Recipe Revamping: Carbonara

“It’s just that it was one of his favorites….”

Most folks ask me to revamp baked recipes since that is what I mostly post about, but I received a request this week from a mom after she saw my roasted garlic bread recipe, asking if I might help with one of her son’s favorite recipes, carbonara. Her son is eight, and the family recently learned that much of his stomach issues were due to eggs, dairy and wheat, all three of which are in carbonara.

For anyone who might not be familiar with carbonara, it is an Italian pasta dish which is essentially a creamy, cheesy sauce over noodles which tends to use cured meat products such as bacon, pancetta, prosciutto, or Italian sausage to flavor the sauce. To make the sauce creamy, recipes usually use cream or half and half and egg yolks with a variety of fancy cheeses and then adds the cured meat and white pasta to the dish. So, as a rule, even if you do not have food allergies, you probably should not make carbonara a regular part of your diet.

Unless, of course, you can find a way to create a healthier, allergy friendly version….

My first order of business was to tackle the cheesy sauce. The beauty of a carbonara sauce is that it clings to the noodles, so the sauce needs to be a thick, heavy sauce, which is why usually cream and egg yolks are utilized. I opted to make a basic white sauce with olive oil, millet flour and dairy free milk. To that I added Daiya cheddar cheese, garlic, onions, oregano, basil, and a tiny bit of red pepper.

The next item to tackle was the cured meat. To make it a tiny bit healthier, I chose to chop just four low fat, reduced salt, no nitrates, sweet Italian style fully cooked chicken sausage links into small pieces. This distributed the flavor without all the extra added fat and sodium and nitrates.

The final decision I made was to nix pasta altogether and use spiral cut veggies. I used a mixture of turnips, yellow squash and zucchini. Because I like my food to have lots of color, I also added diced petite tomatoes, which added a slight flavor twist to the whole dish. The result was quite yummy!

Vegetable “Noodle” Carbonara

(This recipe makes a lot because I wanted to feed a family of five and have leftovers for a second meal. You may want to halve the recipe.)

Ingredients:

2 tbsp extra light olive oil (you don’t want a heavy taste)

1/4 cup millet flour (or any other variety you’d like to use)

2 cups dairy free “milk” (I used soy but any variety will work)

8 oz shredded Daiya cheddar cheese

garlic, onions, oregano, basil, and red pepper (to your taste and liking)

16 oz each spiral cut turnip, yellow squash, and zucchini (you can change up the spiral cut noodle veggies as long as you have 48 oz total so the sauce and “noodle” amounts are in a good sauce to noodle clinging ratio)

4 low fat, reduced salt, no nitrates sweet Italian style fully cooked chicken sausage links

garlic, onions, oregano, basil, and red pepper (to your taste and liking)

14 oz can of no salt, no sugar added petite diced tomatoes (optional)

Cooking Instructions:

  1. In a shallow sauce pan, heat the olive oil for a minute over medium-low heat, and then stir in the millet flour until well mixed and cook for another 30 seconds.
  2. Slowly add one cup of the milk, stirring until the flour mixture is incorporated into the milk. Let the mixture begin to thicken. Time will vary, depending on how shallow your pan is but shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes.
  3. Slowly add the second cup of milk, stirring to evenly mix the sauce.
  4. Add the Daiya cheese and stir well. Add the spices, and stir until the cheese is all melted, and turn the heat to low, stirring occasionally.
  5. In a larger shallow nonstick pan (if you aren’t using a nonstick pan, drizzle a tiny bit of olive oil), cook the turnips until softened, usually about 3 to 5 minutes.
  6. Dice the sausage links into small bits and add to the turnips. Mix well and cook for a minute.
  7. Add the yellow squash and zucchini with the spices, and cook just until the squash and zucchini begin to soften.
  8. If you are using the tomatoes, add the diced tomatoes to the cheese sauce and stir well. Then add the sauce to the veggie noodles, mix well and serve. (As a garnish, you may sprinkle a mixture of fresh basil and chopped garlic as I did in the picture.)
  9. If you are not using the tomatoes, simply add the cheese sauce to the veggie noodles, mix well, and serve.

 

 

Cooking Tutorial: Eggless Baked Macaroni and Cheese

“Third time’s the charm!”

There’s something about the number three…: We all know the folks who sneeze in three’s; there’s that belief that bad things happen in three’s; the occult, divine, and human psychology seem to value the power of three; and of course, we talk optimistically about the third time being the charm.

When I opened up my email to find a question about baked macaroni and cheese, I had to laugh because this will be the third posting about macaroni and cheese, hence my thinking about the number three this morning!

Previously I had posted a general baked macaroni and cheese recipe which was a lightened up version of an Emeril recipe. Then someone asked about a gluten, dairy free version of the lightened version. Now I’m being asked about whether you can make a baked macaroni and cheese without eggs.

The answer, of course, is yes. The purpose of eggs in a baked macaroni and cheese is to create a firm and thick texture. Combining the eggs with evaporate milk also makes for a silkier macaroni and cheese. A baked macaroni and cheese can achieve the same texture and silkiness, though, without eggs. Instead of using evaporated milk, though, you would use regular milk or milk substitute, and because you won’t be using eggs as a thickener you’ll need to make a thick sauce first as opposed to simply combining everything and baking.

