Today is World Pasta Day, but unfortunately when people are trying to eat better, pasta is one of the things that they tell me they are trying to avoid. Pasta seems to have a bad reputation when it comes to weight loss and general health, but contrary to popular belief, you can eat pasta and lose weight and it can most definitely be part of a healthy and balanced eating pattern.
You see, the problem with pasta is not that it contains something horribly bad for us, but that we tend to go overboard on it when we do eat it and we top it with creamy sauces and serve it with a side of greasy garlic bread. While this might be a tasty treat every once in a while, eating pasta like this on a regular basis is probably not the best idea when it comes to health and weight management. Carbohydrate foods (like pasta and bread) are really important for providing the body with energy and grain based foods give us vital nutrients, so cutting them out altogether is not the way to go, but filling up our plates with them is not what we need either – it’s all about balance!
So how do you have your pasta without ending up in a carb coma or nursing a food baby? Well, here is my top tip for improving ANY pasta recipe. Are you ready? It’s pretty out there…
…just add some veggies!
That’s right, a little bit less pasta and a bit more vegetables on your plate can really help to improve the nutritional balance of your meal. The veggies have lots of fibre and less kilojoules than pasta does, so they will help to fill you up without adding extra kilojoules to your meal. And getting in a wider range of nutrients by including some vegetables will also help your body to function more efficiently, helping you to feel more energised. So no more food coma after you pasta meal and you can get back to enjoying your favourite pasta dishes again.
Some people like to serve pasta with a side salad, but for me I like something hot with my pasta most of the time, so a salad just doesn’t work for me. Instead, I like to throw some green beans and cherry tomatoes in a baking dish and put them in the oven while the pasta is cooking. They both take about 10 minutes, so it doesn’t really add much prep time and it helps me to make sure that vegetables are filling up half of my plate.
But what about what you’re putting ON your pasta? Sticking to tomato or other vegetable based sauces instead of creamy ones as much as possible will help to cut down on the kilojoules, saturated fat and sodium while bumping up the fibre.
Like this carbonara recipe that is the best of both worlds and is such a favourite around here that we are making it at least once a fortnight lately – a creamy tasting sauce made with blended cauliflower. No cream necessary! Just some milk to help it blend and some parmesan cheese for flavour. I know it sounds crazy and you’re thinking that there is no way this could work, but you NEED to give this one a try. Put away your pasta pants though, you won’t be needing them for this one. Oh, and double the recipe, you’re going to want the extra serves in your freezer for later and it’s usually cheaper to buy the whole cauliflower anyway.
Cauliflower carbonara with roasted beans & cherry tomatoes
1/2 head of cauliflower, broken into florets (chop the stalks too, just cut off the leaves)
375g green beans, trimmed
250g punnet cherry tomatoes, halved
1.5 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 salt reduced vegetable stock cube (or 1/2 tsp salt reduced stock powder)
1/4C low fat milk
1/4C shredded parmesan (low fat)
75g ham, shredded
Extra parmesan, to serve (if desired)
1. Preheat oven to 180C. Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add cauliflower florets and boil until tender, 8-10 minutes. Drain and return water to boil (reserving a few ladles for the sauce), add pasta and cook according to packet directions.
2. Toss together green beans and cherry tomatoes in a large baking dish. Drizzle with 1 tbsp olive oil and add cracked pepper to taste. Bake in oven for 10 minutes while the pasta is cooking.
3. Meanwhile, heat remaining oil in a frypan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until browned, about 5 minutes.
4. Put cauliflower, a few ladles of reserved water, stock cube (or powder), milk and parmesan to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth, adding a little bit more milk or water until it gets to a sauce consistency. Alternatively, use a stick blender in a large bowl.
5. Remove sauce from food processor and add ham, onion and garlic to sauce. Split pasta into 5 serves, top with carbonara sauce and serve with green beans and cherry tomatoes on the side.
Freezing note - Any leftovers can be frozen for up to 3 months. Make a double batch and freeze half in portions for easy lunches later.
Nutrition info (per serve) - 1343kJ, 8.0g fat (2.0g saturated/6.0g unsaturated), 15g protein, 41.3g carbohydrates (6.2g sugars), 328mg sodium, 8.0g fibre. 3.1 vegetable serves. Cost = $2.52.
Why should you eat this? This is a pasta dish that you can include on a regular basis knowing that it is helping you to get more vegetables into your day. It’s also much lower in saturated fat and sodium than a regular carbonara and it will give you an all important fibre boost. All of that while being cheap and easy to make and great for stashing in the freezer – it definitely ticks a lot of boxes!
Which of your favourite pasta recipes are you going to try this veggie boosting trick with?