Going Healthy with Comfort

Spring 2009 CSANews Issue 70  |  Posted date : Apr 30, 2009.Back to list

Going Healthy with Comfort

I love pairing wine with family dishes and comfort food recipes. But in my wanting to drop a few pounds (my husband would disagree with the word "few"), certain comfort foods are on the 'not right now' list. These are foods which are  the colour 'white', such as potatoes, rice, white pasta and white breads.

You can still enjoy wine with family favourites and comfort foods. The trick is to substitute coloured foods for white ones.

Shepherd's pie is one of my all-time favourite dishes. This old recipe combines chopped vegetables (such as green peas, carrots and sometimes corn) mixed with ground lamb or beef, then topped with mashed potatoes. The mixture is placed in an ovenproof baking dish and baked until heated throughout. I made my version of this traditional English dish recently. I used low-fat ground chicken instead of beef and replaced the "white" mashed potatoes with roasted butternut squash.

The butternut squash added just a hint of sweetness to this dish, thus calling for a red wine with forward fruit flavours and low tannin. Australian shiraz is an ideal choice. In general, Aussie shiraz is big and bold and can handle the weight of chicken-and beef-based shepherd's pie. The silky texture and sweetness of squash is complemented by shiraz's velvety texture and ripe blackberry flavours.

Spaghetti with tomato sauce is a mainstay in our home. To make this dish more healthful, forgo white pasta and use whole wheat noodles instead. If making meatballs, consider using lean ground chicken. In his commitment to helping my husband Jack reduce his bad cholesterol, the doc said, "If it has four feet, you must not eat!" I tell Jack that he could eat a little beef and slow down on the blocks of cheese from Costco! In any case, I do have a commitment to working toward lowering our weekly consumption of red meat. When it comes to spaghetti, the secret to finding the right wine is in considering the weight of the tomato sauce.

Puttanesca sauce is generally made from market ingredients rather than fresh, seasonal ones. This sauce is made with tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, anchovy fillets, dried hot peppers, black olives and capers. The resulting dish is sometimes topped with fresh parsley or basil. The tangy flavour of tomatoes and saltiness of anchovies and capers call for a red wine with good acidity, such as Chianti. Produced in Tuscany, Chianti is made from the Sangiovese grape, sometimes combined with a little Cabernet Franc, Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. Chianti is soft and has high acidity and hints of cherries and plums.

A traditional marinara sauce also works well with Chianti.

A tomato-based meat sauce and/or with meatballs demands a big Italian red. Barolo is powerful and full-bodied with complex flavours of strawberries, tobacco, chocolate and vanilla. The perfect meat-sauce wine.

Or how about baked whole wheat macaroni with tuna? Pair a crisp, dry, white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc, with this old-time dish.

Chicken stroganoff can be just as tasty as the version using beef. The sauce can remain white, as long as you incorporate healthy ingredients. Choose cholesterol-free butter, fat-free sour cream, fat-free milk and whole wheat flour for thickening. The whole wheat flour does make the sauce slightly gray, but I certainly don't mind. This dish, with its healthy white sauce, requires a matching white wine, one with medium weight. Choose a South African or Australian unoaked Chardonnay.

Jambalaya is just as scrumptious with long-grain brown rice (instead of white rice) and turkey sausage. The Cajun seasoning demands a wine with some sweetness to offset the heat and spice. Choose an off-dry Riesling or off-dry Gewürztraminer.

Beef Wellington can be made with whole wheat puff pastry, instead of the traditional white dough. This comfort food partners well with a sophisticated and complex red wine, such as red Bordeaux.

An apple tart can also be made with whole wheat puff pastry. When pairing wine with dessert, it's important that the dessert not be too sweet. So, it's healthy to use less sugar, allowing the natural fruit sweetness to shine through. A late-harvest Vidal or late-harvest Riesling complements this tart.

Baked Whole Wheat Macaroni with Tuna

Serves Four to Six
3 oz butter
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup chicken stock
sea salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 medium-sized cauliflower
1/2lb whole wheat macaroni shells
6 anchovy fillets
1 oz Japanese panko bread crumbs (available at Asian supermarkets)
1 can of tuna, drained
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan

In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt 1 ounce butter. Fry onion until golden. Add stock and seasonings. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Divide cauliflower into florets and cook in boiling salted water until tender, about 12 minutes. Remove. Add macaroni shells to pot. Boil until al dente. Remove them, using a slotted spoon. Set aside.

Meanwhile, melt remaining butter in a frying pan and fry cauliflower until golden. Roughly chop anchovies and add to the pan. Add bread crumbs. Fry mixture until crisp. Remove from heat. Set aside.

Add macaroni to stock mixture. Add tuna and half of the parmesan. Mix well. Taste and adjust seasoning. Pour mixture into an ovenproof casserole dish. Top with cauliflower-and-crumb mixture.

Bake mixture for about 7 minutes or until heated through. Serve hot.

Wine suggestion: California Sauvignon Blanc

Beef Wellington

Serves Four to Six
1 lb frozen whole wheat puff pastry
3 lb filet of beef
2 cloves garlic, slivered
1 oz softened butter
sea salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh thyme
4 oz fois gras
1 egg, beaten

Thaw pastry. Preheat oven to 425 F (220 C). Trim meat of all its fat. Tie into a neat shape with fine string. Make tiny slits in the meat with tip of a sharp knife and insert slivers of garlic. Spread butter over the beef. Season with half of the fresh thyme. Place beef in a roasting pan and roast for 10 minutes. Take the meat out of the pan, place on a wire rack and let cool completely.

Remove string from the meat. Roll out dough to a large rectangle just more than twice the size of the meat. Place meat on one half of the dough and brush dough edges with water. Spread fois gras over the top of the meat and sprinkle with remaining thyme. Fold dough over to enclose the meat and seal the edges. Trim so that it is snug and looks nice. Cut decorative shapes out of remaining pieces of puff pastry. Place them on top of the loaf. Glaze the loaf with egg and chill for one hour.

Preheat oven to 425 F (220 C). Bake Wellington for 35 minutes or until the pastry is well-risen ad golden. Place Wellington on a warmed serving dish, garnish with watercress and serve, cut into thick slices.

Wine suggestion: Red Bordeaux, California Cabernet Sauvignon

Shari Darling is an award-winning and bestselling cookbook author. Her products are available at www.orgasmicculinarycreations.com