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Recipe #238: Farfalle Alfredo con Funghi e Spinaci (Bow-Tie Pasta in Alfredo Sauce with Mushrooms & Spinach)

Posted Feb 02 2011 6:02pm
This is a pasta biana (i.e., a pasta made in a traditional Italian white sauce), but one made without cream. Even so, I'm not going to lie -- due to the mascarpone, butter, olive oil, &  walnuts -- this dish isn't exactly low fat. ;) So, I'd advise saving this recipe for special occasions or making it as a once-in-a-blue-moon "splurge meal," versus putting it into the regular rotation. That is, unless you want to waddle out the door, or possibly get stuck in the door frame. ;)

On the plus side, the walnuts , fresh herbs, and veggies in this dish all have excellent health properties. And, relatively speaking, if you compare this pasta bianca recipe with others of its kind, especially those calling for mascarpone cheese, you'll find that there's far less saturated fat in this recipe. (A lot of the standard alfredo recipes call for frightening amounts of butter, olive oil, & heavy cream. This recipe only contains 1/2 Tbsp. butter, 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil, and zero cream. The mascarpone is really where most of the saturated fat is, and that's split over 3-4 meal portions. You know the nutrition guideline stating that only 30% of your daily calories should come from fat? Well, if you're going to make this dish, you'll be meeting that guideline in one meal. :) So, you'll probably want to keep your other meals of the day/week low-fat and also make a point of exercising a bit longer or with more intensity for that week. ;)

On that note, if you exercise regularly & eat healthfully the other 99.999% of the time, one rich meal every now & then will probably be OK. Just not 50 of them. In a row. LOL! As with most anything else in life, moderation is key.

Having gotten all of the disclaimers out of the way, I will say this: This dish is very filling, so I'd recommend first putting a little bit on your plate & finishing it before going back for more. (It takes 20 minutes for the body's satiety signal to reach the brain anyhow, so who knows -- you might be full after eating the first portion.) This way, you can still enjoy a treat like this without overeating & then having major pangs of guilt afterwards. ;)

Before some of you think I've temporarily lost my way or am betraying my principles, let me reiterate that while the overall aim of this blog is to encourage & inspire people to eat healthfully by providing nutrition/cooking tips & healthy gourmet recipes made with natural, whole foods, I never ever claimed that this was a "diet blog." :) Nor does it have a "diet" attitude either. This blog has always been about balance & moderation, and emphasizes the importance of both nutrition and taste. The majority of the recipes here are grounded in the principles of balanced nutrition, with a few "splurge meals" tossed in here & there for good measure. :) Of course, when I say "splurge," we're not talking about a 20 ft. chocolate fudge cake with cookies & ice cream on top. ;) It's more like an occasional recipe that's relatively more decadent to the other ones on this blog. Maybe there's an infrequent recipe or two with a little bit more fat than usual, but just not one made with 10 sticks of butter. ;)

Lastly, the recipes on this blog are created with the assumption that the individuals who make these recipes are making healthy lifestyle choices -- i.e., exercising & eating healthfully, etc. -- or are least making an effort to move in that direction. So, that means, when they do decide to splurge, it's just that -- a calm & conscious choice that's balanced out by the other aspects of their life. Yes, if you exercise regularly and eat right, you too can be zen about enjoying recipes with mascarpone cheese. :)

Buon Appetito!


Farfalle Alfredo con Funghi e Spinaci (Bow-Tie Pasta in Alfredo Sauce with Mushrooms & Spinach)

Ingredients:
6 c. lightly salted water, seasoned with a drop of olive oil (for boiling pasta)
1 c. dry, uncooked farfalle pasta
6 oz. fresh baby spinach leaves, well-washed & drained
1/4 c. water (for steaming spinach)1/2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
8 oz. Baby Bella (or regular) mushrooms, soaked for 20 minutes, then washed/cleaned, & cut into 3/8" thick slices (about 3 c.)
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, densely packed
1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste
8 oz. container of mascarpone cheese
1/4 c. freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 c. grape tomatoes, halved (optional)
1/16 tsp. (pinch) freshly grated nutmeg, or to taste*
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/3 c. walnuts, shelled & broken into small pieces (gently crushed)
2 Tbsp. fresh basil leaves, julienned (for garnish)

Directions: Bring 6 c. lightly salted water (seasoned with a drop of olive oil) to a rolling boil in a large pot. Add the farfalle & cook according to package instructions, until al dente, stirring occasionally.(Barilla Plus farfalle pasta takes 10 minutes to cook.) Drain (in a colander), rinse with cold water, drain again, & set aside.

While pasta is cooking, steam the spinach in 1/4 c. water, in a large (12-13") nonstick sauté pan on medium-high heat. Cook until tender, about 2-3 minutes. Spinach should be only lightly steamed (i.e., gently wilted) & when finished, should still retain its bright green color. Remove from heat. Let spinach cool, & then drain (over sink), squeezing out the moisture with your hands -- cup them together with the spinach in the center & press. (This method is honestly much more effective than using a colander or a sieve. You can extract a lot more moisture this way.) Place drained spinach into a small bowl & set aside. Wash out pan with soap & water, & dry.

Add the olive oil & butter to the same sauté pan over medium heat. When butter has melted, add the mushrooms, season with the thyme & half of the salt (1/4 tsp.), & sauté until most of the juices have evaporated & the mushrooms have turned a light golden brown, about 5 minutes. Stir occasionally, making sure to brown mushrooms on both sides. With about a minute to go, add the thyme & continue to cook. Stir in the cooked farfalle, followed by the mascarpone, parmesan, spinach, & tomatoes (if using) & toss until the cheese coats the pasta. Then, quickly remove from heat & stir in the walnuts. Season with nutmeg, black pepper, & remaining (1/4 tsp.) salt.  Divide into equal portions, garnish each with fresh basil, and serve immediately with a salad or other vegetable side.

Yield: 2-4 servings.

Chef's Notes: *Easy does it on the nutmeg. It's very strong, so be very careful not to overseason or it'll taste so bitter it'll be inedible. This dish has a creamy, subtle flavor, so the smallest amount of nutmeg will really stand out. A little goes a long way.


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