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I feel strongly that pasta—any kind of pasta—can be part of a healthful diet.
But with so many health-conscious cooks trying to cut down on carbs in general, and those containing gluten and refined wheat in particular, unfortunately pasta has fallen into the verboten category. It makes me sad that so many people consider pasta the enemy, a guilty pleasure to be indulged in only occasionally and atoned for afterward. I couldn't imagine life without pasta, and neither should you. After a long day of work there are few things that are quicker to prepare or are a better vehicle for a variety of nutritious, seasonal ingredients, with meat or without. Those facts alone should earn pasta at least an occasional place on your weekly meal plan. If you've been sidelining pasta, here are some easy ways to get it back into the game.
Revisit portion size. I've said it a million times: a little bit of everything but not too much of anything. Nowhere is that more relevant than when it comes to the servings of pasta we routinely dole out. A 2-ounce portion of pasta—yes, that's an eighth of a box—is actually plenty to satisfy that pasta craving without filling you up. Try it. I bet you will be surprised. Reverse the proportions. Instead of pasta topped with a bit of sauce, bulk up your sauce with extra veggies, low-fat sausage, seafood, or beans, so there is more sauce than pasta in each serving.
Use pasta as an accent. In brothy dishes with a base of stock, wine, or even dairy, all you need is a little bit of pasta to add body and substance. I especially love a frutti di mare with lots of seafood and a bit of tomato in the broth and a small handful of fregola or other shaped pasta to soak up the delicious sauce instead of bread. Try alternative pastas. If you or a family member has been diagnosed with celiac disease, regular pasta may indeed be off the menu permanently at your house. But in recent years there has been an explosion of pastas made from gluten-free ingredients like rice, quinoa, and spelt (which is tolerated by some who can't eat wheat), and they look and taste every bit as good as the original. Experiment to see which kinds you like best—and cook them carefully, as some can become mushy just past al dente.
Go grainless. Who says noodles have to be made of flour, or any other grain, for that matter? Spaghetti squash is an old standby, but lots of other vegetables can be shredded, lightly cooked, and sauced as you would your favorite noodles. If you have a spiralizing tool, see Vegetable Noodles in this issue for a delicious zucchini "pasta" you can make in minutes. Shiratake noodles, made of tofu or tubers, are completely carb free and totally slurpable in Asian or Italian dishes.