From spiralizers to spices, the legendary NYC chef uses these tools to make his nutritious food super flavorful
James Beard Award-winner, best-selling author and healthy-eating proponent Rocco DiSpirito has done a lot, and that's not even including his time as a food TV pioneer. Remember? Running from 2003 to 2004, The Restaurant was one of the first restaurant-based reality shows, chronicling the launch of the chef's second restaurant, after his legendary run at NYC's Union Pacific.
Last week, DiSpirito stopped by the Food & Wine Test Kitchen to share his recipe for Veggie Pasta Pomdodoro, from his new cookbook, Rocco's Healthy & Delicious: More than 200 (Mostly) Plant-Based Recipes for Everyday Life, as well as his thoughts on the state of modern food TV, and the five essential kitchen items he relies on every day.
A spiralizer is an easy, quick way to turn veggies into highly usable ingredients for a variety of dishes from pastas to salads, says DiSpirito, and the Inspiralizer is the best of the pack. As he demonstrated in the test kitchen, it makes the longest noodles of any of the top spiralizers.
A paring knife is an essential, "high-utility" tool for DiSpirito's plant-based cooking, especially handy when it comes to smaller ingredients. DiSpirito says you want your paring knife to be sharp, but inexpensive, as the small knives are likely to get lost or wear down over time. He recommends this Kuhn Rikon model, which strikes an ideal balance between the two needs.
"When you get rid of meat and you go plant-based," DiSpirito says, "You lose a lot of sweetness that comes with cooking meat." While he says a lot of people in the vegan and vegetarian world end up replacing this sweetness with "tons of sugar," the chef's go-to is coconut nectar, which, taken raw from the coconut palm flower, has a delicious taste, and honey-like texture.
Another alternate sweetener, yacon syrup is a Peruvian tuber that, when crushed and pressed produces a syrup resembling molasses in color and texture. DiSpirito says the sweet taste is unique among sweeteners, and its glycemic load can be helpful for people managing diabetes.
A Spanish paprika, Dispirito says that pimentón "adds a slightly altered reality kind of flavor to things." It's a great way to get more adventurous with your flavors, imparting unique tastes DiSpirito credits to Spain's skill at growing and smoking peppers, but not so much that "you have to ask people to take too much of a leap of faith."