Rocco DiSpirito on Cooking an Italian Feast and the Secret to Yummy (and Healthy) Dessert
How does celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito enjoy classic mouthwatering Italian sweets without packing on the pounds? His secret is giving these beloved recipes a modern twist.
“For Italian dishes that may call for mascarpone, I use Greek yogurt to replace some or all of the cheese,” says the 46-year-old, whose passion for fine cuisine has prompted nine books, including the best-selling “Now Eat This!” series. His latest collection of recipes, “Now Eat This! Italian: Favorite Dishes from the Real Mamas of Italy — All Under 350 Calories” is implied, except his delectable creations have been made healthier with the help of velvety Greek yogurt.
“I like to use 0 percent Greek yogurt mixed with skim milk to create a rich texture that can replace heavy cream without the fat,” says DiSpirito. “I base my vanilla panna cotta on the smooth, creamy texture of yogurt and use just a fraction of the cream of the original version.”
And he doesn’t just use this kitchen staple for dessert.
“I like to make creamy salad dressing with yogurt as a base,” he explains. “It’s as easy as 1/4 cup of 0 percent Greek yogurt, 1-1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice, and some fresh herbs, like dill.
"The probiotics in the yogurt are super healthy,” he adds.
Speaking of tantalizing treats with a healthy spin, we had to ask DiSpirito how he plans an Italian feast for any day of the week without indulging on excess calories.
His response? Well, despite keeping it traditional with at least four courses, DiSpirito says he can help make the process super speedy with healthy options, all of which can be easily found at your local supermarket.
“Us Italians like to keep things simple, which works well when cooking on a time budget,” explains DiSpirito. “I like to serve a simple caprese salad to preface any meal. It is classic, easy to make, and totally divine! You can also serve a simple spread of bresola (a lean cured beef), some jarred Italian pickled vegetables, and some walnuts as an alternative.”
After the antipasti comes the pasta, which he reveals is actually the easiest step of all.
“Boil your favorite whole wheat, oat bran, or quinoa pasta, and when it is almost done, throw some of your vegetables in the water to cook with the noodles,” he says. “Then, strain it and add some fat free, no-added-sugar marinara to the same pot, and then add some parmigiano reggiano.”
No Italian dinner would be complete without a main dish, which DiSpirito claims doesn’t require laborious hours breaking a sweat in the kitchen. Simply look for ready-made chicken cutlets with the fat trimmed. And if you’ve worked up an appetite after a long day at the office, consider buying steamed brown rice from your favorite Chinese restaurant as a side, minus the salty soy condiments.
Finally, dessert is here and can be enjoyed without busting out of your jeans.
“I like the simple flavor of a great strawberry,” says DiSpirito. “Use frozen, no-sugar-added strawberries, which get picked at their peak before freezing. Make my instant Italian ice, which is prepared in a blender and takes about two minutes.”
As an alternative, try warming up your strawberries with some balsamic vinegar, vanilla bean, and agave nectar for a guilt-free ending.
But for those days when only something luscious will do, there’s always Greek yogurt.
For some inspiration, DiSpirito shares two of his favorite desserts from “Eat This! Italian.” Check them out below and get ready to grab the plates: