Spanish Spaghetti from the AICR Test Kitchen

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In its ongoing effort to promote healthy, cancer-preventive lifestyle choices, the American Institute for Cancer Research puts together dishes from their test kitchen that are both nutritious and delicious. This week's entry is a Spanish spaghetti.

Behold, an Italian classic done Spanish-style by the AICR:

The spice saffron is popular in many Spanish dishes such as paella, a classic, slow-cooked dish made of rice. It infuses an earthy, hay-like flavor and beautiful yellow-orange color. Saffron is the dried tiny threadlike strands of the fall flowering crocus, also known as the saffron crocus – a member of the iris family. Although it’s the world's most expensive spice by weight, very little is needed to flavor and color food.

The thin saffron threads are the most recognized version of this spice, but it's also available in powdered form. You should be careful if buying the powdered variety because of the possibility that it has been combined with turmeric or other less expensive substances. The powdered spice also loses its flavor more quickly than the threads. You can recognize good quality threads because they are bright red but have a dark shade with tips that have a slightly lighter shade, indicating that they are natural and have not been dyed to look darker. Some threads include a small amount of yellow, which usually means that they are not as strong.

Saffron is very sensitive to heat and light, so it should be stored in a cool, dark and dry location. High humidity can cause it to smell musty and make it age faster. If stored properly, it can last for several years. Before cooking, place saffron in small bowl and add 1 to 2 tablespoons hot water. Let it sit until dissolved, about 20 minutes, before using.

Olives dominate Spanish cuisine. Note that if seasoning with salt, go a little lighter because olives contribute to the saltiness of the sauce as do the capers. The capers, which are the un-ripened, pickled flower buds of a prickly perennial plant native to the Mediterranean and some parts of Asia, round out the Latin flavor with their tangy, lemony essence.

Add a green salad and voila – you have a complete, nutritious meal featuring dear old spaghetti in a freshly Spanish way.

All recipes offered by the AICR have been vetted and approved by a registered dietitian (RD).

Spanish Spaghetti

  • 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium yellow onions, chopped
  • 1 large stalk celery, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped sundried tomatoes
  • 8 oz. ground turkey (lean ground beef may be substituted)
  • 2 (14.5 oz.) cans no-salt added diced tomatoes
  • 2 (6 oz.) cans tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes or to taste
  • Salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp. crushed saffron threads, optional*
  • 1/3 cup pimento stuffed queen olives, coarsely chopped (black olives may be substituted)
  • 2 tsp. capers, rinsed
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, divided
  • 8 oz. whole-wheat angel hair pasta

Instructions

In large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and celery and sauté for 4 minutes. Add garlic and sun dried tomatoes and sauté 2 minutes. Add turkey and sauté 6-8 minutes, until thoroughly cooked and beginning to brown.

Stir in diced tomatoes and tomato paste. Add water – use less for thicker sauce. Mix gently until well combined.

Sprinkle in red pepper, salt, pepper, dried oregano, saffron, olives, capers and half the parsley. Cover and bring to a boil.

Uncover and reduce heat and let sauce simmer for at least 15 minutes, stirring gently and fairly frequently. Meanwhile, cook paste al dente according to package instructions. Set aside.

Either add pasta to sauce and combine, or rinse pasta with hot water and place on serving dishes and top with sauce. Sprinkle with remaining parsley. Serve.

*Saffron is an exquisite and expensive spice that may be used in other AICR recipes because of its ability to add both an earthy flavor and yellow color. (Vegetable Rice, Moroccan Chicken with Tomatoes and Honey, Chicken with Chickpeas and Tomatoes).

Makes 6 servings.

Per serving: 330 calories, 7 g total fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 54 g carbohydrate, 16 g protein, 10 g dietary fiber, 490 mg sodium.

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