Domini Kemp’s healthy Italian food

Indulging in a taste of Italy does not have to lead to carb overload if you try these new versions

Domini Kemp Mung Dhal Risotto with cauliflower and capers. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Domini Kemp Mung Dhal Risotto with cauliflower and capers. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

Like many Irish people, I’ve enjoyed a long love affair with Italian food – its variety, its regional quirks, its ability to make simple ingredients sing with flavour.

But while I will always be passionate about Italian food (if I wasn’t, I could wave bye-bye to Christmases with the in-laws in Milan), since moving to a more low-carb regimen, I’ve fretted about how to re-create my favourite classic Italian carby dishes – pizza, pasta etc – without the, um, carbs.

With some recipes, my work is starting to pay off. I’ve mastered the art of the cauliflower pizza base (surprisingly delicious), and I’ve made spiralised courgette “spaghetti” till it’s coming out my ears. This column has even seen me make a pretty tasty leek carbonara, though in fairness anything with bacon in it cannot fail.

But what of other Italian dishes? Polenta, say. Well, I’ve never been a huge fan. For me it’s the never-ending pit of blandness. There is never enough butter, salt and Parmesan to make it taste half-way decent. Plus it seemed as though every dish during the 1990s revelled in polenta and sundried tomato. Ugh.

And don’t get me started on polenta cakes. Double ugh. I’ve always thought polenta is a whole lot of work, unless sitting under a pile of deliciously soft braised meat, for what is often an underwhelming result, especially when nicer alternatives are available and easier to make. But risotto? Who doesn’t love risotto? And what’s risotto without rice? Is it even possible?

So recently I set myself the challenge of seeing if it is possible to make something that comes close to it.

I was very pleased – and a little surprised – to find the solution in another of the world’s great cuisines: Indian mung dhal. (Italians, please stop reading).

Yep, the answer to re-creating risotto without the rice is an ingredient that is central to Indian cooking. And in this recipe for a simple risotto, the dhal works, too – really well, in fact. It has just the right bite to it and the same ability as rice to carry flavour. So the butter and Parmesan get all the attention they need.

Like other pulses, mung beans are a good source of protein and soluble fibre, rich in B complex vitamins, calcium, potassium and also a good source of folate. And like real risotto, you can chuck in a glass of white wine or vermouth if you want.

My second recipe is for a dead-simple twist on cauliflower cheese. It’s a quick, light supper or lunch of cauliflower florets roasted quickly in a hot oven with olive oil, a smidge – and I do mean a smidge – of maple syrup and some grated Parmesan until they are very lightly charred, before being tossed with salt and pepper and a handful of chopped capers. This is also lovely as a side dish with the risotto.

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