Layer and Build Flavors

 Pasta with Marinated Chickpeas, Grilled Vegetables and Sausage

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

 This spring I had the pleasure of working with senior students at the Culinary Academy of Seattle Central Community College.  The project required them to prepare a meal that meets strict limits on calories, sodium, fiber, fat and saturated fat, use seasonal and nutrient-rich ingredients and employ at least three culinary techniques.

 It was fascinating to see how the students fathomed and executed the project.  One, student wrote:  “Being that I work in a French restaurant, I love butter, in everything.  I tried to use diversion tactics to keep the diner from noticing the absence of salt and animal fats. ” He made a gorgeous, three course lunch of ginger-carrot soup, smoked scallops with a marinated apple-fennel bundle and almond-crusted halibut with quinoa, spinach and roasted cauliflower.

 Another student built flavors into an asparagus gazpacho by roasting garlic and bell pepper and blending it with blanched asparagus, leeks and fresh basil.  He brightened the soup with wine vinegar, lemon and a dollop of creamy, tangy Greek yogurt. 

 Acid from citrus and vinegar, fresh garlic and fresh herbs entertain the palate when salt is limited.  Grilling, smoking and roasting foods concentrates and adds more flavor notes to lean vegetables and protein foods.  Proper cooking insures the diner experiences foods of interesting flavors and textures.  Since we eat with our eyes first, an artful plate presentation makes insures that the meal launches on a positive note.

 Here’s a pasta recipe inspired by the approach students took to “building and layering flavors” with healthful ingredients- lean proteins, legumes and colorful vegetables and whole grains.  Whole grain pasta is tossed with three components, each adding a layer of flavor:  rosemary- and balsamic-marinated chickpeas, grilled vegetables and lean sausages and an umami-rich tomato sauce with a load of fresh herbs. 

 The recipe appears long but each step can be done a day or two ahead of time and chilled. As the pasta cooks, reheat the sauce with the vegetables, sausage and drained chickpeas and chop the herbs.  Drain the pasta and toss with the sauce ingredients.  With a salad, it’s a one-dish meal. 

A Healthy Pantry:  I stock my pantry with most of the ingredients for this dish:  canned beans and tomatoes, anchovies, vinegars, garlic and onions.  Lean sausage is a freezer staple.  Bell peppers and spinach are often in the fridge but other fresh vegetables, such as lightly steamed broccoli florets can be substituted.

 Note: To meet the strict fat, calorie and salt restrictions the culinary students were tasked with, one would have to use fresh or salt-free canned tomatoes, freshly cooked or well-rinsed canned garbanzo beans, omit the anchovies, cook the pasta in unsalted water and reduce the amounts of olive oil and sausage. 

Pasta with Marinated Chickpeas, Grilled Vegetables and Sausage

1 can (15-ounce) chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained

3 tablespoons olive oil

4  cloves garlic, finely chopped

3  canned anchovies, drained

5  teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary

1/4  teaspoon crushed red pepper, optional

2  tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

1  can (14-ounce) diced tomatoes

3 bell peppers (red, green and yellow, if available), halved and cored

1  sweet yellow or red onion, peeled and sliced about 3/4-inch thick

3/4 to 1 pound lean Italian chicken or turkey sausages

1  pound short pasta such as penne or orecchiette, preferably whole grain

1/4  cup fresh chopped marjoram parsley, oregano, thyme or a combination

3 ounces (about 3 cups) baby spinach leaves, tough stems removed

Freshly shredded Parmesan cheese

Place drained chickpeas in a small bowl; reserve.  Heat a large deep skillet over low to medium-low heat.  Add oil, garlic and anchovies; mash anchovies and garlic with fork into a smooth paste.  Stir in rosemary and crushed red pepper.  Remove from heat.  Remove half of the spiced oil and stir into chickpeas along with vinegar. Add a few grinds of black pepper.   (For best flavor prepare early in the day and refrigerate, stirring occasionally.)  Add tomatoes with liquid to skillet.  Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat so sauce simmers very gently while grilling vegetables and sausage and cooking pasta.

Prepare a medium-hot grill.  Grill peppers, skin side down until skin is blackened.  Remove to a platter and cover with foil or a light towel. Place onion slices on skewers and grill, turning once or twice until softened.  Grill sausages, turning once or twice, until cooked through.  Cook pasta in boiling, salted water as package directs, until al dente.  While pasta cooks, peel and discard blackened skin from peppers. Chop bell peppers, onion and sausages; add to tomato sauce and reheat as needed.  Stir spinach leaves into warm sauce. Drain cooked pasta and place in large warm bowl.  Add warm sauce.  Remove chickpeas with slotted spoon and add to pasta along with fresh herbs. Toss.  Drizzle chickpea marinade over pasta, if desired.  Toss again.  Serve warm, passing Parmesan cheese.  Makes 6 servings. 

Copyright © Lorelle S Del Matto 2011

lorelle About lorelle

Crazy about cooking, eating and sharing good food – my work and leisure revolve around the kitchen. As a culinary dietitian my professional life encompasses nutrition counseling and education, recipe development, product development, food and nutrition writing, marketing communications, corporate test kitchen and consumer affairs management, food styling and work as a product spokesperson.

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