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Celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito dishes calorie-cutting secrets and meatball magic

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When you hear the phrase "celebrity chef," you usually think of buttery, rich calorie catastrophes. Celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito set out to prove you deliciously wrong by sharing his best calorie-cutting secrets on the December 3 episode of "The Doctors" talk show.

Rocco proved his point with a blind taste test of healthy meatballs versus unhealthy. The hosts of the show and a few audience members sampled the dish to see if they could tell. Result: Good-for-you meatballs are as tasty as the high fat, high calorie version.

Author of "Now Eat This! Italian: Favorite Dishes from the Real Mamas of Italy--All Under 350 Calories," Rocco revealed the calorie-slashing tips that you can use to make over your own favorite recipes:

  • Add more vegetables, such as tomatoes and eggplant.
  • Use fat-free, reduced sodium substitutes when possible, such as fat-free, reduced sodium chicken broth.
  • Swap in lean ground turkey breast for higher calorie meat.
  • Use egg whites rather than the whole egg.
  • Add volume with puffed brown rice cereal, which has just 50 calories per cup.

For an example, try Rocco's meatball recipe below.

Ingredients:
• Olive oil cooking spray
• 2 cloves garlic, chopped
• 1/2 cup chopped onions
• Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
• 1 cup fat-free, reduced-sodium chicken broth
• 1 1/2 cups tomato puree
• 1 1/2 cups diced tomatoes
• 1/2 medium eggplant, cut in half lengthwise
• 6 ounces lean ground turkey breast
• 4 ounces 96% lean ground beef
• 2 ounces extra-lean ground pork
• 1 large egg white
• 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley
• 1/2 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
• 2 cups puffed brown rice
• salt, to taste
• 6 ounces whole grain spaghetti

Instructions:
1. Preheat the broiler.
2. Coat a large skillet with 4 seconds of cooking spray. Add half the garlic and half the onion and a pinch of red pepper flakes, place over medium heat, and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add half the chicken broth, all of the tomato puree and the diced tomatoes, and bring to a simmer. Then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.
3. Place the eggplant cut-side-up on a broiler pan and broil until lightly browned, 4 to 6 minutes. Remove the eggplant from the broiler, place it on a microwave-safe plate, and microwave on high until tender, about 2 minutes. Let cool.
4. Scoop the eggplant pulp out of its skin and let any excess water drip off. Measure out 1/2 cup of the pulp, then chop it fine.
5. Combine the turkey, beef and pork in a large bowl. Place the egg white, the remaining chicken broth, remaining onion, remaining garlic and the parsley in a blender and blend until finely chopped (not pureed), about 30 seconds. Add the mixture to the meat, add the Parmigiano and crumble the puffed brown rice in with your fingers. Add the eggplant, season with salt and red pepper flakes, and mix gently, using a wooden spoon or your hands until it forms a very thick wet paste.
6. Use a tablespoon to measure 16 equal heaping mounds onto a clean work surface and form the mounds into balls with your hands.
7. Coat a large nonstick skillet with 4 seconds of cooking spray and heat over medium-high heat. Add half of the meatballs and cook until lightly browned on one side, about 1 minute. Roll the meatballs and brown on the other side, about 2 minutes. Remove the browned meatballs from the pan and gently place in the tomato sauce. Coat the pan with another 4 seconds of cooking spray, and brown the rest of the meatballs. Add the meatballs to the sauce and cook at a low simmer for 1 hour.
8. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon of salt. Drop the spaghetti in the water and cook according to the package instructions. Drain, reserving 1/2 of the cooking water.
9. Place 4 meatballs on each of 4 plates, then add the spaghetti to the remaining sauce in the pan, along with 1/2 cup of the pasta water; cook until the sauce holds well on the pasta. Divide the spaghetti among the plates.

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