granules, chunks and flakes. TVP is high in protein, low in calories and can be used in stews, casseroles and chili. They can also be used as a base for homemade veggie burgers or as a coating for sautéed or faux-fried meats.
Fat-Free, Reduced-Sodium Chicken Broth
A cup of fat-free, reduced-sodium chicken broth contains between five and 10 calories per cup, and provides a whole lot of extra flavor without the extra salt and fat. It can be used as a base for most Italian soups. To make your own, you can put chicken broth into the refrigerator and simply remove the cold, hard fat from the surface after a day.
The fine white powder from the roots of the tropical arrowroot plant is valued for its thickening ability and neutral flavor. It can mimic fat and cream in desserts and sauces - and its much lower in calories.
Adding basil to a dish is like adding a sweetener; it provides a bright, sweet, slightly cool anise-like flavor. But dried basil doesn't hold its flavor very well; its taste is best preserved in canned tomatoes or when it's cooked briefly in oil.
Peperoncini, Or Jarred Green Peppers
These preserved, summer vegetables have a very temperature spice level, which gives a quick brightness to anything they are added to. Adding a squeeze of lemon bolsters their inherent brightness.
Balsamic vinegar is a fantastic flavor enhancer that adds zip without adding fat or sodium. Its sweet-tart, wood-aged blend of flavors adds a special accent to salad dressings, marinades, pastas and meats. Made from the unfermented juice of white grapes, balsamic vinegar has a thicker viscosity than other vinegars and makes a wonderful sauce base.
Onions can lend a sweetness to dishes when they are "sweated," which can be done by slowly cooking them and drawing out their moisture without browning them. To do this, simply chop the onions and heat them in olive oil over very low heat.
The softer, imported "wet" mozzarella of Italy can be as low as 60 calories per ounce, which is as low as some processed diet cheeses.
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