Pasta is indispensable in planning delicious, low-fat meals that even the pickiest eater will love. Rich in complex carbohydrates, it is the base of a fast, healthful meal when topped with plenty of assorted vegetables, tomato- or broth-based sauces, legumes, poultry, and seafood.
Planning meals around shapes of pasta can make them more exciting. The National Pasta Association features a pasta shape library with over 50 different shapes. Use different shapes of pasta to plan most of your meals and you will never feel like you’ve never eaten the same meal twice!
- Special shapes such as rotini (cork screws), shells and bowties can be whimsical and also functional as their ridges, grooves and folds capture and hold sauces.
- Orzo, which is shaped like rice, can be used in a variety of stir-fries.
- Long pasta such as spaghetti, linguine and angel hair are delicious when made with broth-based sauces or light tomato sauces.
- Tube pasta, such as macaroni, penne and ziti are sturdy and go well with thick sauces and in baked dishes.
- Colored pasta (such as spinach, tomato or saffron) adds visual appeal and flavor to pastas tossed with fresh veggies, herbs and light broths.
- Whole wheat pasta adds a nutty flavor and the added benefit of 4-6 grams fiber per serving.
- Asian noodles are versatile in stir-fries and come in many types such as wheat, potato, rice, bean, corn and even sweet potato.
Perfect Pasta Every Time
- Timing is important; before cooking pasta have the sauce almost ready so it can be tossed with the pasta when the pasta is done.
- For every pound of pasta, heat 4 quarts of water to boiling. Oil is not necessary to prevent sticking as long as you don’t overcook your pasta. Salt is sometimes called for but makes no significant difference in cooking time. We usually leave it out.
- When the water reaches a rolling boil, add the pasta gradually, stirring at the same time. Reduce heat to medium-high to avoid boiling over and proceed with the lid off.
- Stir the pasta occasionally during cooking.
- Follow the package directions for cooking times. Each manufacturer has tested their brands and shapes for the best cooking times. If the pasta is to be used as part of a dish that requires further cooking (i.e. lasagne), slightly under-cook the pasta. Fresh pasta cooks faster than dried and care must be taken not to overcook it.
- Taste for doneness. The pasta should be "al dente" or firm to the bite, yet cooked through. Overcooking causes pasta to stick together and have a mushy texture.
- Drain the pasta in a sturdy colander then toss immediately with sauce. To reserve for salads or further use, rinse lightly with cool water and store covered in the refrigerator. It is not necessary to coat with oil but if you must, spray with vegetable oil cooking spray instead of pouring oil over the pasta.
- Cooked pasta will keep for about 4 or 5 days in your refrigerator. For longer term storage, consider freezing in zip lock bags. Reheat in the microwave or on top of the stove with a small amount of water.
Speedy Pasta Meals
Consider these six main ingredients for healthful pasta dishes and mix and match according to what you have on hand:
- Protein - this can be leftover cooked chicken, or anything you have on hand.
- Herbs or Italian Seasoning
- Sauce or broth
- Shredded cooked chicken with seasonal veggies, broth, Italian seasoning, fresh basil, sundried tomatoes, bowtie pasta, and chicken broth
- Angel hair pasta with marinara sauce, shrimp, and spinach
- Orzo with fresh corn, broth, diced tomatoes, and basil
Cook pasta ahead of time for even faster meal assembly
- Cook extra portions of pasta for dinner and use them for lunch the next day. Reheat with a couple tablespoons of water or serve cold as salad with dark green lettuce leaves and fresh veggies.
- Many pasta dishes can be frozen for a quick entree at a later date. For best success, the Food and Health Communications, Inc. Kitchen recommends placing one serving in a zip lock bag and freezing to ensure quick, easy defrosting and cooking, which can be done all in the same step. Remove plastic, put in microwave container with a little water and cook for 10-15 minutes on medium power.
Follow these delicious recipes:
Silken tofu mixed with ricotta cheese and fresh basil make a creamy, rich filling.
8 oz. lasagne noodles
olive oil cooking spray
¼ cup diced onion
½ tsp minced garlic
¼ cup water
2 cups lowfat, low-sodium pasta sauce
1 cup diced eggplant
1 cup diced zucchini
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 cup light silken tofu
1 cup lowfat ricotta cheese
½ cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
½ cup sliced green onion
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
- Cook the lasagne noodles in 2 quarts of boiling water until they are slightly firm in the middle. Drain and rinse with cold water. Preheat oven to 350°.
- Make the sauce: spray a nonstick skillet with olive oil cooking spray and heat over medium. Saute onions (covered) until tender, about 3 or 4 minutes; add garlic and saute both until brown- about 1 minute. Add water and pasta sauce followed by the rest of the vegetables. Increase heat to medium-high, bring to a boil and remove from stove.
- For the cheese filling, place all items in food processor or blender and blend until smooth.
- To assemble and bake: place a thin layer of sauce in the bottom of a 8 inch by 8 inch by 2 inch ceramic dish; next, a layer of noodles followed by the cheese filling. Keep layering in this order until you have used everything up, ending with sauce on top. Sprinkle the nonfat grated mozzarella cheese on top.
- Bake covered at 375° for 45 minutes; lasagne is done when cheese is brown and center is bubbly.
- Cool 5 minutes before cutting and serving.
Greek Pasta Salad
Greek Salad ingredients and pasta go well together for lunch or dinner.
3 cups dried bowtie pasta
1 cucumber, seed and dice ¼ inch
3 ripe plum tomatoes, seed & dice ¼ inch
¼ cup chopped red onion
3 TBS diced black olives
2 TBS balsamic vinegar
1 lemon- grated zest and juice
2 TBS fresh chopped mint leaves
olive oil cooking spray
1 small head Bibb or butter lettuce
- Cook the pasta: bring 2 quarts of water to a rapid boil over high heat. Add pasta slowly, stirring constantly until all is in the pot. Bring back to a boil and reduce heat to medium-high. Cook according to package directions or until pasta still has a slightly firm center (about 10-13 minutes). Drain in colander and rinse with cold water.
- Make the salad: combine all vegetables, vinegar, lemon zest and lemon juice in mixing bowl. Toss in pasta and mint leaves and lightly spray with olive oil cooking spray. Toss again.
- Line 4 plates with lettuce leaves and divide pasta salad among them. The Food for Health Test Kitchen recommends serving with French or sour dough bread.
Avoid A Sodium Surprise
- Most pasta sauces are low in fat (check the label to be sure). Sodium levels are a different story. You have to check the label to be sure you aren’t getting a surprisingly high amount of sodium.
- Where pasta is served as an entree, a realistic serving size for the sauce is ¾ to 1 cup instead of the ½ cup indicated on the label. 480 mg. of sodium per serving can quickly become 720 to 960 mg. of sodium per person.
- Your best bet is a pasta sauce which has 15% or less Daily Value of sodium per serving. This is about 250-350 mg. sodium per ½ cup serving.
- You can further lower sodium and improve the flavor of bottled jars of pasta sauce by adding 1 cup of sodium-free canned tomato sauce to 1 cup of pasta sauce. This cuts sodium in half and makes a lighter, more versatile sauce.
- Most grocery stores have several varieties of "no-salt-added" pasta sauces and when you find them it is always a good idea to stock up on them!