When it comes to pasta, many of us are stuck on the spaghetti and meatballs train. Time to get off that one and catch the healthy pasta passenger express. All aboard! But, while you’re finding your seat, let’s ask a question.

What do we mean by healthy?

In a nutshell, it boils down to nutritious, healthy ingredients that are non-fattening.

If it’s nutritious, it’s providing us with the vitamins, minerals and fibre our bodies need to be healthy and energetic and maybe even full of enthusiasm!

Healthy ingredients are mainly natural plant and animal foods that have not been tampered with to remove their nutritional value, they don’t have artificial additives such as colour, flavour or preservatives.

Non-fattening means they are not loaded with sugars or carbohydrates that are going to contribute to weight gain and obesity.

The easiest way to buy healthy foods is to stay away from prepared or processed food and to check that the meat and vegetables you buy have not been injected or sprayed or treated with chemicals or anti-biotics or hormones or pesticides.

Okay, you’re settle in your seat. Next queston.

Can all those carbs in pasta be healthy?

The idea is to limit the amount of pasta and add more   lean protein and vegetables. So, use more sauce and less pasta.

You might also change from the “regular” pasta, which is made from refined grains, and use whole-wheat varieties. Whole-wheat pasta is a good source of dietary fibre that hasn’t had its important trace nutrients and phytochemicals removed. (Google “phytochemicals”. You’ll be amazed at the information and the benefits they are believed to contribute to our health.)

But remember too that carbs are not totally bad. A healthy pasta dish helps by creating energy because the pasta contains carbohydrates which are stored as glycogen in the muscles and acts as a source of energy. This makes it especially good for athletes particularly if they are doing workouts.

What sorts of pastas are there?

Long pasta – best with oil- or tomato-based sauces.
Includes  spaghetti, linguini, angel’s hair (best in soups or broths) , bucatini (fat, long, hollow spaghetti)

Ribbon pasta- best with a chunky sauce such as meat or tomatoes
Includes tagliatelle (wide, flat pasta which is also green (with spinach) or red (with tomato), Pappardelle (the widest of the ribbon pastas and needs a hearty sauce), Fettuccini (long and flat like tagliatelle but a little wider)

Lasagna is a wider shorter  version of ribbon pasta

Short Pasta-best with chunky sauces. If using vegetables, cut the vegetables to the same size as the pasta.
Includes butterflies, bow ties, shells, fusilli

Tubular pasta-best with thick chunky rich sauces
Includes  penne, rigatoni, macaroni

Stuffed pasta is best served with a sauce that complements the stuffing in the pasta.
Includes ravioli, tortellini and cannelloni.

How do you cook the perfect pasta?

Buy good quality pasta not the cheapest. It is worth it in taste, texture and nutrition. Use a large saucepan with lots of water and bring it to a rapid boil – lots of bubbles. Add the pasta as quickly as possible and stir it once to separate it. (With long pasta like spaghetti, hold it down against the base of the saucepan and, as it softens, keep pushing it down till it’s all in the water. Leave the saucepan uncovered. Cooking time will vary depending on the shape of the pasta. After about eight minutes test it or taste it to see if it’s “done”. Don’t overcook it. Taste it at one minute intervals until it’s just right for your taste. Slightly firm (al dente) is better than soggy. Have a colander ready over the sink. Pour the water from the saucepan into the colander so it warms the colander as you are draining the pasta. Put the colander of drained pasta back over the saucepan to catch any more water

What goes with pasta?

This is almost limited only by your imagination and readiness to have a go.

Pasta can be served hot or cold. Hot meals usually include a sauce or a broth mixed in with or poured over the pasta. Served cold, pasta can be a basic ingredient in many salads.

You can add cooked pasta to a bowl of chicken or vegetable soup for a more substantial meal.

It is always much better to use a tomato based sauce rather than a cream sauce in order to keep your meal healthy.

There are many many pasta recipes on the internet so I have not included recipes in this article. If you keep the above ideas in mind when choosing a recipe, you’ll be serving healthy delicious meals to your family and guests.

As I said at the beginning, to most people, pasta means spaghetti and meatballs. With a bit of imagination and perhaps a little daring, you can make some very healthy pasta dishes with simple toppings such as grated cheese (preferably parmesan because it tastes just right), or by adding lean meat, seafood, leafy green vegetables, red and green peppers, or onion and garlic as well as fresh herbs. Check out the fridge, the pantry and the herb garden. You can make a tasty, nutritious, healthy and even economical meal with very little effort.

A few final tips

Try a meatless meal once a week.

Include seafood a couple of times a week.

Use hot dishes and cold pasta salads.

Use wholegrain pasta.

Use tomato based sauces not cream.

Off the train, into the kitchen. Let’s cook. Full steam ahead. 

Pasta is easy. It’s fast. Children love it. And when you make your own delicious sauces, you are in charge of the ingredients. You know exactly what is in the meal and, if you use wholegrain pasta and keep the size of the pasta portions reasonable and increase the amount of lean meat and vegetables, you are providing fibre and energy not weight.

Bon appetit ! Buen provecho,  Guten Appetit!   Enjoy!

1. Healthy Pasta Dinner Recipes – Cooking Light
2. Healthy Pasta Recipes on MyPlate | Real Simple

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