Here's an undeniable fact about fat: it tastes great. And that's not the only reason it's invaluable in the kitchen. Fat gives fried foods a crisp crust and baked goods a tender crumb. The recipes by test-kitchen associate Grace Parisi on the following pages, which range from intensely flavorful porcini meatballs on pasta to a delicate spiced crumb cake, wouldn't be as moist and delectable as they are if fat weren't included in their ingredient lists.
Of course, there's a problem with fat. To most Americans, it's become public health enemy number one. And nutritionists' recommendation that fat make up no more than 30 percent of the calories in one's daily diet has turned eating fatty foods into a guilty pleasure.
Perhaps it was inevitable that the anti-fat frenzy would have a backlash. Now a growing number of health experts believe that people who don't get enough of certain types of fat may run into trouble, and that--if the fats are chosen wisely--fat intake can healthfully go up to 35 percent. "The basic problem is that we're eating too much of the wrong kinds of fat and too little of the right ones," says William Connor, M.D., a professor of medicine in the division of clinical nutrition at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland. The "wrong" kinds of fat still include the saturated type found in red meat, chicken skin and butter, as well as "trans" fat, the partially hydrogenated vegetable oil in margarine and other processed foods. But, Connor explains, Americans also get too much of a fat long considered beneficial: omega-6, a polyunsaturated fat that's a constituent of corn oil, safflower oil and sunflower oil.