Part of my job as a personal chef is to keep an eye on healthy eating trends for my clients. This can entail taking someone's beloved family recipes that may no longer reflect the way the family eats and tweaking those recipes to make them more healthy, something I really love to do. I find this process challenging, fun and exciting, especially when I find solutions that become the new family classic.
One recipe my own family adores is my mother-in law's scrumptious spinach noodle casserole recipe known to the family as "Spinach Noodle Thing". My daughter has been begging me to make it for her and when I actually looked at the recipe I saw why it tastes so great and why we only eat it at holiday dinners a few times a year. A stick of butter, a cup of heavy cream, 2 envelopes of onion soup mix and 3 eggs give this dish all its popular appeal. Oh yeah, and there is spinach in it. Pretty yummy, but not something I would make for a week day dinner.
Before hitting the oven I sprinkled breadcrumbs on top and a bit more grated cheese.
I decided to tackle this recipe and see if I could shave off a few calories and lose the onion soup mix which has more sodium than we need. To add flavor I sauteed the spinach with chopped garlic and then added 1/2 cup of chopped fresh dill. I think the addition of fresh herbs adds lots of flavor and keeps calories and additives under control. Instead of using all the butter I cut it down to one tablespoon and combined it with one tablespoon of olive oil. I only used one egg instead of three. I substituted orzo for the noodles to give the dish a bit more body as the orzo can be cooked al dente and retain a little texture. I also decreased the proportion of noodles to spinach and reduced the cream to barely a quarter cup while adding grated Romano cheese.
Fresh herbs add so much flavor and keep the calorie count down.
The results? Delighted with my first bite I excitedly called my daughter in to taste it. Miss El Exigente pronounced that it was SO NOT as good as Nanas (natch), but it wasn't bad. She then proceeded to scarf down a huge helping. Her one complaint was the dill which is not her favorite herb. Next time I make it for her I will use parsley which has a less pronounced presence but will add the freshness I am looking for.
We will continue to feast on Nana's original Spinach Noodle Thing on those wonderful occasions when she serves it and we now have a lighter version to enjoy on less grand occasions.
The finished result was hard to resist.
Nana's Everyday Spinach Noodle Thing
1 Tbs. butter
1 Tbs. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 lb. fresh spinach, washed and roughly chopped (or use frozen- defrosted and squeezed dry)
1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs- dill or parsley or a mix of the two
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 lb. Orzo
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup grated Romano Cheese
3 Tbs. bread crumbs tossed with 1 teaspoon olive oil
Heat butter and oil in a saute pan. Add the garlic and cook for five minutes until soft. Add the spinach and cook till wilted. Add the fresh herbs and salt and pepper to taste and cook another minute to combine flavors. Remove from heat and scoop into a mixing bowl. Cook the orzo according to package directions and drain. Beat the egg, the grated cheese and the cream in a small bowl with more s & p and then fold it into the spinach mixture. Add the orzo and mix well to combine. Scoop into a baking dish and top with breadcrumbs and a little extra cheese if you like. Bake in oven for 25 minutes until bread crumbs are golden.
I'm thinking Chardonnay with this. Something with a creamy mouthfeel to coincide with the creaminess of this dish, resulting from the cheese and cream. By the way, I am a HUGE dill fan. Love it. My favorite cream cheese spread at my local bagel shop is the cucumber dill. SOOOO refreshing and wonderful. Nana's original recipe for the "Spinach Noodle Thing" does sound quite good, but I think I would prefer your version. My belly isn't accustomed to eating heavier and richer dishes these days. Lighter fare seems to appeal to me more. This seems like it would be great as a main course, but also as a side. It is possible, if only slightly, that my kids might even try something like this! I'll have to give it a shot. Looks and sounds yummy!
For Chardonnay, I am thinking of the Landmark Overlook Chardonnay 2007. This is a creamy, rich, fleshy Chardonnay from California. It's got beautiful aromas of tropical fruit and a touch of oak on the palate. It is medium to full-bodied, and certainly has the qualities rendering it a perfect match for a creamy pasta dish. This bottle can be found anywhere from $20-$29. I think this would be a spectacular match!