Nearly five years ago I thought we had made the ultimate shift in our diet when we started eating less meat so that we could afford better meat. As long as I could rely on cheese and eggs for the satisfaction factor, giving up meat a good chunk of the time wasn’t that difficult.
But then at David’s annual physical last fall, his cholesterol numbers were elevated . The doctor said he could take the meds or try changing his diet. He chose the latter and three months later his blood test confirmed that his cholesterol numbers had dropped over fifty points, well below two hundred. His nurse was in awe. But dramatically cutting cheese and butter and eggs from our diet was much harder than giving up meat.
This shift in our diet coincided with February’s National Heart-Healthy Month, and I was asked to do a video to promote it. One of the sponsors was Jarlsberg Lite. My initial response was, “Why is a cheese company supporting this cause?” I quickly found out their light cheese had only ten milligrams of cholesterol (and only fifty calories) for a 3/4-ounce portion compared with other similar regular cheeses with twenty-five to thirty milligrams.
The big questions for me: did it taste good and would it melt? I hadn’t made grilled cheeses in months, so I put on a pot of tomato soup and grilled up a couple of sandwiches. The lite cheese did not disappoint, and it was a relief to me that we could put one of our favorites back on the occasional list.
So I’m learning. These days I use a lot more egg substitutes and whites and more oil than butter. But at least now I know I’ve got light cheese as an option. I’ve reworked one of our popular recipes on the site. In addition to using Jarlsberg Lite in this gooey pasta bake, I’ve added butternut squash and a hearty green to the dish. I found frozen vegetables worked just fine here, making this dish simple enough to pull off on a weeknight.
I knew we were going to be OK when I served this dish to David for dinner last night, and he said, “Are you sure this is made with light cheese?”
Light and Creamy Pasta Bake with Butternut Squash and Kale
Serves 8 to 12
You can make this dish ahead and refrigerate it–just add about 10 minutes to the baking time.
1 pound bite-size pasta such as corkscrews or ziti
1/2 cup prepared pesto
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups each: broth (chicken or vegetable), evaporated milk, and canned crushed tomatoes
1 pound bag each: frozen butternut squash and frozen kale (or collard greens)
12 ounces low-fat cheese such as Jarlsberg Lite, 8 ounces cubed and 4 ounces grated
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Bring a generous 2 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon of salt to boil in a large soup kettle. Add pasta and, using back-of-the-box times as a guide, cook partially covered and stirring frequently at first to prevent sticking, until just tender. Drain pasta and return it to the pot.
Meanwhile, heat pesto over medium-high heat in a soup kettle until it starts to sizzle. Whisk in flour to make a smooth paste. Whisk in broth and milk and cook until mixture starts to simmer and thicken up. Whisk in tomatoes; bring to a simmer. Stir in squash and kale; continue to simmer to heat through. Pour sauce over pasta, along with cubed cheese; toss to coat. Pour into a greased 13- by 9-inch baking dish and sprinkle with the grated grated cheese and Parmesan cheeses. Cover with foil and bake until bubbly and golden, about 20 minutes. Uncover and broil until top is golden brown, about 5 minutes longer.