Gretchen McKay

Blue Ridge “Hi!”: The pleasures of Roanoke beckon

Virginia’s Natural Bridge has been a popular tourist site for more than 100 years./Gretchen McKay

ROANOKE, Va. — Its heritage is tied to the railroad. Yet even before Norfolk and Western Railway’s steam locomotives rolled into the heart of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, this picturesque little town was a happening place.

A hub along the long and bumpy Great Wagon Road that brought 18th-century settlers from Philadelphia to central North Carolina, Big Lick, as the town originally was known, bustled with three hotels, five tobacco factories, a cigar factory and five churches. It also boasted a shoemaker, harness maker, undertaker, four doctors and — keeping everyone in line — two lawyers.

Renamed Roanoke in 1881, the city still bustles. Although today, cars, bikes and feet carry visitors into town instead of trains or Conestoga wagons.

I discovered Roanoke last month by way of my Mizunos — running the Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Half Marathon, a grueling but exhilarating footrace that had me and 1,700 others climbing thousands of feet up Mill Mountain (and you thought Pittsburgh’s hills were hard!). Relatively new on the running scene, the race is billed as America’s “toughest road marathon” and is drawing more and more competitors each year. Still, competing is only half the fun.

Poised in a valley surrounded by mountains, Roanoke offers vacationers all kinds of activities. Outdoor types can spend the day hiking or biking its long network of greenway and mountain trails or traipsing through caves (Dixie Caverns are in nearby Salem). There’s also fishing, boating and horseback riding at Carvins Cove, which borders 14 miles of the Appalachian Trail, and camping and picnicking at Smith Mountain Lake. Forming the headwaters of the Roanoke River, the 4-mile scenic trail at Bottom Creek Gorge features the second highest waterfall in Virginia. More sedentary folks will have fun exploring its vibrant downtown district, which includes boutique shopping, decent restaurants and nightclubs, a hip coffeehouse and the oldest continuously operating open-air market in the state. (The first “hucksters” set up shop there in 1882.)

Silly as it sounds (and yes, more than one person asked when I told them I was headed there), the city is not to be confused with the “other” Roanoke — Roanoke Island on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. But like that famous lost colony, there’s a strong association with Native Americans: Its name comes from the Indian word “Rawrenock,” the shell beads local tribes used as trade goods.

‘Star City’

Thanks to its location just a few miles off the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway, one of America’s most scenic stretches of road, Roanoke is touted as the “Capital of the Blue Ridge.” But I prefer the nickname “Star City,” a nod to the giant star perched on Mill Mountain’s summit.

Constructed in 1949, the 88 1/2-foot, 10,000-pound illuminated star is the first thing you see when you head into town, especially if you arrive like we did after dark; juiced by 17,500 watts of power, its 2,000 feet of neon tubing is so bright that you can see it from an airplane 60 miles above. There’s no more iconic place from which to post pictures to Facebook. Unless, of course, you walk a few feet to the overlook just beyond the star’s base. Its panoramic views of the city below and the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains in the distance are pretty Instagram-worthy, too.

So is the historic Tudor-style Hotel Roanoke, which was built by the Norfolk and Western Railroad in 1882 and magnificently restored in 1995. The place in town for special occasions (kids were posing for prom pictures in its spectacular Palm Court lounge the weekend we were in town), it’s grand in a way new hotels never can be. Even if you don’t stay there (rates start at $129), pop inside to see the four historic murals of Colonial and Victorian Virginians dancing. Better yet, enjoy a pint of Roanoke Railhouse Track 1 in the knotty Pine Room Pub or the peanut soup and spoon bread in the elegant Regency Room. Both are classics.

My idea of the perfect getaway usually involves lots of eating. (More on that later.) But there’s plenty to see and do in Roanoke, especially if you’re into art. One of the newest, and shiniest, is the Taubman Museum of Art, located in a stunning, 80,000-square-foot contemporary building just off the restored Market Square. With a focus on American art history, its 2,000-plus paintings, photographs and folk and graphic arts displays include some famous names — Norman Rockwell, Winslow Homer and Andy Warhol, to name a few — and there’s also an entire gallery displaying dozens of Judith Leiber’s exquisite crystal-studded handbags. And it’s free (10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tues.-Sat.).

