Twirl Freely (carbohydrates are not the devil)

December 20, 2010

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)

Ingredients

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.

Method

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?

Heidi xo
  • Lisa (bakebikeblog) December 20, 2010 at 10:05 am

    I could not agree more!!! A big bowl of pasta is such a comforting wonderful meal 🙂

  • Leah December 20, 2010 at 10:20 am

    I totally agree! Pasta is an amazingly comforting food. I am sick of friends of mine thinking that it is 'bad' for you!

  • Chanel11 December 20, 2010 at 10:55 am

    Oh you got me salivating! I simply adore pasta and always make extra for my lunch the next day – favourite type would have to be fresh gnocchi (or fettucine for those who don't think gnocchi should be classified as pasta).

  • Michelle Chin December 20, 2010 at 11:42 am

    I prefer wholewheat pasta. It has a nicer aroma. Not as boring as plain pasta. Not only that, it is filled with fiber. You get filled up easily and you won't overeat. 🙂

  • Ashley December 20, 2010 at 1:11 pm

    I will admit to being one of the carb-police, but funnily enough, I think since I've been blogging and after meeting Brad, I have allowed carbs back into my diet a bit more and I"m finding it more balanced and more enjoyable.

    Although having said that if I find myself with museli for breakfast, pasta for lunch and pizza for dinner, I will make a mental note to go for a run the next day. 😉

    But a bowl of home cooked simple pasta is really just the most delightful thing, I love it when my mum makes fresh pesto and I just have to mix it through! Mmm!

  • Hannah December 20, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    Amen, sister! I always forget about pasta as a quick dinner option as I never grew up eating it (Mum being allergic to wheat, tomatoes, beef, casicum, dairy, etc, cut out a lot of pastsa options!!) So it still feels like a treat to me when I order it at a restaurant. But you've reminded me that I have an enormous bag of wholemeal pasta in my pantry… I know what I'm having for dinner tonight! 😛

  • KittyCate December 20, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    *claps* brilliant post! I always get so annoyed when I hear people "carb-bashing" – there is absolutely nothing wrong with carbohydrates! Everything in moderation, and cutting out an entire food group is, as you say, lunacy (the obvious exception being if there is a genuine allergy or similar).
    That pasta looks delish – think I might make some tonight! Spaghetti with tomato based sauce and sheeps milk fetta, mmmm xx

  • Heidi December 20, 2010 at 7:47 pm

    Lisa – yay for pasta!!

    Leah – yes!! exactly 🙂

    Chanel – I totally count gnocchi as pasta. I haven't had it in ages though – thanks for reminding me 🙂 Although I must say, for some reason fettucine has never been up there as a favourite.

    Michelle – yes, wholewheat pasta is fabulous and so high in fibre. I also love the aroma.

    Ashley – I suppose you were forced into the carb police team by being gluten intolerant – no wonder you avoided pasta and such! and I completely agree – fresh pesto is utterly divine 🙂

    Hannah – ooh goodie, happy to be of inspiration!

    Cate – thanks for all the support! I'm glad we're on the same team 🙂 Your pasta sounds delicious, especially the sheeps milk fetta! amazing.

    Heidi xo

  • Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella December 20, 2010 at 10:36 pm

    I agree some wholemeal pasta tastes awful but some tastes pretty much like regular pasta so it would be crazy not to eat it! 🙂

  • Anne @ Food Loving Polar Bear December 21, 2010 at 7:28 am

    You are so not alone with your love for linguini 😀 I'm a pasta lover too and I do think that the best pastas are the simplest ones; arrabbiatta, bolognese.. TUNA! haven't made tuna pasta in ages, maybe it's time to make it again 🙂

    Thanks for the sweet words on my blog, Heidi.

  • Kath December 21, 2010 at 8:37 am

    I totally agree that carbs are perfectly alright (in moderation). Still, I have problems with wheat, doesn't make me feel good. 🙁 And I've never been so much of a pasta lover, not even as a child. Anyway, I find it works very well to substitute rice. Basmati rice with tomatoes, red onions, and basil, spiced with lots of freshly ground black pepper and a little cinnamon or ground Chinese five spices, tastes just awesome. I love to make the tomatoes and red onion very much like you described, they get almost sweet. Mmmmmmmmm!!!!!

  • Anna Johnston December 21, 2010 at 9:27 am

    Pasta will always have a place in my heart & life….. I love it. And girlfriend… I hear you on the spaghetti, with fresh mussels, clams and maybe some prawns cooked in olive oil, white wine and some garlic, and finished off with fresh parsley!!! I ate it whenever I could in Italy…, it was so good. Make it myself too at times. Brilliant.

  • Xiaolu @ 6 Bittersweets December 21, 2010 at 10:44 am

    I completely agree with you, and your views are pretty much in line with what I just learned in my nutrition course as well. This looks like a delicious, healthy, and well-balanced meal that I'd love to have any night of the week :).

  • wikigirl December 21, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    Love carbs, I really don't get why some girls hate on them so much? They are so filling (if you make the right choices) and good for you and really important if you're exercising more. I've just printed out this recipe and will be making this later in the week. The bf will really love this. Is the sauce available at woolies or coles?

  • Heidi December 21, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    Lorraine – yes, it makes a real difference finding a good one!

    Anne – you're very welcome, lovely. Arrabbiatta is a recent favourite of mine too!

    Kath – mmmm indeed! Your rice dish sounds delicious. You're very good with your spices 🙂

    Anna – oh my goodness, isn't it the best?! I love that we're on the same page.

    Xiaolu – thank you! 🙂

    wikigirl – oh I'm so glad! Yes carbs are very necessary when you up the exercise. & the passata is available in Coles – they stock it at my local. Not sure about Woolies but I would assume so. It's hidden amongst all the other passatas 🙂

    Heidi xo

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  • The InTolerant Chef December 22, 2010 at 11:00 am

    I looove pasta! The very best gluten free one I've found is the San Remo brand. It cooks up beautifully and has more toothsomeness than most gfree ones which usually end up as mushy yuck on the plate.

  • benotsimplygood December 24, 2010 at 8:35 am

    Thank you! I love pasta, and I refuse to go along with the "carbs are the devil" craze.

  • CC11 April 15, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    I also prefer the twirl of spaghetti, it's rather calming and satisfying 🙂