Pasta that's low on fat

LIKE anything to do with health, low-fat cooking has predictably become a trend in the United States. Individuals are adopting a new way of eating, the media are writing about it, and cookbooks galore are being published on the subject.

The books can be worth taking a look at. But, keep in mind, they are written for widely differing audiences. Some are written by serious chefs and recipes are excellent and have the added benefit of being healthy.

At the other extreme, some writers such as the American cardiologist Dr Dean Ornish, write primarily for heart patients. His is a strictly vegetarian diet, with virtually no fat, sugar, salt or cholesterol added. While some recipes are good, his book is something only a vegetarian, a fanatic or someone with heart disease would bother with.

Most people don't have to go to the culinary extremes Dr Ornish prescribes, but doctors say moderation in fat and cholesterol intake is beneficial.

One book in this category is Low Fat Pasta Cookbook ($99 Sunset Books). It is not a non-fat book - some recipes call for the likes of whole-milk cheese, bacon, beef and lamb. And it is not an Italian cookbook, despite the use of Italian names on some dishes.

But then it really doesn't try to be either. The recipes contain less fat than a classic recipe for a similar dish. They use both Western and Asian ingredients in a variety of light and interesting combinations and are written so an average cook can understand them. And, as has become the custom in the US with 'low-fat' cookbooks percentages of calories and other food values are given at the end of each recipe.

The book does not dwell on the benefits of a low-fat diet, nor does it explain much about which ingredients are healthy or not. It's a cookbook, not a medical text, and there's nothing wrong with that.

It's hard to fault this book. It's not going to excite a skilled chef, although it might provide some new ideas.

Here is one recipe, done in classic style. I've altered it slightly, for clarity or to reflect ingredients available in Hong Kong.

Spaghetti or linguine may be substituted for cappellini.

Instead of canned beans, use 400 grams of dried white beans, soaked overnight, drained, and simmered with water to cover for two hours.

Capellini with roasted tomatoes and white beans (Serves 4 to 6) 1 medium red onion, cut into chunks 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided 6 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, divided 6 medium ripe tomatoes 1 package (500 g) cappellini 2 tins cannellini or other white beans, soaked, cooked and drained 3 tablespoons each: chopped fresh thyme and chopped fresh basil Salt and pepper Pre-heat the oven to 245 degrees Celsius. Combine onion with one teaspoon oil and two teaspoons vinegar and put in a small baking pan.

Cut tomatoes in quarters, place cut side up in a separate lightly-oiled baking pan. Rub quarters with remaining olive oil and salt to taste. Place both pans in the oven and bake until well browned, about 45 minutes for onion, 70 minutes for tomatoes.

If drippings start to burn, add several tablespoons of water to the pan and stir to dissolve the browned bits. Remove from the oven and chop four tomatoes coarsely.

Pour beans into skillet with one cup of their liquid. Add chopped thyme, salt and pepper to taste, bring to a simmer, reduce heat and cook two to three minutes. Turn off the heat.

Cook pasta in large pot with five litres salted water, until tender. Re-heat beans.

Drain pasta and toss with beans, roasted onion, chopped tomato, basil and remaining vinegar. Mix well over high heat for about a minute, pour into serving bowl and garnish with remaining tomato quarters.