Displayed in the O. Winston Link Museum ($5 adults, $4 ages 3 to 11) is the photography of O. Winston Link, who made a name for himself by capturing the last days of steam operation on the Norfolk &Western in the late 1950s. Many of his black-and-white images of trains and the people who rode and watched them were taken at night, and serve as an eerie but mesmerizing history lesson; you also can listen to sound recordings of the giant steam engines.

Also new is Center in the Square in the heart of downtown. Nearly two years in the making, the 200,000-square-foot cultural complex gathers four independent cultural attractions under one seven-story roof: Science Museum of Western Virginia, History Museum of Western Virginia, Harrison Museum of African American Culture, and Mill Mountain Theatre, a year-round regional theater. (Prices vary.) It also boasts rooftop dining, a butterfly habitat and, for fish lovers, a 6,000-gallon living coral reef.

Museums and memorials

Or maybe history’s more your thing. The country’s largest collection of diesel and steam locomotives, plus a Jupiter rocket, is showcased at the Virginia Museum of Transportation ($8 adults/$6 kids ages 3-11), where visitors also can climb aboard some classic railcars. In nearby Hardy, you can explore the reconstructed 1850s plantation where America’s most prominent African-American educator and orator of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Booker T. Washington, was born in 1856 and lived until age 9. The Booker T. Washington National Monument takes about an hour to tour, and has garden and farm areas. (Free; open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.).

The National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, about 30 miles northeast of Roanoke on Route 221, commemorates the Allied forces that participated in the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, during World War II. Dedicated in 2001, the memorial guides visitors through the entire D-Day experience, from planning to victory, and includes three plazas and a formal English garden that paints the embroidered SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) patch in flowers ($8 adults, $5 children 6 to 18, plus $2 for a guided tour; open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.).

Black Dog Salvage in Roanoke is one of the nation’s premier destinations for architectural antiques/Gretchen McKay

Like to pick through junk for bargains or antiques? One of the country’s premier architectural-salvage operations, Black Dog Salvage, is about five minutes from downtown. You can spend several happy hours here searching for lost treasures (many have been featured on the DIY Network series “Salvage Dawgs,” which starts its new season June 1). The complex also has a 14,000-square-foot marketplace chock-full of home and garden accessories. Oddly enough, this is where you can rent a bike to explore Roanoke and neighboring Salem’s 25.6 miles of greenways (prices start at $12/2 hours).

My husband and I? We hit Roanoke’s dining scene pretty hard, squeezing in more than a half-dozen meals over the weekend. We started on Friday morning with breakfast at Thelma’s Chicken & Waffles on Market Street, and by Saturday night we’d also sampled the peanut soup at the Roanoke Hotel, wood-fired pizza at Corned Beef & Co., fried-green-tomato BLT’s at Billy’s and incredible sushi at Formosa Lounge (served in glowing martini glasses). Helping to wash it all down were some top-notch mojitos at Habana Cafe, a Cuban restaurant on Market Square, and local craft brews at Blue 5. (All the running makes me hungry! At least that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.)

Roanoke also has gourmet bakeries, sandwich and ice cream shops and restaurants focused on sustainable cuisine. On Sunday, I had one of the best brunches of my life at Local Roots, a farm-to-table restaurant in charming Grandin Village, a district listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Two miles from downtown, it also has a restored 1930s theater, an old-fashioned ice cream parlor and vintage shops.

Back in town, the heart beats loudest in the historic city market, where on Saturdays through Sept. 29 you’ll find cooking demos, music and children’s activities in addition to the farmers market, shops and restaurants.

Roanoke has something tasty for every palate. Clockwise from top left: Chicken and waffles from Thelma’s; Cheesy Western from Texas Tavern; Eggs Benedict from Local Roots; Fried Green Tomato BLT from Billy’s./Gretchen McKay photos

Love music? Roanoke Party in the Park on Jefferson Street, next to Elmwood Park and the library, runs every Thursday through Sept. 12 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., with local, regional and nationally recognized beach bands.

Driving home after vacation is always a total drag, but we had at least two adventures planned after checking out of our hotel. The first was to load up on $1.30 burgers at the landmark red-and-white Texas Tavern on Church Avenue.

