Part 2 of an ongoing series following the path of food from farm to plate. Read part one here.
Local food blogger Scott Koeneman’s audition tape for The Next Food Network Star may have been rejected, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a standout chef.
Koeneman, who said that he “isn’t young enough or beautiful enough” to succeed on that particular show, has found faux Food Network stages in Central Illinois.
In April and August of 2010 Koeneman led cooking demonstrations (demos) on air for WCIA Channel 3. During that same time frame, Weight Watchers Territory Manager 3123 Elizabeth Gindt asked him to do healthy cooking demos for local Weight Watchers members.
“We did ‘Burger Bonanza’ for Weight Watchers last week,” Koeneman said. “With grilling, the main question there is how we get the flavor without all of the fat. We did a veggie burger, a turkey burger and a burger made with lean ground beef, and we took coleslaw and potato salad and did those in a healthier way as well.”
Koeneman said that he has attracted crowds of up to 50 people at his demos, always including his wife, Nancy.
“I think the healthy eating demonstrations are useful because sometimes people need to see the cooking in action to get what they won’t necessarily get out of reading about it,” Nancy said. “Scott gets up and shows them that you can have biscuits and gravy for less calories, and that it will taste just as good as what you would get at a Bob Evans.”
Nancy noted that people can’t consume the same portions that Bob Evans offers if they wish to maintain a healthy diet; sometimes, what people encounter in the restaurant business and in the media can skew their perceptions, or even be intimidating, she said.
“A lot of people need to see a real person cooking to gain the confidence to do it themselves…Those people you see cooking on TV aren’t real people,” Nancy said. “People need to see the bologna and mayo guy up there cooking good food.”
Learning to prepare food properly is just one element of food education. An increased national emphasis on knowing where food comes from has increased the number of people who want to “eat local.”
“Wanting to eat local is the general trend…We are less willing to believe that others have our best interests at heart,” Koeneman said. “We’ve been shown that corporations (and people) put themselves first.”
Koeneman said he prefers to support local producers, but that “eating well” has the potential to be much more expensive than a trip to the local Meijer or Wal-Mart.
“Buying from a local producer, you have so much more control over what you’re getting, and the flavor is better,” he said. “You have to remember, though that a restaurant portion – a 20 oz. steak, for example – is not a single serving. You don’t need that much meat. If you buy and eat and appropriate portion size, you won’t pay that much more than you would at the grocery store.”
Koeneman said that there is a learning curve when it comes to eating healthy on a budget.
“Tomatoes are a perfect example,” he said. “I love fresh tomatoes, and I love to can tomatoes to save for the winter. If I am buying a quality store-bought canned tomato for a sauce, it will be just as good as, and more flavorful than a greenhouse tomato.”
Koeneman also noted that fresher, more nutritious foods are more filling, so consumers don’t need to buy them in as large quantities.
“You can buy zucchini for $5 at the farmers’ market versus for $1 at Shnucks,” Koeneman said. “But nutritionally, the zucchini from the farmers’ market is going to be better, and keep longer; anytime you harvest something, it immediately starts to lose nutritional value.”
On June 18, Koeneman went shopping at the Urbana Market at the Square, for the ingredients for one of his most favorite recipes – Pasta Primavera with Smoked Gouda.
Koeneman purchased four summer squashes from Tuscola’s Kleiss Produce Farm at $2 per pound, which came to $1.90 total. Koeneman also bought two zucchinis, a bunch of basil and a bunch of carrots from Urbana’s Certified Organic Blue Moon Farm; with zucchini priced at $2 per pound, basil at $2.50 per bunch and carrots at $2 per bunch, Koeneman spent a total of $6.55, making his grand total for the day $8.45.
Koeneman visited the Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery booth in hopes of snagging some fresh Gouda cheese, but arrived just after they had sold out. Disappointed but upbeat, Koeneman headed home with his locally grown goodies and ready to cook a delicious, healthy meal for the next night’s dinner.
Koeneman began cooking at 6:45 p.m. that Sunday, June 19, in his Monticello home. After serving bruschetta, and confessing that he “cheated” by using canned diced tomatoes, Koeneman got to work prepping his vegetables and explaining the dish.
“Pasta primavera is basically sautéing your favorite vegetables lightly and then tossing in some seasoning,” Koeneman said. “Then you toss the mixture in pasta and top it with cheese – parmesan and pecorino.”
One of the best things about this recipe, Koeneman said, is that the cook can adapt it based on what vegetables are in season. That particular day’s recipe included carrots, summer squash, zucchini, red onion, red pepper, scallions, garlic and fresh basil.
“I love the flavor of roasted vegetables, and then I use the smoked Gouda,” Koeneman said. “You get the crunchiness of the lightly cooked vegetables and the freshness of those vegetables, and then the creaminess and smokiness of the cheese. It comes together well.”
Koeneman’s Pasta Primavera recipe is featured on his blog, fightthefatfoodie.blogspot.com, and been downloaded about 16,000 times since he posted it on Jan. 4, 2010.
“I’ve gotten a mixed response to my blog; it is sort of a niche market,” Koeneman said. “I have had interest from folks who were like me—who were interested in losing weight or maintaining weight loss, or who were just interested in staying healthy.”
Koeneman said that for him, staying healthy meant building a new diet based on his personal food preferences.
“I love pasta and bread,” he said. “I could never do a no-carb diet.”
And thanks to Koeneman’s innovative cooking style and his use of fresh, local ingredients, he doesn’t have to.
See Koeneman’s Pasta Primavera recipe below for how you, too, can stay healthy while eating your favorites.
Next Week: Market at the Square – your one-stop shop for local produce.
Pasta Primavera with Smoked Gouda
Serves 8; 1 serving = 1 ½ cups
- 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 small to medium zucchini, diced
- 3 onions, diced
- 1 green or red pepper, diced
- 2 medium carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise and diced
- 8 ounces mushrooms
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 14.5 ounce can stewed tomatoes, coarsely chopped
- 1 cup low sodium chicken broth
- 4 tablespoons chopped parsley
- ½ teaspoon dried basil
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 13.5 ounce box whole wheat penne pasta
- 2/3 cup smoked Gouda, shredded (you can substitute another smoked cheese)
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Prepare pasta according to package directions, but remove from heat and strain about 2 minutes before al dente. Do not rinse. Set aside.
Meanwhile, in a large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Sauté zucchini, onion, green pepper, carrots and mushroom until nearly tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for about one more minute.
Add tomatoes, broth, parsley, basil, oregano and pepper flakes. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer until sauce just begins to thicken. Add pasta, combine, and cook for an additional two minutes. This will allow the pasta to pull in all the flavors from the sauce.
Dish and top with Parmesan and Gouda. Serve with crunchy whole-grain bread.