Eat better, Eagle County, with Rocco |

Eat better, Eagle County, with Rocco

Kristen Browning-Blas
The Denver Post
VAIL CO, Colorado
FILE- This undated file image courtesy of Rocco DiSpirito shows DiSpirito in New York. In Rocco's recipe for smoked salmon salad, he matched celery root with apples for a delicious low-calorie main dish salad. (AP Photo/Rocco DiSpirito, FILE)
AP | Rocco DiSpirito

You know him from one of the first network food-reality shows, “The Restaurant.” You might have seen him on “Dancing With the Stars” or “The Biggest Loser.” Maybe you’re a fan of his current Bravo show, “Rocco’s Dinner Party.” Rocco DiSpirito has spent much of his professional life in front of a camera – and a stove. Educated at the Culinary Institute of America and in his Italian grandmother’s kitchen, DiSpirito won positive reviews for his restaurants and his cookbooks, if not all of his television appearances.

Now 44, the chef-author-entrepreneur has forsaken the rich recipes of his youth for healthy comfort foods. Why? His doctor gave him a choice. “He said, ‘You can take these three medicines, or you can diet and exercise,'” DiSpirito says.

The lifestyle change led to the lightened- up comfort-food cookbook, “Now Eat This!” and its follow-up, “Now Eat This! Diet.”

Drawn to his “down-to-earth recipes that just happen to be healthy,” Associated Press food editor J.M. Hirsch approached DiSpirito with the idea of syndicating a column. Not only would DiSpirito add some star power to the newspapers that subscribe to the AP, but Hirsch liked his “approach to food that is grounded in real life.”

The column will appear from time to time in the Vail Daily’s food section.

“It is food that we can make any night of the week. It doesn’t require wacky ingredients. It’s focused on whole grains, healthy fats and low sodium, but doesn’t bash you over the head with it,” says Hirsch.

We spoke to DiSpirito as he was heading out of New York for the Hamptons for Labor Day weekend.

Q: You were named “The Sexiest Chef Alive” by People magazine in 2003. Why write a diet book at this point in your career?

A: My life seems to take twists and turns that are pretty organic to what I’m interested in. After that doctor’s appointment, I decided for once in my life I would take the hardest path. A few years earlier

Triathlon training helped DiSpirito lose 30 pounds. (Provided by Grand Central Publishing)

I would have said, “No way,” but before I knew it I was racing in a triathlon. It’s just amazing where the journey took me.

To read the rest of this interview, visit

Traditional recipes pack 607 calories with more than 25 grams of fat. This version has just 241 calories and 6 grams of fat. If you’re in a serious hurry (say you only have 10 minutes), cut the tenderloin into thinner medallions, and cook them and the cauliflower in two separate pans.

From Rocco DiSpirito’s Associated Press column, “Now Eat This!” Start to finish: 20 minutes. Servings: 4.


1 pound pork tenderloin, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch medallions

Salt and ground black pepper

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 small head cauliflower, cut into 2-inch florets

2 Gala apples, cored and cut into 1-inch chunks

2 bags hibiscus tea

1 tablespoon water

1 tablespoon coconut nectar or light agave nectar

Juice of 1/2 lemon

8 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves picked


In a large pot, bring 6 quarts of water to a boil. Once the water is boiling, add 2 tablespoons salt. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Pour the olive oil into a large saute pan and place over high heat. Season the pork medallions on both sides with salt and pepper. Once the oil is smoking, add the medallions to the pan in an even layer. Cook the medallions about 2 minutes, or until the bottoms are browned. Flip and brown the other side.

Transfer the pork to a plate, cover with foil and set aside. Reserve the saute pan, uncleaned.

In a microwave-safe bowl combine the apples, tea bags, 1 tablespoon of water and the coconut nectar. Cover with plastic wrap, then microwave on high for 5 minutes, or until the apples are tender and falling apart when mashed with a fork. Mix in the lemon juice, then cover and set aside.

Add the cauliflower to the boiling water and cook for 2 minutes. Drain the cauliflower water and cut the florets in half from the stem to the top of the floret. Arrange the florets, cut sides down, in a single layer in the reserved saute pan. Set over medium-high heat and cook until the florets just begin to brown, about 1 minute.

Turn each floret, then nestle the pork back into the pan. Add the thyme, then place the pan in the oven to finish cooking the pork, about 4 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove the plastic and tea bags from the apples and mash with a fork.

Spoon one dollop on each of 4 serving plates. Place 1 pork medallion on each plate, then add cauliflower. Add 2 tablespoons of water to the pan and scrape up any browned bits. Spoon the pan sauce over the top of each medallion.

Per serving: 241 calories; 6 g fat (1 g saturated); 73 mg cholesterol; 21 g carbohydrate; 27 g protein; 5 g fiber; 390 mg sodium.

Nothing kills a commitment to healthy eating faster than boredom. If you’re battling meal monotony, you’ve come to the right place. And check out these numbers. This version has just 228 calories and 8 grams of fat. Traditional versions clock in at 521 calories and 28 grams of fat.