A total slice of Americana that’s dished up some 20 million bowls of chile since 1930, Texas Tavern is Roanoke’s version of Primanti’s: You have to eat there, even if you don’t necessarily want to. Just don’t expect to sit while you do it, as the tiny 24-hour diner seats only about 10 people at the counter. The short-order cook sweet-talked us into taking out a bag of Cheesy Westerns — cheeseburgers topped with fried egg, onion, pickles and the tavern’s signature relish. Even though we weren’t hungry, we polished them off before we hit our next destination, The Natural Bridge in Rockbridge County.

Thirty years ago, my husband and I visited the 215-foot-high limestone arch on our budget honeymoon. We wanted to see if the historic landmark, created when a cavern collapsed a very long time ago, still held its charms. I’m happy to report it did, though the 137 steps greeting us at the head of Cedar Creek Trail were a little tougher on middle-aged knees ($20.99 adults/$11.99 children age 5 to 12, or $28.99/$16.99 with admission to the adjoining Natural Bridge Caverns).

But the real fun was yet to come.

One of Virginia’s most curious sites, Foamhenge recreates Britain’s prehistoric Stonehenge out of Styrofoam/Gretchen McKay

Heading back to the highway, we happened past a sign for Foamhenge, a full-scale replica of England’s ancient Stonehedge. Who could drive past that?

Especially when it was free?

In 2004, as an April Fool’s joke, Mark Cline of Enchanted Castle Studios carved this manmade wonder out of Styrofoam rather than stone and placed it on a bluff above Route 11. There it stands to this day, a little worse for wear, covered with teenagers’ initials and pocked with holes created by birds and local varmints. Foamhenge even does the original one better, with a life-sized sculpture of the wizard Merlin, his face taken from the death mask (I’m not making this up) of the artist’s friend Jamie Jordan, who died in 2007.

You’ll definitely want to spend a few minutes snapping pictures. Don’t touch anything, though. In a handwritten sign on the site, Mr. Cline warns he might be hiding in the bushes watching you.

If you go

Roanoke, Va.

Getting there: Roanoke, Va., is off Interstate 81 and the Blue Ridge Parkway at the southern tip of the Shenandoah Valley. From Pittsburgh, the 409-mile drive — which takes you through pretty and pretty mountainous terrain — takes about six hours.

Where to stay: The biggest game in town is the Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center at 110 Shenandoah Ave., Downtown ($129 and up, but there’s no shortage of less grand lodging in and around town. Options include all the big chain names (Sheraton, Marriott, Holiday Inn, etc.) and there’s also two lovely bed-and-breakfasts within walking distance of Market Square: King George Inn ($135 and up, and The Inn on Campbell ($189 and up, If you’re the type who likes to camp, there’s that, too; visit

Where to eat: What are you in the mood for? Every major ethnic cuisine is represented here, from Mexican, Japanese and Italian to Indian and American. And don’t forget Southern BBQ, seafood or Cajun/Creole.

What to do: The Roanoke Valley truly has something for everyone, whether it’s outdoor recreation, shopping, history, the arts or museums and galleries. Thanks to Thomas Jefferson, who recognized the area’s fertile ground and mild climate as ideal for growing grapes (in 1774, he established vineyards at Monticello), there are a few wineries offering tours and tastings, too (

More info: or 1-800-635-5535.


Pittsburgh marathoners get help up The Hill

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

For a city that’s as famous for its big hills as its 400-plus bridges, today’s Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon and UPMC Health Plan Half Marathon will offer its 27,700 runners a fairly level course. Which is not to say it won’t have its challenges.

Chief among them is The Hill, that daunting stretch of pavement marathoners and relay racers face when they make a right onto Forbes Avenue after crossing the six-lane, 1,662-foot-long Birmingham Bridge from the South Side.

Many a runner has lost momentum, if not faith, on this long, slow climb into the heart of Oakland, which begins at about mile 11.5 and continues for close to a mile.

“If you’re not expecting it, it can really, really break you,” said Norm Dastur, a lawyer who is running his third Pittsburgh marathon. “You have just separated from the half marathoners and are looking to settle in. And then you’re looking at that hill.”

This year, though, the dreaded ascent just might seem a little easier.

