I have mixed feelings about the Food Network. I would certainly be lying if I said that I never watch it and that I get all of my cooking information and entertainment from Larousse Gastronomique. While I’m dubious of many of the cooking show hosts, I like Ina Garten’s show and her simple but elegant recipes, and I think “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” is fun. In recent years though, I’ve seen a decline in programming that piques my interest. Commercialization has brought quantity over quality and showmanship over culinary chops.
Over the summer, I happened upon a new show (which will remain nameless) hosted by a woman who is semi-famous for advocating super low-calorie eating. From her cartoon-like kitchen, she uses words like “ginormous” and “deliciousness” to describe a cioppino made of canned clams and tomato soup and skewers made of fat-free hot dog chunks (um, what?) and canned pineapple. Too often, I think “healthy” food and “diet” food are used interchangeably, and this show takes it to a dangerous level for impressionable viewers. Her recipes, if you can call them that, are nothing but an amalgamation of already prepped and very unhealthy ingredients. I guess that’s why the people behind the Food Network came up with the Cooking Channel, because they probably actually do some of it on those shows.
This recipe for Pasta Puttanesca comes from a much less showy personality who used to grace the Food Network, Ellie Krieger. For Ellie, nuts, salmon and olive oil were good because of their nutritional benefits. For this new gal, they’re bad, because they’re high in calories and fat. Instead, she advocates sautéeing veggies in a light coating of PAM and measuring kernels of corn for salads by the teaspoon.
I found the recipe a couple of years ago on Smitten Kitchen, and it has become one of my go-to weeknight dinners, not because it’s healthy, which it is, but because it’s good. I will not recount the whorish legends behind it; I’m sure you all know the story. It is incredibly flavorful for barely being simmered, and it packs a little bit of heat. With only one substitution, it uses ingredients I love and always have in my pantry and fridge. The kalamata olives and capers bring their trademark brininess, which contrasts the more-than-subtle nuttiness achieved through the use of whole wheat pasta, a squirt of anchovy paste, and a sprinkle of good parmesan.
I would love to say something corny like, “your friends and family will never know that this is healthy”, but they probably will, and what’s wrong with that? It’s not a sad imposter or a “recipe remake” of a high calorie meal. It’s healthy because it’s fresh, hearty and satisfying, and that’s how I like to eat.
adapted from Ellie Krieger
8 ounces whole-wheat thin spaghetti, vermicelli or angel hair
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup pitted chopped Spanish or Greek olives
2 tablespoons capers
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes, preferably “no salt added”
3/4 cup chopped fresh arugula (I sometimes use spinach, because I usually have it on hand, and it works fine. The arugula, though, adds more peppery kick)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add pasta and cook according to the directions on the package.
While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a large skillet over a medium flame. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the parsley, olives, capers, anchovy paste, oregano and crushed red pepper to the skillet, and saute for 2 minutes more. Add the tomatoes and simmer for about 5 minutes. Stir in the arugula and simmer for 1 minute more, until the greens wilt slightly.
When the pasta is done, drain it and add it to the skillet, tossing it with the sauce to combine. Top with grated cheese.