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Whole Wheat Pasta with Lightened-Up Pesto Cream Sauce, Shrimp and Baby Spinach

Posted Sep 01 2010 12:22pm

Last night I had a hankering for some pesto cream sauce.  Get this sauce in a restaurant and you can rest assured that heavy cream was involved in its creation.  Unless it’s a special occasion, however, that’s not how I do things at my house!  Making a lighter, lower fat version of such rich, creamy sauces is totally possible!

Rather than using heavy cream in recipes, I turn to a lightened-up version of the classic béchamel . In the words of Julia Child, béchamel is “a quickly made milk-based foundation requiring only the addition of butter, cream, herbs or other flavorings to turn it into a proper sauce.”

I may use Smart Balance instead of butter and substitute nonfat or unsweetened soy milk for the whole milk, but the principle is the same — Thickening milk (or soy milk) with a roux (mixture of flour and fat) creates a white sauce which has a full body and is incredibly multi-purpose.  Béchamel is the base for many other sauces, such as cheese sauces (see Slightly Less Sinful Mac and Cheese ). It can be stirred into cooked spinach to make creamed spinach. And it can be mixed with pesto to make pesto cream sauce. :)


Whole Wheat Pasta with Lightened-Up Pesto Cream Sauce, Shrimp and Baby Spinach

To make the sauce, you’ll need:

1 Tbsp Smart Balance or similar
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 cup nonfat milk or unsweetened soy milk
Pesto, to taste (See Fresh Basil Pesto )

Begin by melting the Smart Balance over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for about 1 minute.
(*Note — the amounts pictured are cut in half — cooking for one!)

Add your milk (I used the unsweetened soy) and bring barely to a simmer. Cook until the sauce has thickened. Other than a tiny pinch of nutmeg, I did not add any other seasonings to this base — my pesto was seasoned enough.

Stir in the pesto (leftovers from Monday night ) — I added quite a bit to mine!

Whole wheat spaghetti, cooked according to the package’s wishes.

A handful of frozen shrimp from Trader Joe’s, thrown into the pasta pot during the last minute of cooking (they’re already cooked). These are fairly inexpensive, and a great, last-minute source of low-fat protein. If you aren’t into shrimp, grilled chicken breast could be tossed in at the end.

A nice big handful of baby spinach, slightly torn, placed in the bottom of my pasta bowl.

Hot pasta, added immediately to the bowl, wilts the spinach.

Mix in your sauce, and you’re done!

Topped with a few walnuts, crushed red pepper and a bit of Romano cheese. Cravings = satisfied.

What are you favorite tricks for lightening up classic dishes?

What is your favorite way to use leftover pesto?


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