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November 10th, 2009:

Everyday Cooking With Dr. Dean Ornish

penne pasta with white bean and sun-dried tomato sauce; wilted spinach with garlic and lemon; pears poached in red wine

PlatedAndSpinachEveryday Cooking With Dr. Dean Ornish is not just a cookbook but a diet and lifestyle plan. The follow-up to his previous offering, Eat More, Weigh Less, this volume presents recipes that are intended to help people improve their heart health and overall fitness through a high-fiber, very-low-fat diet. And Everyday Cooking is also meant to be easier to cook with than the first book, presenting SpinachTomatoesGarlicrecipes that can be prepared quickly, with simple prep and fresh, inexpensive, easy-to-find ingredients.

You could say that both Eat More, Weigh Less and Everyday Cooking are the antithesis of the Atkins-style protein diets. Dr. Ornish, a physician and researcher in heart disease, argues that the way to reverse BeanSaucePot2heart disease and improve other markers of health is to change your diet and lifestyle by eating low-fat, high-fiber, high-nutrient foods and follow a program of regular exercise — not just to rely on surgical intervention or powerful prescription drugs. The Atkins crew endorses the exercise, but thinks the way to improve health through diet is to cut out low-fiber simple BeansTomatoesOnionscarbohydrates and eat plenty of protein, and not worry about fat.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time researching the ongoing debate between the camps, and I’ll take for granted that my readers are smart enough to know that eating a pound of bacon at a sitting isn’t exactly the letter or spirit of the Atkins plan either. But I’ve tried a protein diet ScottInKitchenand I’ve tried the Ornish plan. I didn’t stick with either long enough to make it a permanent lifestyle choice, but I can confirm that the recipes in Ornish’s books are a lot less likely to make you want to throw yourself out a window.

Everyday Cooking has a lot of tasty offerings. Pear-ginger muffins. Arugula salad with corn SpinachWilting2and red onions. Herbed mushroom risotto. Two-bean enchiladas. What you will not find in the books is meat dishes, not because of any ideological opposition but because the plan sets a limit of 10 percent of dietary calories from fat and zero dietary cholesterol, which is impossible to achieve with meat in the mix. But Dr. Ornish makes clear that what you’re giving up in MeInKitchentraditional carnivorism, you’re gaining in flavor and variety as well as health.

The book’s recipes are arranged seasonally, so I followed a menu from the fall chapter. In principle I was supposed to serve the pasta and spinach with crusty Italian bread, but there was no need — we had plenty of food. (It’s possible I overlooked some PeeledPearsguidance from Dr. Ornish on portion size.) I started cooking last night, right after I’d gotten home and cleared away the few remaining daytime dishes, so it was a good test of the “everyday” claim.

I started by doing my chopping prep: a bunch of fresh spinach washed and the large stems pulled out, a few cloves of garlic WineSauceminced and divided, a cup of PearsPoachingsun-dried tomatoes (dry-pack) cut into quarters, and a cup of onion sliced, followed by a few minutes flushing my eyes. Damn, those were strong onions. Once I’d recovered, I heated about 1/4 cup of vegetable broth in a large pot, then added the onions and garlic and let them cook for about 5 minutes, until the onions were soft. At this point I added the sun-dried tomatoes, two cans of cannellini beans with their liquid, some dried thyme and basil, and another 3/4 cup of broth, and let the mixture simmer together for about 15 minutes. Near the end of that time I set water to boil to cook the whole-wheat penne.

While the bean mixture cooked, I peeled, halved and cored two PastaInSaucepears and set them aside. In a moderate saucepan I combined red wine, sugar, orange juice concentrate, lemon juice, a cinnamon stick and some vanilla extract, and brought the mixture to a simmer. I let it cook for about 5 minutes, then added the pears and simmered them gently for about 8 minutes. When they were done I set the pan aside to cool. According to the recipe I PlatedPearswas supposed to have made this earlier and chilled it, but it was cool enough by the time we were ready for dessert.

When the pasta was about 5 minutes from being done, I heated some vegetable broth in a skillet and added some minced garlic. Then I started adding the spinach in handfuls, letting it sit a moment to start wilting before PastaSauceCloseupadding the next handful. It didn’t take long to get it all into the pan, where I tossed it and added a bit of salt and pepper to season. I cut a lemon into wedges and served out the spinach with lemon on the side to squirt over it. I added a bit of salt and pepper to the bean mixture, then drained the cooked noodles and mixed them with the sauce.

The pasta dish was hearty and satisfying. The spinach was fresh and delightful, and the lemon was a good, tangy accent. The pears were simple yet elegant. The meal was rich and savory. And, hey, did you notice how there was no added oil? I’m a big fan of olive oil and butter, make no mistake, but this dinner was a good reminder that with the right recipes you may not miss them.

Verdict: Success. And we have quite a bit of leftover pasta, which will be good, since I may have to work late a few times this week.