Pasta has always been one of my most loved foods. I find it dreamy and delicious, and at the same time nourishing and comforting. My all-time favourite meal would be ultra al dente linguini or spaghetti, with fresh mussels, clams and maybe some prawns cooked in olive oil, white wine and some garlic, and finished off with fresh parsley. On my most recent trip to Italy, I delighted in this dish whenever I got the chance. So simple, so fresh – practically perfect in every way.
I know that I am not alone in my linguini love. Many of you are passionate about paparadelle and squeal for spaghetti. Please, sir, may I have some more penne? Yet while fusilli fills many a belly with joy, it seems that lots of people engage in a love-hate relationship with pasta. Twirling delectable strands with a fork evokes feelings of both happiness and guilt.
Pasta gets such a bad wrap these days, what with carbohydrates being the root of all evil… It is so silly, really. It is unseemingly common for people to banish carbohydrates from their diet, in the hope of losing weight. This is quite troubling, in more ways than one.
Firstly, cutting out any food group is not advisable. You miss out on important nutrients and this restrictive behaviour encourages cravings and binge eating.
Secondly, the key to a healthy weight is everything in moderation. No gimmicks, no magic pill, no quick fix. And certainly no extreme, ridiculous diets whereby you eliminate entire food groups, develop foul breath and horrible mood swings, and then end up putting on all the weight you lost and then some.
Instead, aim to eat a wide variety of nutritious food, with the occasional indulgence, in appropriate portions. What is an appropriate portion? Well, that depends on many factors, including your activity level. However as a general guide, stick with 1-2 cups of cooked pasta, as opposed to 3-4. Opt for nutritious carbohydrates (such as wholegrains, fruit, vegetables, legumes and dairy) as opposed to overly processed, refined carbohydrates (such as lollies, soft drink and pre-packaged biscuits). It is quite simple, really…
Carbohydrates are not the devil.
Pasta is not ‘fattening’.
And eating a bowl of spaghetti bolognaise will not make you put on 5kg.
Rather, I find a bowl of spaghetti bolognaise to be incredibly delicious and ultra satisfying. Paired with a simple tomato based sauce, pasta can be a really easy, quick and nutritious weeknight meal.
If I wish to up the nutritional content of my dinner, I opt for wholegrain pasta. Granted, some wholegrain pasta tastes like cardboard. However there are some good brands out there. I like la Molisana wholewheat linguini for everyday wholemeal pasta – this is a brand that Ben will eat too. There are also a growing number of gourmet pasta makers, who make really lovely wholegrain pasta.
Below is a recipe for my Tomato and Tuna Pasta, which I whip up very quickly when a craving strikes. It is also delicious sans tuna. If I’m really lucky I will have some fresh basil on hand, which adds a beautiful fragrance and flavour – I am a fresh basil addict, I just adore it. If my vegetable intake has been a little low that day, I may add in some spinach leaves or peas, to green the dish up a little. However most of the time I stick to the recipe below.
If I want to mix things up further, I will swap the brown onion for red onion, cut into longer, thicker slices, which I sauté in some olive oil along with a good glug of balsamic vinegar. It gives the sauce a lovely depth of flavour and tang. I leave out the tuna and instead focus on letting the sauce simmer away, developing a rich tomato flavour. Roasted eggplant and red capsicum are lovely additions to this balsamic-infused sauce, as is a little rosemary.
Tomato and Tuna Pasta (a.k.a my easy, nourishing weeknight meal)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 brown onion
3 cloves of garlic (I love my garlic, add more or less as you wish)
1 x 400g tin diced tomatoes (I use laGina tinned tomatoes – you could substitue with freshly diced tomatoes too)
1 x 700g bottle passata – TIP: I swear by Bertolli Provvista Sugo Classica. It is divine – rich and fresh. The quality of the passata you use completely makes or breaks this dish. Yes, this brand is more expensive, but I see it as a very worthy investment)
1 x 425g tin Sirena Tuna in Oil (I only use Sirena tuna, for the same reason as I mentioned with the passata)
¼ cup red wine – or perhaps a little more if I’m feeling a bit cheeky (at the moment I’m using a cask of Stanley Wines Shiraz Cabernet in my cooking)
A handful of Fresh Basil Leaves
Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste
Good quality Parmesan
500g pasta (I use Barilla when not using wholemeal pasta) – this allows for leftovers. Normally I prefer spaghettoni or a similar, equally fun pasta – I love to twirl my pasta. However with this dish, I enjoy tortiglioni or rigatoni – tubes are such fun.
* This sauce makes enough for at least 5-6 serves, however I always make this quantity so that Ben has leftovers for work lunches.
Dice the onion. In a heavy-based saucepan heat the olive oil over low-medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for a few minutes until soft and coloured slightly. Crush the garlic into the pan and cook until fragrant. Add in the tuna (drain off most of the oil however leave a little), diced tomatoes, passata, wine and fresh basil, season to taste with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, and let the sauce simmer for as long as possible (I always end up simmering for ~30mins).
Cook your pasta in boiling salted water according to packet instructions, until al dente.
Serve the pasta into bowls. Top with sauce, and freshly grated parmesan.
I always serve pasta with a big salad. It ensure you fill up on this instead of a second helping of pasta 😉 I love a simple salad, made of mesclun greens, cucumber and tomato, with a dressing made with extra virgin olive oil, seeded mustard, a squeeze of lemon juice, sea salt & pepper.
So there you have it. Carbohydrates are not the devil. Rigatoni tubes are not the spawn of Satan. If you’re struggling with your weight a little, look at your whole diet – everything that you’re eating (i.e. you total kilojoule intake), and how active you are (or may not be). Don’t blame that conservative bowl of pasta. It is simply striving to be incredibly delicious, whilst at the same time, nurturing. How could you hate on that?