As the 6,300 marathoners turn off the bridge onto Forbes, more than a dozen volunteers wearing Asics shirts and encouraging smiles will be there to greet them. Half will be stationed at the bottom of the hill and the other half about midway up; all will spend three or so hours jogging up the hill, again and again, alongside those who appear to be running out of steam.

Organizers are always searching for ways to improve the 26.2-mile course, which winds its way through several city neighborhoods before bringing runners down Liberty Avenue through Bloomfield and the Strip District for the big finish on the Boulevard of the Allies (between Stanwix Street and Commonwealth Place, just short of Point State Park).

Looking at it this year, they realized the hill into Oakland was among the race’s more quiet and empty stretches — a prime spot, said Chelsea Hamilton, event marketing manager for Dick’s, to “provide a little support for runners.”

What they came up with was the idea to gather a group of volunteer “hill runners” who’d be willing to put their athleticism to good use to help keep them motivated through this difficult part of the race. An ad was posted on Craigslist and they also reached out to True Runners, the specialty running store that sponsor Dick’s is testing in Shadyside, and running groups such as People Who Run Downtown. They ended getting 15 takers.

Among them will be 25-year-old Danielle Millett of Regent Square, who runs with Pittsburgh Sports League’s running club, and Cathy Connor, 47, of McCandless, who last month did the Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge, competing in both the Boston and Big Sur marathons.

Both have experience pitching in: Ms. Millett, who’s a software engineer at Google, has volunteered at the annual runners expo at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, while Ms. Connor, who’s a graphic artist, designed this year’s T-shirt for the Sole Survivors, a group of athletes who have run in every Pittsburgh marathon since the first race in 1983. Both were intrigued, they say, by the chance to do something a little different.

“It just seemed like fun,” said Ms. Millett, even if it also would be something of a challenge, since she and her fellow volunteers have no idea how many times, or how fast, they’ll have to sprint up and down the hill.

“I wanted to give back, and thought this would be a great way to support my friends,” added Ms. Connor. A veteran of more than 100 races, including 15 marathons, “I also want to help get new runners up and over the hill.”

With just a 150-foot change in elevation, the hill isn’t as dramatic as, say, the run up McArdle Roadway to Mount Washington or up FedEx Drive in Coraopolis, two regular workouts for Mr. Dastur, 40, who trains with In Motion Athletics, a local marathon training group affiliated with Elite Runners & Walkers in Robinson.

But it’s not insignificant, either.

“That’s the point where I put my head down and block things out,” he said.

Adding to the hill’s bad reputation, said Kristina Powell, 25, of Mount Washington, who’s run the marathon twice, is the fact there’s no shade, “and the sun is beating down on you.”

Also, there’s the element of timing.

With Shadyside, Point Breeze, Homewood, East Liberty and Highland Park still on the horizon, Ms. Powell said, “You realize you’re not even halfway. There’s still more hills to come.”

Any extra help, then, “is a good thing.”

Not every runner will need or want the company during the climb, acknowledged Ms. Hamilton, who also is adding music, balloons and banners along this stretch of the course to help motivate the marathoners.

“All of the volunteers are runners themselves, so if someone is in headphones or running full out, they’ll be able to gauge that,” she said.

“We don’t want to be a distraction,” agreed Ms. Connor. “Just to help push the ones who need.”

But her guess is the majority will feed off the volunteer hill runners’ energy.

That feeling is shared by 34-year-old ultramarathoner Lucas Marsak, a seeded runner from Monroeville who finished last year’s Pittsburgh Marathon in 2:47:36 (35th overall) and hopes to set a personal record on this year’s course. Every race, he said, has spots that test you. But the crowd and volunteers always pull you back into a good place.

“They help you tap into your reserves and let you know you’ve got more inside than you think you do,” he said. “They put you in the frame of mind of ‘I can do this!’ ”

The volunteer hill runners, he said, can’t help but be part of that “awesome variable.”


Marathoners: Take these recipes and run with them

Pasta Primavera makes the most of spring vegetables/Gretchen McKay


A big bowl of pasta one or two days before a big road race is a time-honored runners’ tradition.

Carbs are the body’s primary fuel source during endurance events such as a half or full marathon. So thinking runners load up on them beforehand to ensure there’s at least a little gas left in the tank for the finish.

