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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, March 22, 2006

TASTE
Baked pasta with cheeses a comfy meal

By Elaine Magee

This pasta dish includes four cheeses: Romano, fontina, gorgonzola and reduced-fat mozzarella.

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Q. I saw this totally comforting recipe for pasta with cream and assorted cheeses on marthastewart.com and wanted to make it at home, but I wanted to make it the Recipe Doctor way. Can you help?

A. I wanted to get right on this recipe because the comfort food season is winding down and this just sounds like the perfect hot dinner to warm you up after a day out in the cold. What I love about the original recipe is that it's a "mix and bake" type of recipe you simply mix the sauce ingredients together and then stir in the drained pasta, pour into oven-proof dishes and bake for a short period at a high temperature.

To lighten up the original recipe, we are using fat-free half-and-half or whole milk (or a mixture) instead of heavy cream, and we are eliminating the 4 tablespoons of butter used to dot the top of the casserole. We did, however, double the fresh basil and add a tablespoon of flour to help thicken the sauce. I used reduced-fat mozzarella but had to use the real thing for the other 3 cheeses (Romano, fontina, and gorgonzola) because that's what is available. A whole-wheat pasta blend bumps up the fiber and phytochemicals. Doing all of the above cut the calories in half and the fat by 75 percent.

If you aren't quite ready to use fat-free half-and-half or whole milk for your cream sauce, try using a cup of half-and-half and a cup of low-fat milk or fat-free half-and-half and you will still cut the calories and fat substantially compared to using heavy cream.

Original recipe contains 563 calories, 36 grams fat, 22 grams saturated fat, and 121 milligrams cholesterol per serving.

BAKED PASTA WITH TOMATO AND 4 CHEESES

  • 1 pound whole-wheat blend pasta (rotelle or penne or other), uncooked

  • 2 cups whole milk or fat-free half-and-half (or use 1 cup of each)

  • 1 tablespoon Wondra quick-mixing flour

  • 1 cup canned pureed tomatoes or finely diced tomatoes in puree (or similar)

  • 1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

  • 1/2 cup (1 1/2 ounces) grated pecorino Romano cheese (or similar)

  • 1/2 cup (1 1/2 ounces) shredded fontina cheese

  • 1/4 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese

  • 2/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves

  • 1/4 cup finely chopped or sliced green onion

    Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add pasta. Cook until just tender (al dente), around 10 minutes (check directions on your particular package of pasta thought to make sure). Drain pasta in colander.

    While pasta is boiling, add 3 tablespoons of the fat-free half-and-half or whole milk and the Wondra flour to a large bowl and stir to make a paste. Whisk in the remaining half-and-half or whole milk (or both). Add the tomatoes, cheeses and fresh basil to the large bowl and stir to combine. Add in the cooked and drained pasta and toss everything together.

    Pour the mixture into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish (or similar) or six individual gratin dishes that have been coated with canola or olive oil cooking spray. Coat the tops of the pasta mixture with a light spray of canola or olive oil cooking spray and bake until bubbly and nicely brown on top (about 10 minutes). Sprinkle with the green onions and serve.

    Makes 6 servings.

  • Per serving (using whole milk and Barilla Plus pasta): 330 calories, 20 g protein, 43 g carbohydrate, 8.5 g fat (5 g saturated fat, 2 g monounsaturated fat, 1.1 g polyunsaturated fat), no cholesterol, 4.5 g fiber, 271 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 24 percent. Omega-3 fatty acids, .4 g; omega-6 fatty acids, .5 g. Weight Watchers points, 6.

    See www.recipedoctor.com to find out more about Elaine Magee's newest cookbook, "Comfort Food Makeovers" and to join the free Recipe Doctor Club.