by Anastassia Skarlinski
Pasta is a popular food. Italy alone produces over 1 million tons of pasta a year. It is estimated that there are more than 600 types of pasta, some of which have up to 1300 different names. While most people think of Italy when you say pasta, many cultures around the world have their own variety of pasta. In Northern Africa and parts of the Middle East they have couscous, in Germany they have spaetzle, ramen and udon are popular in Japan, in Hungary there are tarhonya, in Poland pierogi, and in Greece there are chilopites. This is just the tip of the pasta iceberg.
At its most basic, pasta is some kind of starch mixed with a liquid to form a dough. The starch can be made from rice, beans, and even sweet potatoes, but the most common is from wheat. The liquid can come from water, milk, and or eggs. Pastas that can also be colored, often with vegetable juice added to the water, spinach and beets are popular but I have also seen pasta dyed black with squid ink. Some pasta is a mix of different flours, most often to add fiber or nutrients to the pasta. Often this is done by incorporating whole grains into the pasta, but sometimes also different bean or seed flours are added as well.
Pasta, even the inexpensive plain pasta in the store, is a good source of some vital nutrients. Plain pasta is enriched, which means that vitamins and minerals have been worked into the dough. This makes pasta a good source of manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, thiamine, folate, riboflavin, iron, and selenium. Selenium is important in helping your thyroid to function, protect against oxidative damage, and for heart health. Whole wheat pasta is a great source of fiber. Some people do not love the taste of whole wheat pasta, but still want to incorporate it into their diets. One of the easiest ways to approach this is to use half whole wheat pasta and half plain pasta.
When planning out any meal, it is important to think about the composition of your final plate. It is generally recommended that half of your plate should be fruits and veggies, a quarter of your plate should be protein, and a quarter should come from carbohydrates. This is something I take into account when I plan a pasta meal. Try and add vegetables to your pasta, even if you are starting with a jarred sauce. I often add green beans, broccoli, zucchini, and peppers to my jarred pasta sauce. You can get creative with the protein too, you can add a can of beans, some leftover chicken, or even stir in some plain yogurt and cheese. You can use fresh or frozen vegetables, whatever you have on hand. Doing this makes for a filling and nutritious meal. Below are two veggie-packed pasta meals, feel free to adapt them. Use your favorite pasta shapes, change up the veggies, make these recipes your own.
When you are cooking your pasta, read the directions. Different kinds of pasta, like rice noodles, sometimes require different cooking methods. The idea of adding oil to the pasta water to keep the noodles separate is a myth, you just end up wasting oil. Stirring the boiling pasta regularly is the best way to keep the pasta from sticking. I do salt my pasta water, to add flavor, you are unlikely to add enough to raise the temperature of the water. (If you do not believe me, ask a chemistry professor. I warn you; they may make you do the math!) To test the pasta, I tend to just take a bite, it should offer up a little bit of resistance without being crunchy. If you are serving the pasta hot, go ahead and drain the pasta and stir in your sauce to keep the noodles from sticking. If the dish is cold, like the pasta salad below, you can cool off the pasta by rinsing it in cold water before tossing it with dressing or oil, again to stop the sticking.
1 box of pasta, I recommend penne or bowties
½ cup olive oil, divided
½ red onion, sliced
2 cups broccoli, fresh or frozen
1 red bell pepper, cut into sticks
1 green bell pepper, cut into sticks
2 cups summer squash, fresh or frozen
4 cloves garlic
1 cup grape tomatoes
2 tsp Italian seasoning
2 Tbsp lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 425 F. Put a large pot of salted water on to boil.
- Toss all veggies (red onion-grape tomatoes) with ¼ cup olive oil, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and roast in oven for 15-20 minutes, veggies should be softened and tomatoes should have burst. Allow to cool slightly.
- Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, reserving ½ cup of pasta water.
- Carefully mix cooled veggie mix with pasta. Stir in remaining ¼ cup olive oil, and lemon juice. If the mix seems too dry, stir in reserved pasta water. Season to taste.
Very Veggie Pasta Salad
½ cup olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp Italian Seasoning
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 box pasta, I recommend rotini or shells
1 cup grape tomatoes, cut in half
1 cucumber, diced
1 cup of raw chopped broccoli
½ red onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 jar marinated artichoke hearts
2 cups fresh baby spinach, chopped
½ cup crumbled feta cheese, optional
- In a large bowl whisk together all dressing ingredients.
- Cook pasta according to directions. Drain, rinse with water until cool then toss with dressing.
- Add all veggies, along with feta cheese if desired. Stir to coat everything with dressing.
- Serve immediately or refrigerate tightly covered for 1-2 days.