Cookbook author Mindy Toomay's blog about eating for health, cooking with spirit, and celebrating life in northern California. Here she dishes up food rants and raves, recipes, and plenty of kitchen wisdom.

By your own efforts, waken yourself, watch yourself, and live joyfully.
-- The Dhammapada

Why not make a daily pleasure out of a daily necessity?
-- Peter Mayle


Singing pasta's praises

A few years ago, pasta started getting a bad rep, as part of the Big Low-Carb Con. I was annoyed that a lot of low-carb preachers like Atkins weren't adequately explaining the difference between refined carbs and complex carbs, and the idea that you can eat all the meat and eggs and cheese and butter you want with no ill effects is just ridiculous.

Of course, this was a very popular notion with loads of people who love animal products above all and felt like they'd just won the lottery. Other more moderate diet plans came along, such as South Beach, which remedied some of those problems. But still the dangers of a high-fat, high-protein diet were under-reported. And a low-carb diet is by definition a high-protein and high-fat diet. If you lower the proportion of carbs, you increase the proportions of the other two major nutrients -- protein and fats. No way around it.

The fact that lots of people lose weight on these low-carb plans, in my opinion, is that they suddenly start thinking -- maybe for the first time in their lives -- about what they were putting in their mouths and how often. They no longer consume donuts and lattes and pizza and cookies all day every day. Hence, they consume fewer calories, which is a good way to drop some poundage.

There is so much more to say on this topic -- it could become a WAY long rant. But I'll stop right now and talk about the real reason for this post. I believe that PASTA IS A HEALTH FOOD.

It never made sense to me to categorize pasta as a bad-for-you food when the Italians, who eat it frequently (sometimes daily), are generally pretty long-lived. They're not as obese, on average, as Americans and they don't get chronic ailments like diabetes and cardiovascular disease at any where near our rates. Researchers have theorized that it's the olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, and/or red wine that explains why the Mediterranean Diet is so good for the Italians -- and us. Fine, let's make all these foods a part of our diets and reap their benefits. What a lucky thing that pasta often makes use of some or all of them!

Of course, it may not be a great idea to slather your pasta with cream and cheese. These are likely to slather your arteries with plaque over time. But if you emphasize tomatoes and beans and veggies in your sauce, and use cheese as a condiment -- if at all -- a bowl of pasta makes a perfectly wonderful and balanced dinner entree.

Okay, enough yakking. Here's a quick and simple pasta recipe that is definitely good for you. It contains all the Mediterranean health elixers mentioned above, plus shiitake mushrooms, of the healing foods of the Far East.

Yield: 4 servings

8 ounces (225 g) dried capellini
4 ounces (115 g) fresh shiitake mushrooms
2 tablespoons (28 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups (480 g) canned diced tomatoes, undrained
1 cup cooked garbanzo beans
1/4 cup (60 ml) dry red wine
1 tablespoon dried oregano
Several grinds black pepper

Put several quarts of water in a stockpot, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the capellini and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove the discard the stems of the shiitake mushrooms (if you make vegetable stock at home, these are a great addition to the pot). Dice the mushroom caps. Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms to the HOT oil and cook without stirring for 1 minute, then turn them and cook 1 minute longer. You want them to brown a bit before adding any other ingredients.

Add the onion, garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt; stir and saute for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, garbanzos, wine, oregano, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook 5 minutes.

Drain the cooked pasta, reserving about a cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the sauce in the saute pan and toss to combine. If the mixture seems to dry, add some of the reserved cooking water to achieve the right consistency. Be careful not to thin it out too much.

If you have some fresh basil or parsley on had, scatter some chopped herbs over the pasta and serve.


At 9:26 AM, Blogger KaiVegan said...

Hi, Mindy:) I just borrowed the Vegan Gourmet from the library. I haven't tried making any of the recipes yet, but will let you know when I finally do.

At 11:13 PM, Blogger Mindy T. said...

Great! It's wonderful to meet people who have connected with my books in unexpected way. Hope you find the recipes delicious and inspiring...


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