There’s no official pasta dinner as in past years for racers in the Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon and UPMC Health Plan Pittsburgh Half Marathon; instead, a few local restaurants are offering deals for participants in the May 5 race, which has a combined sold-out field of approximately 20,000 runners. (Both races in 2012 were the 20th largest events of their kinds in the country.) So if you’re looking to gather with family and friends in a festive, can’t-wait-to-run atmosphere, you may want to organize a carbo-loading dinner at home.

No worries: We’ve got you covered.

As the DIY pasta assembled below so deliciously demonstrate, you don’t have to be a culinary genius to cook up a dish that tastes as good as it is good for you in the days leading up to a big race. Nor do you have to spend a fortune on ingredients, or spend a lot of time fussing in the kitchen when you’d rather be doing more important things such as obsessing over how you’re going to have the energy, or leg power at mile 12, to power up The Hill into Oakland.

Here’s why it’s probably not a bad idea to work a moderate amount of pasta into your pre-race diet. During digestion, the body converts the complex carbohydrates in pasta into glycogen, the readiest energy source for working muscles. The sugar enters the bloodstream, where it is transferred to cells to provide energy.

Two recent studies — one conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota and published last month in The International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, and another that studied competitors in the 2009 London marathon and was published in 2011 in the International Journal of Sports Medicine — concluded that runners who had eaten the most carbohydrates on the day before the race finished faster than those who’d eaten fewer carbohydrates that day.

Looking for local anecdotal evidence of the power of carbs? Elite athletes participating in this year’s Pittsburgh full and half marathons will enjoy a carb-heavy feast the night before at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Downtown Hotel, with an early buffet dinner that features chicken breast, penne and baked potatoes.

But not too much of it, and you shouldn’t overindulge, either: Stuffing yourself silly with carbs 12 hours before an event can leave you feeling sluggish, bloated and undigested at the start line, and as any runner can tell you, the last thing you want to deal with when there’s many miles to go is stomach upset. (You want to wake up hungry, not full.) To that end, dinner should be about the same size and provide as many calories as usual; just replace some of the fats and proteins with carbs (they should count for 85 to 95 percent of your meal.)

There’s another reason to eat pasta a day or two before race day. Carb intake before a long run aids in post-run recovery by reducing muscle fatigue and overall damage to the muscle fibers. Which means you’ll bounce back that much sooner.


Pasta Primavera (Pasta with Spring Vegetables)

This simple pasta dish has all the fresh flavors and colors of spring. I especially liked the addition of fennel, an aromatic, crunchy-sweet member of the parsley family that imparts a delicate taste of anise.

This was the first time I’ve ever cooked with fresh fava beans, and I have to say, they take a bit of effort. You have to blanch and peel the beans before using, and 1 pound of unshelled pods only yields about 1/2 cup shelled beans. If you can’t find baby leeks, which are sweeter and less fibrous than regular leeks, substitute fat green onions.

  • 1 3/4 ounces unsalted butter
  • 3 baby leeks, trimmed and sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 small fennel bulb, very thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
  • 5 1/2 ounces fava beans, blanched and peeled
  • 5 1/2 ounces baby green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 5 1/2 ounces fresh peas
  • 1 bunch thin asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 14 ounces cream
  • 18 ounces ditali (short-cut tube) pasta
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • 3 1/2 ounces freshly grated parmesan

Melt the butter in a frying pan. Add leeks and cook gently for 5 minutes, then add garlic and fennel and cook until soft.

Add salt to a large saucepan of water and bring to boil. When water boils, drop in fava and green beans, peas and asparagus. As soon as the water comes back to the boil, lift the vegetables out with a slotted spoon (reserve water for cooking the pasta) and add them to the frying pan with the leek and fennel mixture. Pour in cream and bring to a boil. Let it bubble for 2 minutes — the vegetables should still have a crunch — then remove the pan from the heat.

Boil the pasta in the vegetable water until al dente.

Drain pasta well and add to cream and vegetable mix. Toss everything together. Season with salt and pepper, add the parmesan and serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6.

— “Four Seasons: A Year of Italian Food” by Manuela Darling-Gansser (Hardie Grant, 2012)


Pork and Ginger Wonton Stir-Fry

Pork and Ginger Wonton Stir-Fry/Gretchen McKay

PG tested

This inside-out dumpling/noodle dish is an Asian version of spaghetti and meatballs. If you’re not a fan of pork, no problem: simply substitute ground chicken or turkey.

