Whether planning a simple family supper or a weekend dinner party for good friends, it’s always a great idea to look at what’s in season and then think about what the people at your table might enjoy most.
But when cooking for a crowd, you also need to consider what’s easiest for you!
This weekend, with my 10-year old daughter’s soccer team sleeping over, my go-to recipe for taste and ease is Bison Bolognese.
Yes, I know, ordering pizza would be even easier. And, truth be told, 2 years (and 34 pounds) ago, that’s exactly what I did. But we don’t roll (literally) that way any more and–without a doubt–this is SO much more nutritious and FAR more delicious!
Made with in-season produce, it’s true Italian comfort food that both kids and adults love. And since the sauce is best if made a day or two ahead, on the night of the party I’ll have a clean kitchen and only a pot of water to boil.
But, best of all, after I made just a few tweaks, this make-ahead meal not only tastes great, it’s now also great for your waist.
I began by taking a good look at my favorite Bolognese recipes…Mario Batalli’s was always delicious; so was the classic ragu from Marcella Hazan. And I’ve always loved the sauce created by my dear Good Morning America pal, Emeril.
I learned so much from their recipes, their cooking techniques and flavor combinations…but I also learned, after counting the calories and fat grams in those recipes, that I couldn’t eat more than a thimble sized serving if I wanted to be fit and not fat. And, if you’ve ever eaten with me, you know that thimble sized portions are not going to cut it!
So, with The Skinny Truths as my guide, I kept the techniques and flavors my favorite chefs use, but traded in the pancetta, ground beef, veal and pork for heart healthy bison. I dumped the extra oil, butter, milk and cream for 40 calorie almond milk, and also added loads of fresh vegetables. By making those simple substitutions and additions, the fat and calories are dramatically reduced but the flavor is not!
And by serving this luscious sauce over healthy whole grain noodles made of brown rice, buckwheat or whole wheat (rather than more processed white flour pasta), you can add even more fiber to the meal. And more fiber means you’ll get full faster and stay full longer–which is KEY to losing weight and keeping it off for life.
(FYI… by using those healthy whole grain pastas instead of white pasta, everyone avoids the spike in blood sugar that can follow a meal heavy in processed carbs. And with a dozen little girls in my house this weekend, the LAST thing I want is a collective sugar rush!)
So next time you’re cooking for a crowd, try this rich and delish dish. Your guests–and your skinny jeans–will thank you.
SKINNY BISON BOLOGNESE
By cutting the vegetables into chunks and then using the food processor to more finely chop and mince them, you’ll save a load of time and effort.
1 small globe eggplant, chopped fine
3 medium carrots, minced
2 large celery stalks, minced
1 large red bell pepper, minced
2 peperoncini peppers, minced
2 t salt
1 t black pepper
1/2 t red pepper flakes, optional
2 T fresh garlic, minced
2 T dried oregano
1 T dried thyme
2 t dried basil
1 lb ground bison
1/2 lb brown (cremini) mushrooms, chopped
1/2 lb fresh shiitake mushrooms, chopped (Note: you can use all brown mushrooms if you can’t get fresh shiitakes, but the texture and nutrition is better if you have both. I love their meaty texture so much, I usually use double this amount. See Fun With Fungi for more on how mushrooms help with weight loss.)
1/2 c white wine
1 c unsweetened plain almond milk (not vanilla!)
2 28 oz cans whole Italian style tomatoes with basil
1 can tomato paste
2-3 T fresh oregano
fresh parsley and fresh tomatoes for serving, optional
Heat a large pot over medium heat, spray well with cooking spray and add the onions, eggplant, carrots, celery and peppers as you process them. Add the garlic, herbs and spices and cook until the vegetables are soft.
Begin crumbling the bison into the mix, stirring as you go so that the meat becomes fully incorporated into the vegetables.
Add the wine and cook until the alcohol burns off, about 4 minutes.
Add the almond milk and cook another few minutes to reduce.
Add the tomato paste and canned tomatoes, crushing with your hands as you drop them in.
Add in the fresh oregano and cook, uncovered, over medium low heat for one hour, stirring now and then to prevent sticking. The sauce should now be thick and darker than before. Taste for seasonings and add salt only if necessary.
Boil as much pasta as you need until al dente, drain and return to the pot you used to cook it in. Ladle in a few cups of the sauce and cook another 5-7 minutes so the pasta has a chance to absorb some of the sauce.
To serve, place the pasta onto plates or into bowls and add more sauce. You can also add fresh parsley, and a few chopped tomatoes and a scant teaspoon of Parmesan if you like.
To keep your meal under 400 calories, make sure you just serve yourself just 1 cup of noodles and 2 cups of sauce rather than the other way around.
If you think you’ll need more food than that, fill out your plate with steamed broccoli instead of more pasta.
RE-USE, RE-PURPOSE, RECYCLE
This sauce freezes beautifully. Just remember to use several smaller bags rather than one large one for easy thawing.
Try it over oven fried eggplant slices like the ones found in Super Skinny Eggplant Lasagna for a quick supper or snack.