White or red?: Tough choices loom when it comes to pasta saucesWhen it comes to pasta, I’ve pretty much been in the red sauce camp my entire life.
By: Jeff Tiedeman, Grand Forks Herald
When it comes to pasta, I’ve pretty much been in the red sauce camp my entire life.
It probably goes back to my childhood, when just about the only pasta dishes with anything remotely similar to white sauce were tuna casseroles and hamburger hotdishes (both containing cream of mushroom soup), which either Mom made or we had for school lunch. All the rest were red-based.
But since becoming a food writer and generally doing a lot more cooking, I’ve read about how much healthier of red sauces are than white sauces.
What I discovered along the way is that tomatoes are one of the power foods, especially when they are cooked. Cooking tomatoes — such as in spaghetti or marinara sauce — makes the fruit heart-healthier and boosts its cancer-fighting ability by raising the levels of beneficial compounds called phytochemicals.
In the case of tomatoes, it’s the powerful antioxidant lycopene — a carotenoid responsible for the red color — which consumes more than 10 times more free radicals than vitamin E. (Free radicals are damaging molecules, if allowed to run rampant, that can destroy cells and lead to cancer and other health catastrophes. They have been associated with more than 60 major diseases related to aging.)
I’ve always loved anything associated with tomatoes — dishes such as casseroles, homemade juice and salsa.
Plus, I also like my food spicy, and that is suited well with tomato-based sauces.
My marinara sauce is a case in point. It’s loaded with herbs such as basil, parsley and oregano — and a lot of tomatoes and tomato paste.
But I’m starting to come around to the idea of white sauces for pasta, despite the much ballyhooed statement made a couple of years ago by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (the undisputed leader among America’s “food police”) about one called fettuccine Alfredo, which was given the not-so-nice nickname “heart attack on a plate.”
I’ve found you don’t need to have large amounts of butter, cream and cheese that some white sauce recipes require in order to keep the flavor and texture. (A serving of fettuccine Alfredo probably contains about 1,500 calories and a ton of saturated fat.)
And apparently other people also have come to that conclusion.
For example, a healthier recipe for the aforementioned fettuccine Alfredo (view it at www.grandforksherald.com/event/tag/group/ Features/tag/food/) that I found on one of our wire services substitutes fat-free milk and a little half-and-half for most of the heavy cream and uses less than half the Parmesan cheese that is found in a standard recipe.
By doing so, you can cut a typical fettuccine Alfredo recipe’s calorie count by 64 percent and reduce the fat by 83 percent.
Another fairly nutritious white sauce recipe that I came across on the Internet is for Creamy Shrimp Pasta. I haven’t computed the nutritional analysis for the recipe, but it uses milk instead of cream and contains only 2 ounces of Swiss cheese and 2 tablespoons of butter. This recipe also is a revision of one that might be called an artery-clogger by the CSPI.
Who says necessity isn’t the mother of invention?
Tiedeman is food editor at the Herald. Reach him at 780-1136 or toll-free at (800) 477-6572, or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.