On Your Table: Lighten up and deconstruct

By Cathy Branciaroli, Food Correspondent, The Times

Lightening up familiar favorite dishes is a great way to please the family while serving healthier dishes.

If the recent spate of springtime weather (this week’s crazy winter weather notwithstanding) has started you thinking about summertime and bathing suits, now is the time to start lightening up food choices.

And, by the way, this doesn’t mean sacrifice, just making smart choices. Plus, now that the Christian season of Lent is fully underway, eating less is part of the sacrificial plan. Either way you can win in terms of healthier diets and slimming weight loss.

One sure way to achieve these goals while delighting the family is to lighten up old family favorites. And there are so many creative ways to do this. Take pizza for instance. Here’s an option that’s also easy to pull together.

Instead of slathering pizza dough with heavy marinara sauce and mozzarella, get a pre-made ball of pizza dough or a large flatbread.   For toppings sauté sliced button or cremini mushrooms in a little olive oil, then add halved grape or cherry tomatoes to the skillet till they burst their skins. Roasted garlic dabbed on as a topping along with a smattering of herbs and other toppings such as roasted red peppers, halved olives, fresh parsley and dollops of goat cheese completes the dish. This bakes in the oven just like any other pizza you’ve ever made at home and everyone thinks “gee pizza” but yet this is a much healthier option.

For a lasagna dish, instead of layers of heavy casserole, use fresh produce in lasagna roll-ups that look just gorgeous and offer much less cholesterol and calories than the usual preparation. See recipe which follows.

Finally, to get out of the rut of serving roasted chicken parts, try enlisting the kids to make chicken skewers. Marinated in a chili garlic sauce, these offer spice and a slight sweetness which gives them a cool and refreshing kick. This approach also makes the preparation fun. Soak skewers in cold water. Then add cut up chicken breasts or thighs to a marinade of honey, chili paste and garlic cloves, with seasonings to taste. Spear 4-5 chunks on each skewer. These can be made in a skillet if it’s not grilling weather outside. They only require ~5 minutes to cook through. Then toss with chopped parsley and serve with a rice pilaf or green vegetable and dinner is served.


Lasagna Rolls with Swiss Chard & Vegetables

While Swiss Chard is my favorite green, baby spinach serves a similar purpose


1 lb swiss chard or spinach leaves, stems removed

8 dried lasagna noodles

2 tbs olive oil

1 oz diced pancetta

8 oz cremini mushrooms, diced

½ medium onion, diced

2 tbs tomato paste

2 tsp garlic, diced

Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

4 oz ricotta cheese

2 oz mozzarella cheese, coarsely grated

2 oz Parmesan cheese for topping

1 handful fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped



Set aside a bowl of ice cubes or chopped ice to douse the swiss chard and the pasta after cooking. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bring a pot of well-salted water to a boil and cook the lasagna noodles till just softened – ~5 minutes. Remove, drain and douse in the ice-cold water. Remove and pat dry. Set aside. In a saucepan, quick cook the swiss chard in a covered pan in a little water till wilted and remove from heat. Also douse in icy water to stop cooking. Remove and pat dry.

Heat olive oil in a medium skillet. Add pancetta and cook till crisp, 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate and crumble when cooled. Then sauté the mushrooms in the same skillet, adding garlic, onion and tomato paste. Season to taste.

To assemble, spread out lasagna noodles on a towel or parchment paper. Lightly oil an 8×8 inch baking dish. Spread the noodles with ricotta cheese, then add swiss chard or spinach in a thin layer.   Sprinkle the remaining ingredients evenly atop each noodle. Roll up the noodles from the short side and transfer to the prepared dish, positioning each one upright with the seam against the side of the dish. Fill in the center last. Sprinkle with the mozzarella and parmesan cheese. Bake until golden brown, about 25-30 minutes. Remove rolls from dish, cut each one in half lengthwise and arrange on plates. Serve with a fresh green salad.

Cathy Branciaroli also writes about her adventures in the kitchen on her award-winning blog Delaware Girl Eats

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