Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Pasta Nachos

In our new little hometown, there are a few restaurants with which we've fallen in love. One of them is Brix Pubaria. While they have some delicious, simple, thin whole wheat pizza, they also have something on the opposite side of healthiness: pasta nachos. They're a luxuriously wonderful stack of toasted wonton wrappers layered with refried beans, ground beef, cheese, pickled jalapeƱos, and dotted with fresh cilantro cream. While we love them as-is, it's also not the healthiest thing in the world. I decided I'd take a stab at somewhat healthifying this decadent appetizer (and make it a meal).

For a first pass at it, I'd say it was a success!

The wrappers were a white flour indulgence (you can make your own or use store bought), but they're thin and not overdone in comparison to the rest of the ingredients, so not a bad concession. The rest of the ingredients were pretty decently healthy, without any taste compromise.

First, I toasted the wonton wrappers. I gave them a light mist of olive oil on both sides and popped them in the oven for a few minutes to brown. Here's one step I'll slightly modify next time: I'll take them out when they first begin to brown, as they'll brown further when assembled and baked.

I used canned refried beans for convenience (organic, lard-free, vegetarian, in this case-- and not terribly high in sodium). I don't mind canned refried beans, but I don't usually like the texture. They're way too thick. I added a bit of water to them in a skillet and let them simmer to the desired consistency.

Instead of the cilantro cream, I seasoned some nonfat Greek yogurt with chili powder, onion powder and cumin. If you want it extra spicy, you could easily add some cayenne or hot sauce, but the jalapeƱos were enough heat for us. The yogurt adds a nice extra tang, which worked well. Neither of us is a big cilantro fan, so left that out, but you could add some chopped fresh cilantro if you like it.

Probably the biggest substitute, without consequence, is the meat. There's not much needed, so I used Quorn crumbles, lightly seasoned with garlic, cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper. When on their own, they dried out a bit while baking, though it didn't stand out. I hadn't really thought about the fact that I usually use vegetarian crumbles in some sort of sauce, so of course they got dry! Next time, I'll saute them beforehand in a small bit of stock or broth so they don't dry out. If you don't want to go the veg route, ground beef would also be fine. If I had it on-hand, I might have used it (or shredded beef/chicken/pork).

I used a mix of reduced fat cheddar and regular monterey jack cheese. The cheddar kept the calories down and the jack is nice and melty, especially for the top.

I did 3 layers of wontons with the filling between each layer. It lends itself to a nice melty core, one of the beauties of pasta nachos- the variety of crunch and soft textures. I baked in a moderate oven for about 10 minutes, just until the top was nice and bubbly.

Once out of the oven, I topped with fresh, chopped tomatoes and drizzled with the yogurt sauce.

Definitely a success, with a few learned items for next time. And since we didn't have to save room for pizza, it disappeared pretty quickly with far less guilt than the inspiring dish.


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