Creating a thick sauce: There are a few ways to go about making a thick white sauce:

  1. Roux: You can make a roux by warming 2 tbsp of olive oil (or other plant oil or you can use butter/butter substitute, too, if you’d prefer) and adding 1/4 cup of your preferred type of flour with a whisk. Once the flour mixture has cooked for about 30 seconds, you slowly add 2 cups of your “milk”, stirring constantly to mix the roux into the liquid well. Heat over medium low heat, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens. Then you add your cheese.
  2. Cornstarch: You can simply mix cornstarch into your “milk” and heat over medium low heat, stirring constantly until the mixture begins to thicken. A good ratio is 1 tbsp of cornstarch per cup of milk, so you’d use 2 tbsp of cornstarch in 2 cups of milk, and once it’s thickened, you’d add your cheese.
  3. Flour: You can also simply mix the milk with flour and again heat over medium low heat, stirring constantly until the mixture begins to thicken. Usually 1/2 cup of whatever flour you’d like to use in 2 cups of milk will do the job. Once it’s thickened, you add the cheese.

Creating a creamy cheese sauce: Again there are a few ways you can go about making a creamy cheese sauce:

  1. Using good cheeses: One way to make a silky, gooey, cheesy sauce is to invest in cheeses with good melting and great taste. This means opting for the more full fat cheeses like gouda, fontina, sharp cheddar, etc. If you have no dairy allergies and don’t mind the expense, the taste will be worth the investment. These cheeses, when added to your thickened white sauce, will simply melt into creaminess. Depending on your tastes, you would add one to two cups of shredded cheese to the white sauce.
  2. Mixing types of “cheese”: Another way to create cheesy-ness is to use half shredded cheese of your choice and half cream cheese. Since I have a dairy allergy and can’t use real cheese, I’ve found that the non-dairy cheeses don’t provide the creamy texture, so in my mac and cheese, I mix Daiya mozzarella with tofu cream cheese, and it makes for a lovely creamy sauce. So, once my white sauce is thick, I add the mozzarella and let it begin to melt, stirring constantly; then I add the cream cheese and keep stirring until both the mozzarella and the cream cheese have completely melted into the sauce. Depending on your taste, you would use 8 oz of the mozzarella and then add between 1/2 cup to 1 cup of the cream cheese to the white sauce.
  3. Adding sour cream or yogurt: A third way to create a silky texture is to add either sour cream or yogurt to the cheese sauce. After you’ve made the cheese sauce the way you prefer, simply mix in yogurt or sour cream until it’s well blended. Depending on your tastes, you would add between 1/2 to 1 cup.

Using the best noodles: For macaroni and cheese the best noodles to use are ones with nooks and crannies, so pastas like elbows, shells, penne, rotini are all good choices. What’s key for baked macaroni and cheese is to only cook the noodles until al dente, which means they are mostly cooked but still a little sturdier in texture. The reason you slightly undercook them is because the noodles will cook more in the oven during the baking and you don’t want them to become mushy. Because of my wheat allergies, I like to use a quinoa elbow or shell variety which adds some protein to the dish.

Being creative with add-ins: Yes, you can make a straight mac and cheese but additions to the dish can intensify the flavor and texture. My children like ours best when I add chopped up bits of turkey ham or turkey sausage with chopped up bits of zucchini or broccoli, but you can opt to add whatever you’d like — chicken, spinach, peppers, bacon, tomatoes, etc….

Choosing spices and herbs: Many flavors complement cheese so you can be imaginative in your choices. I like to combine cumin, nutmeg, onion powder, black pepper, and oregano. Sometimes I simply add some red pepper flakes. Other times we opt for thyme and sage. Think about the type of cheese you’re using and what you’re adding in, and experiment with flavors.

Assembling the macaroni and cheese: The best way I’ve found to make a good macaroni and cheese is to cook my noodles al dente and then cool them with cold water, rinse and put into a bowl. Then I mix the noodles with my add-ins and spices and herbs. Then I make the cheese sauce, also adding spices and herbs to the sauce. Then I combine the cheese sauce with the noodles, before putting the entire contents of the bowl into a greased glass casserole pan.

The topping: Baked macaroni and cheese can be topped in many ways:

  1. Cheese: Most people simply put shredded cheese on top of the macaroni and cheese casserole. This adds another level of gooeyness.
  2. Bread crumbs: If you mix bread crumbs with herbs and spices and either a plant oil or butter and spread it evenly over the macaroni, you’ll get a nice crispy contrast to the creamy macaroni.
  3. Add-ins on top: Another way to top the macaroni is with more of the add-ins, so sprinkling chopped bits of bacon or broccoli on top. This makes for a colorful presentation of the baked macaroni and cheese and lets folks know what else might be on the inside.
  4. Creative toppings: Some folks like to be a bit more creative in their toppings and add foods like crushed potato or tortilla chips or crushed corn flakes. Use your imagination and see what flavor combinations work best.
  5. Herbs: Another way to make for a pretty and tasty baked macaroni and cheese is to sprinkle fresh chopped herbs on top immediately after the dish comes out of the oven. So, adding chopped fresh basil or mint or thyme — experiment and see what you like.

Baking the macaroni and cheese: Most dishes cook well in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes. Because everything is already cooked, you simply need the casserole to set and become hot and for your topping to melt or become browned and toasty, depending on what you chose to use.