When selecting fresh figs, choose any type, such as black mission, brown turkey or green. Just be sure they are ripe. Look for figs that never have been refrigerated for better flavor and texture.

From Rocco DiSpirito’s Associated Press column, “Now Eat This!” Start to finish: 30 minutes. Servings: 4.


4 tablespoons red-wine vinegar, divided

2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary, divided

Salt and ground black pepper

8 bone-in, skinless chicken thighs, each cut into 2 pieces each (2 to 2 1/2 pounds total)

1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion

1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil

2 ripe fresh figs, cut lengthwise into quarters

8 cups loosely packed fresh arugula

1 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shaved


In a large bowl, combine half each of the vinegar and rosemary. Season with salt and pepper. Add the chicken and toss to coat. Cover and marinate at room temperature for 15 minutes or in the refrigerator for up to 4 hours, turning the chicken occasionally.

Place the onions in a large bowl and add the remaining red wine vinegar and a pinch of salt. Mix and set aside for 15 minutes to 1 hour, tossing occasionally.

Heat a grill or grill pan to medium-low. Place the chicken thighs on the grill and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until nicely browned and cooked through, turning the chicken halfway through grilling. Transfer the chicken to a plate and sprinkle with basil. Set aside.

Add the arugula, figs and remaining rosemary to the onions and vinegar. Gently toss the salad, then season with salt and pepper. Divide the salad among 4 serving plates. Place the chicken thigh halves around the salad, then sprinkle the salads with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Per serving: 228 calories; 8 g fat (3 g saturated); 120 mg cholesterol; 8 g carbohydrate; 31 g protein; 2 g fiber; 732 mg sodium

Use your frying thermometer exactly as directed by the manufacturer. Carefully monitor the temperature of the oil every 5 minutes so that it does not exceed 400 degrees. When microwaving the chicken, the chunks toward the outside of the plate will cook faster than those in the middle. So when flipping the chicken, also rotate the pieces on the plate so that inner chunks are moved to the outside.

From Rocco DiSpirito’s Associated Press column, “Now Eat This!” Start to finish: 25 minutes. Servings: 4.


1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced

5 limes


2 quarts grape-seed or corn oil

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs

Ground black pepper

2 1/4 tablespoons Goya Adobo seasoning (available in the Hispanic foods section), divided

2 egg whites

2 1/2 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika

1/4 cup fine-ground yellow cornmeal

3/4 cup whole-wheat flour

4 cups chunked iceberg lettuce (2-inch pieces)

16 cherry tomatoes, quartered

1/2 ripe Hass avocado, peeled and cut into 8 chunks

16 sprigs fresh cilantro


Place the sliced red onions in a small stainless steel bowl. With a fine grater or zester, zest the skin of 1 lime over the onions. Slice the zested lime as well as three additional limes in half, then squeeze the juice over the onions. Add a pinch of salt, then mix. Submerge the onions in the juice; use the squeezed limes as a weight to push down any onions sticking out of the juice.

Cover the onions with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate. Marinate the onions in the juice for as long as possible, at least 15 minutes or up to 3 days.

Meanwhile, pour the oil into a large (at least 6-quart) heavy pot. There should be at least 2 inches of oil in the pot. Clip a deep-frying thermometer to the side of the pot according to the manufacturer’s directions. Set the heat to medium and heat oil to 400 degrees. Do not cover the pot.

Cut each chicken thigh into 4 to 5 even chunks. Arrange the chunks on a microwave-safe plate and season both sides with pepper and 1/4 tablespoon of the adobo powder. Microwave on high for 1 1/2 minutes. Turn each piece of chicken over, then microwave on high until the chunks are just cooked through, about another 1 to 2 minutes, depending on your microwave. Let the chicken cool to room temperature.

Put the egg whites in a bowl and beat with a fork until just foamy, about 1 minute. In a separate wide and shallow bowl or cake pan, combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of Adobo powder, the paprika, cornmeal and flour. Add the cooled chicken pieces to the egg whites and toss to coat well.

One at a time, lift the chicken pieces from the egg whites and transfer to the flour mixture, turning each to coat thoroughly. Let the chicken sit in one layer over the flour mixture. Wash and dry your hands thoroughly prior to assembling the salad.

Place the iceberg chunks in a bowl and add the cherry tomatoes. Drain the lime juice from the onions (reserving the juice) and add the onions, a dash of salt and 2 tablespoons of the reserved lime juice to the lettuce and tomatoes. Toss to dress evenly. Divide the salad among 4 serving plates. Divide the avocado pieces among the salads.

Working in 4 batches, fry the chicken in the oil until deep golden brown, about 12 seconds. Using metal tongs or a slotted metal spoon, remove the chicken pieces from the oil and transfer them to a plate with either a wire rack on top or paper towels to drain off any excess oil.

Divide the chicken among the salads, then top each with 4 sprigs of cilantro. Slice the remaining lime into 4 wedges and serve one with each salad.

Per serving: 314 calories; 14 g fat (40 percent of total calories, 2 g saturated); 94 mg cholesterol; 22 g carbohydrate; 27 g protein; 5 g fiber; 881 mg sodium

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