EATING FOR LIFE

Chicken Cajun Pasta low in fat but still luxurious

Evaporated milk is the key to a creamy, robust sauce that rivals restaurant versions.

Updated: 2013-01-23T00:15:34Z

By JILL WENDHOLT SILVA

The Kansas City Star

Editor’s note: This Eating for Life recipe originally ran in 2005. Earlier this month, the watchdog nutrition group Center for Science in the Public Interest handed out its “Xtreme Eating Awards,” a semiannual “honor” for the most disastrously unhealthy restaurant meals. This year the Cheesecake Factory’s Bistro Shrimp Pasta led the pack with 3,120 calories and more than 1,000 milligrams of sodium. We’ve occasionally taken a version of a restaurant dish and trimmed it to fit a healthier diet.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest captured headlines in 1994 when it dubbed fettuccine Alfredo a “heart attack on a plate.”

Fettuccine Alfredo ranked fifth on the food industry watchdog’s “Hall of Shame” list for restaurant dishes that wreak havoc with a balanced diet.

CSPI found the average fettuccine Alfredo dish contains 1,500 calories, a whopping 97 grams of total fat, 48 grams of saturated fat, including trans fat, a nutritional villain dietitians now recommend we avoid altogether.

Whew!

Despite CSPI’s dire warnings, restaurant menus still offer plenty of rich pasta dishes for those who crave the smooth mouth feel of cream. If you share my weakness, The Star’s recipe for Chicken Cajun Pasta with a slightly spicy, Alfredo-type cream sauce has just 5 grams of total fat.

How?

One of the best ways to control the quality of the food you eat is to take back the kitchen and cook. Our at-home version is as tasty as any restaurant version, but with a smidgen of the fat found in the original.

The secret ingredient is evaporated skim milk that cooks down to a luscious creamy texture but without the heavy excesses of cream and butter. Evaporated milk has had 60 percent of the water removed and vitamin D added. It also has less fat and more protein and calcium than whole milk but is available in whole, low-fat and skim versions.

The extras?

Parmesan cheese — also high in calcium. Chicken — a lean protein source. Squash, peppers and mushrooms, all high in antioxidants. Finally, the key to making this dish really work for you is to remember to stick with the recipe’s recommended serving size. Eating in restaurants can distort our notion of what a plate of pasta should look like.

•  Shopping tip: Do not confuse evaporated milk with sweetened condensed milk, which has sugar added, making it best suited for dessert applications.

•  Pump it up: To increase your fiber intake, substitute whole-grain pasta for regular pasta.

Chicken Cajun Pasta

Makes 6 servings

3/4 pound boneless, skinless, chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces

1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning, divided

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 red pepper, cut into thin strips

1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms

3/4 cup chopped yellow onion

3/4 cup diced yellow squash

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 cloves garlic, finely minced

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1 (12-ounce) can evaporated skim milk

15 fresh basil leaves, finely minced

8 ounces penne or bow tie pasta, cooked according to package directions, drained

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat leaf parsley

Toss chicken in 2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning. Heat oil in large skillet over medium high heat. Add chicken and cook until nearly done, about 5 minutes. Add pepper, mushrooms, onion and squash; cover and cook 5 minutes more.

Whisk flour with remaining 1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning, garlic, pepper and milk. Add flour mixture to chicken. Add basil. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, and cook 4 minutes or until sauce thickens, stirring occasionally. (If sauce is too thick, thin with hot water.)

Toss pasta and cheese with sauce. Garnish with parsley.

Per serving: 328 calories (15 percent from fat), 5 grams total fat (2 grams saturated), 40 milligrams cholesterol, 42 grams carbohydrates, 26 grams protein, 337 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.

Recipe developed exclusively for The Star by professional home economists Kathryn Moore and Roxanne Wyss. To reach Jill Wendholt Silva, The Star’s food editor and restaurant critic, call 816-234-4347, send email to jsilva@kcstar.com or follow her on Facebook.

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