I hate to call anything health food. There’s the argument that in calling certain foods, recipes or methods of preparation and cooking “healthy” it means that anything that does not fall neatly into those categories is “unhealthy”. Because of our connotations to these words we mentally define them as “good” and “bad”, respectively. There are certainly foods that are “bad” for us to some extent—brownies, cake, deep fried chicken, greasy burgers, full-fat cheese, heavy cream, etc.—but if we eat them in the now-passé-to-say way of “moderation” they’re far less lethal than, say, eating the leaves of rhubarb, under ripe potatoes, ill-prepared puffer fish or haphazardly eating wild mushrooms you find on the forest floor.
But for me it goes beyond this metaphysical philosophy and the act of canonizing some foods while we demonize others. When I think of health food I think of low-fat, low-cal, low-sodium, all natural, whole grain, no added this or that, and so on. I think of the term “conscience eating”, making sure every ingredient is evaluated on its merits to better health or weight loss first. Never mind that fat-free cheese has the taste and texture of rubber bands, though it doesn’t melt quite as well; it’s healthier than real cheese so to hell with it. It feels so constricting and stifling, being confined to using certain ingredients and restricted from others. So when I think of health food I think of being restricted and confined to a certain set of things, slavishly working within these rigidly defined parameters and, as such, creativity, fluidity and joy are words you can’t quite associate with it. On the other side, “unhealthy” food has no rules, no restrictions and no limitations—you’re free, free, free! Now, what sounds like more fun?
I also think of that episode of Absolutely Fabulous, where Eddy is on another health kick and takes a slug of some awful health drink, gags it back and says, “Oh, God! It tastes foul so it must be doing me some good.” It’s the old adage we’ve all heard and said; why do things that are bad for us taste so good and healthy things taste so bad?
So rather than think of anything as “health food”, I prefer to think of it as a method to either undo the damage I’ve done over the weekend, prepare me for the damage I’m about to do, or feel the need to be brought back to my center when I get a little carried away on chocolate chip cookies or eat nothing but Carbonara for a week straight. This is a great way to nourish those needs but still allows you certain freedoms; there are beans (carbs!), full-fat cheeses (fat!), olive oil (more fat!) and alcohol (empty calories and sugar!), but, as you’ll see, done in moderation it’s hardly worth the mention.
First, mix together some lemon zest, garlic, Parmigiano-Reggiano, ricotta, fresh minced rosemary, lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil and salt.
Drain two cans of cannellini beans and rinse under running water until all of the can gloop is gone. Shake them as dry as you can.
Tumble about half the beans into the bowl and, with a fork, smash them up. You don’t want them completely smooth but, rather, a little coarse—kind of like really chunky peanut butter.
Fold in the remaining beans and some breadcrumbs, mixing until they’re all pretty evenly combined.
Scrape out the stem and gills of some portabellas and stuff them with the bean mix and sprinkle the top of each one with some more breadcrumbs and Parm.
Next, in a big roasting pan heat a small amount of olive oil and, once hot, carefully place the mushrooms in. Let them sizzle and cook for just a minute or two and give them a little tap to make sure they’re not sticking. Then, shut the heat off and pour in some dry Marsala (making sure not to get any on the top of the shrooms). Put them into a 400° oven for 15 – 20 minutes until the bellas are tender and the tops are crispy and bronzed.
To serve them, just make a bed of baby arugula on each plate, nestle the mushroom in the center and drizzle over what little of the Masala there is left in the pan.
There’s no better way to bring yourself back to center after a weekend of deviant eating than this–and it doesn’t even taste like health food!
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