The first time I made this I (rather stupidly) threw all the wonton skins into the boiling water at the same time. Big mistake — the noodles glommed into one big, unappetizing lump. We still ate it, of course, chopping up the noodles, but not without my kids complaining.

  • 8 ounces wonton skins
  • Salt
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons safflower or peanut oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 serrano chile, thinly sliced
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges

Separate the wonton skins so they do not stick together. Cut wontons into thirds, so they resemble wide, short noodles. Set aside.

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil.

Stir together the soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and sugar in a small bowl. Whisk in the cornstarch.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil. When it shimmers, add garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add ground pork, breaking it up with a spoon into smaller pieces, and cook until cooked through and no longer pink, 3 to 5 minutes.

When pork is cooked, add sauce mixture and cook until liquid has been absorbed. Stir in 1 tablespoon salt and the sliced chile and scallions.

Drop wontons into boiling water (you may need to separate them again as you add them to the pot, use your fingers). Stir and cook until they rise to the top and are tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain well and add to pan with the pork.

Squeeze the lime juice over the dish and serve immediately.

Serves 4.

— “Mad Hungry Cravings: 173 Recipes for the Food You Want to Eat Right Now” by Lucinda Scala Quinn (Artisan, March 2013, $27.95)


Pappardelle with Meatball Pearls/Gretchen McKay


Pappardelle with Meatball Pearls

Quick and easy, and extremely flavorful. I used San Marzano plum tomatoes.

  • 6 Italian sausages (sweet or hot)
  • 2 cups Fabio’s Tomato Sauce (recipe follows)
  • 1 cup beef or chicken stock
  • 1 pound pappardelle (broad, flat pasta noodles)
  • Handful fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Pull the meat out of the sausage casings in tiny bits.

Combine the tomato sauce and stock in a saucepan and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until it bubbles. Add sausage bits to the pot and continue cooking another 10 to 12 minutes, until sausage is fully cooked and sauce has reduced and thickened. Remove from heat.

Cook pasta in salted boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes, depending on thickness; drain.

Toss pasta in sauce, then add basil and extra-virgin oil. Boom!

Serves 4.

— “Fabio’s Italian Kitchen: Over 100 Delicious Family Recipes” by Fabio Viviani (Hyperion, April 23, 2013, $24.99)


Fabio’s Tomato Sauce

  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper
  • 10 basil leaves

Smash the garlic with the back of a knife. Place garlic and 5 tablespoons oil in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until the garlic is golden brown. Add tomatoes and generous pinches of salt and pepper.

Cook over medium-high heat until sauce is thick and no longer watery, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add remaining 3 tablespoons oil and turn heat to high. Stir, crushing the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon. Cook until oil turns red, then turn off the heat and add the basil at the very end.

Makes 2 cups.


Light Fettucine Alfredo

Light Fettucine Alfredo/Gretchen McKay


Veteran racers know to steer clear of sauces with too much oil, cheese or butter because they can be difficult to digest. This is a low-fat version of the classic Alfredo dish — just 275 calories and 4 grams total fat (1 gram saturated) per serving. Broccoli adds a punch of protein. Good enough that my girls took the leftover to school for lunch.

  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 1 small onion (4 to 6 ounces), finely chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove, crushed
  • 2 cups fat-free milk
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 pound fettuccine
  • 1 pound broccoli florets

In nonstick 12-inch skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until onion is golden, about 8 minutes. In bowl, with wire whisk, whisk milk, broth, flour, salt and pepper until smooth. Add onion mixture and cook, stirring, until sauce has thickened and boils; boil 1 minute. Stir in parmesan.

Meanwhile, in large saucepot, cook pasta as label directs. After pasta has cooked 7 minutes, add broccoli to pasta water. Cook until pasta and broccoli are done, 3 to 5 minutes longer. Drain pasta and broccoli.

In warm serving bowl, toss pasta with broccoli and sauce.

Serves 6.

— “Good Housekeeping 400 Calorie Italian” (Hearst, April 2, 2013, $14.95)