A little cheese goes a long way toward a low-fat meal

January 29, 1995|By Ruth Spear | Ruth Spear,Eating Well magazine United Feature Syndicate

For those of us accustomed to monitoring fat intake, cheese -- other than a judicious grating of Parmesan or the occasional slice of mozzarella on pizza -- often seems too much of an indulgence to be anything other than, well, a rare indulgence. Popular hard cheeses, such as Cheddar, Gruyere and Monterey Jack, all have about 9 grams of fat in a single ounce; that's 9 grams of fat in every cube of cheese barely over an inch across.

And it's not only the quantity of fat in cheese that is a concern, it's the fact that nearly two-thirds of it is saturated fat. A small sprinkling of Parmesan can go a long, flavorful way. But is there a cheese life beyond aged Reggiano?

When I became more knowledgeable about lower-fat eating, I realized that you don't have to give up a much-loved but high-fat food like cheese. The solution is to present the most flavorful cheeses in a form so deliciously satisfying that a small amount goes a long way. Then a fine cheese can be truly savored.

Roasted Garlic With Fresh Thyme and Goat Cheese

Spread sweet roasted garlic and some goat cheese on toasted slices of sourdough or crusty peasant bread, serve with a salad of gutsy greens and a robust wine, such as a Nebbiolo Piedmont or a young Rioja, and you have a major dining event.

Serves 4 as a first course

4 whole plump heads of garlic

3/4 cup defatted reduced-sodium chicken stock

8-10 sprigs fresh thyme

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

one 4-ounce log creamy goat cheese, cut into 4 portions

4 slices lightly toasted sourdough or peasant bread

Heat oven to 400 degrees. With a sharp knife, cut off and discard the upper third of each garlic head, exposing the cloves. (Leave the skin intact below the cut.)

Set the garlic heads, cut-side up, in a small baking dish or gratin dish just large enough to hold them. Pour chicken stock over the garlic, add thyme sprigs and season lightly with salt and pepper. Cover the dish tightly with heavy-duty aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour, or until each clove is soft to the touch and the skin resembles lightly browned parchment.

Serve the garlic with the cooking juices spooned over and pass )) goat cheese and bread separately. To eat, break off a piece of bread and spread with a small amount of cheese, then scoop out the garlic puree from one of the cloves with the tip of a knife and spread on top.

176 calories per serving: 9 grams protein, 10 grams fat, 14 grams carbohydrate, 265 milligrams sodium, 23 milligrams cholesterol.

Fontina With Pears and Walnuts

There is a joyous interplay of tastes and textures in this very easy dessert. The idea is to eat a slice of pear with a slice of cheese on a piece of wheat cracker with a nibble of walnut.

Serves 4

4 ounces Italian fontina, preferably from Val d'Aosta, at room temperature

4 ripe pears, such as Comice or red Bartlett

12 whole walnuts, shelled, or 1/4 cup walnut halves

reduced-fat whole-wheat crackers

port wine (optional)

Thinly slice the cheese. Set a pear, a few slices of cheese and a few walnuts on each of 4 dessert plates. Pass crackers separately and serve a glass of port alongside, if desired.

278 calories per serving: 11 grams protein, 14 grams fat, 31 grams carbohydrate, 283 milligrams sodium, 33 milligrams


Parmesan Crostini

Makes 16 crostini

16 1/4 -inch-thick slices French bread (baguette)

2 teaspoons olive oil

1/3 cup freshly grated aged Parmesan cheese

freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil a baking sheet or coat it with nonstick cooking spray. Place bread slices on the prepared baking sheet and brush each slice lightly with olive oil. Spread each one with about 1 teaspoon Parmesan and sprinkle with black pepper. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the bread crisps and the cheese is just melted.

99 calories each: 4 grams protein, 1 gram fat, 17 grams carbohydrate, 190 milligrams sodium, 2 milligrams cholesterol.

Grilled Portobello Salad With Goat Cheese

Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil, preferably extra virgin

2 tablespoons strong brewed tea, preferably Earl Grey

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley, preferably Italian flat-leaf

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

4 large portobello mushrooms (2 pounds total)

6 cups washed, dried and torn salad greens (curly red and green leaf lettuce)

2 ounces aged or fresh goat cheese

vine-ripened tomato, peeled, seeded and diced

Place a broiler pan about 6 inches from the source of heat; heat the broiler and broiler pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together 1 tablespoon of the oil, the tea, vinegar, parsley, garlic, mustard, marjoram, salt and pepper; set aside.

Trim mushroom stems and reserve for another use. Wipe mushroom caps clean with a damp paper towel. Brush the mushroom caps with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and season lightly with salt and pepper. Place the mushrooms, rounded side facing up, on the preheated broiler pan and broil until tender and lightly browned, 2 to 4 minutes per side.

While the mushrooms broil, add salad greens to the dressing and toss. Arrange the greens on 4 individual salad plates. When the mushrooms are done, cut them into thick slices and set them on the greens.

Crumble cheese over the mushrooms and scatter tomatoes over all. Add a grinding of black pepper and serve.

195 calories per serving: 9 grams protein, 12 grams fat, 17 grams carbohydrate, 96 milligrams sodium; 11 milligrams cholesterol.

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