Hurdles to Healthy Eating: Creamy Pasta
What comes to mind when you read “healthy eating”? Likely the two things of which there seems never enough: time and money. “Healthy” cooking sounds like hours shopping, chopping and stirring, right? And surely all of those fruits and vegetables are going to rack up the grocery bill, right?
I mentioned my affection for asparagus and other veggies in last week’s post. Substituting starches and high-calorie ingredients with high-fiber (yes, that means you’re full faster!), low-calorie produce is an excellent way to get those vitamins and minerals your body craves, and eat the kind of diet that promotes healthy weight maintenance. When I’m pressed for time in the kitchen, I peek into my pantry at the pasta, rice, and couscous boxes thinking, “how can I bulk up my grains?” I love the fiber of whole grain pastas, but for the days I’m looking to use up that box of bowties, I like to bulk up my grains with lots and lots of vegetables: frozen asparagus, canned cannellinis, fresh broccoli, cherry tomatoes—the possibilities are endless. When I’ve got long noodles like linguini or fettuccine, I use my vegetable peeler on a pile of carrots and zucchini squash to make colorful ribbons I can toss into the pasta with fresh garlic and olive oil.
If you or your family find those creamy white sauces an alluring pasta topping, try this next time: Springtime Pasta with Zucchini and Fresh Basil. One of the participants in my cooking classes made this for her grandchildren, after which her grandson demanded, “Grandma, can you always keep asparagus in the house from now on?” The following recipe is kid-approved, and you can grab a hard copy in our lobby this month.
Springtime Pasta with Zucchini and Fresh Basil
Adapted from Vegetarian Times • serves 8 as a main course • total time: about 25 minutes
Here is a delicious, creamy pasta dish that is surprisingly light. By searing the vegetables over high heat, the asparagus and zucchini are crisp in texture and buttery in flavor. Using pasta water at the end of a pasta dish is a great secret to make the ricotta “sauce” creamy and low-fat. This dish is wonderful with spinach, tomatoes, or any other vegetables you have on hand. The asparagus can be frozen or canned. Serve seasonal fruit on the side!
Materials: skillet, pot, chef’s knife, large bowl
1 lb. pasta (large shape, such as cavatappi)
1 shallot or small onion, chopped
1 large bunch of asparagus, cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces
4 zucchini, diced
1 ½ cups regular or part-skim ricotta
2 tbsp. olive oil
grated parmesan cheese, optional
a few large basil leaves, optional
Caramelize the onion.
Over medium-low heat, add the onion slices to half a tablespoon of oil in a large skillet. Stir occasionally until the shallots are tender and golden brown. Set the onion aside and raise the heat to medium-high. Meanwhile, set a large pot of water to boil.
Sear the veggies.
Add a tablespoon of olive oil into the skillet. Raise the heat to medium-high. Add the diced zucchini (in batches, if necessary) so it is not crowded in the skillet. Stir occasionally until the pieces are tender and crisp-brown, about 4 minutes. Add the sautéed zucchini to a large serving bowl, along with the onions. Into the hot skillet, add remaining old and the asparagus (in batches, if needed) so it is not crowded in the pan. Stir until the asparagus is golden brown and slightly tender. Add the asparagus to the other veggies in the serving bowl.
Toss it together.
Boil the pasta for the time indicated on the box, and reserve about a cup of pasta water when draining. To the bowl of veggies, add the ricotta along with black pepper. Toss the hot pasta into the bowl and top with basil, chopped just before serving. Stir in pasta water by the tablespoon to help melt the ricotta and smooth out the sauce—you will not need to add much, but it makes a big difference. Serve with parmesan on the side, if you like.