I grew up on pasta. My blood is probably red from all of the spaghetti sauce I’ve eaten in my time. Noodles have been a staple for centuries, and many cultures around the world have their own version-German Spaetzle, Greek Orzo, Chinese Ramen, or Polish Pierogies. Lately, pasta has gotten a bad rap. First from the anti-carbohydrate crusade and then from the gluten-free craze. Like any starch, pasta raises blood sugar, but I believe it can still be part of a healthy diet. Pasta is a relatively inexpensive starch. It is a great item to have in your food storage. Each serving has 7-8 grams of protein, and you can buy some really yummy whole grain versions.
Here are some tips for incorporating pasta into a healthy and budget friendly diet.
1. Choose the right pasta. The best pasta is made with 100% durum wheat semolina. Costco sells a great brand of organic spaghetti called Garofalo, and it costs around $1.26 per 1 pound package.
I also I like Ronzoni Healthy Harvest. This brand will go on sale for $0.50/box about 2 times a year at King Soopers. When it goes on sale I stock up! It has a mild flavor and great texture compared to some of the other whole wheat pastas I’ve tried.
2. Choose the right noodle. Spaghetti, Fettuccine, Orrechette…the list goes on and on. According to wonderopolis.org, there are about 350 different shapes of pasta in the world, and about 4 times that many different names for those shapes! To choose the right shape, just follow this simple rule: the thicker/creamier the sauce, the flatter the noodle you want. That is why creamy alfredo sauce is often served over Fettuccine. Thinner pastas like angel hair are best for olive oil sauces or thin tomato sauce. Also, the more ridges a pasta has, the more it will soak up the sauce, so use tubular shaped pastas like ziti or rigatoni for thick tomato/ragu style sauces. Small shapes are best for soups or salads. Bon Appetite has a great overview of how to choose pasta here.
3. Cook it Right. If you are not watching your sodium intake, add about a tablespoon of salt to the cooking water before you add your pasta. This is the only way to add flavor to the pasta itself. Cook the pasta according to package directions. The key is to test the pasta frequently to avoid the noodles turning into mush. When you can bite all the way through the noodle, but it is still firm, the pasta is done. This is referred to as “al dente.”
*Some studies have shown that when you eat your pasta “al dente” you feel satisfied sooner than if the pasta is overcooked and soft.
Drain the pasta immediately after it is cooked, but reserve a cup full of the starchy cooking water before you drain the pasta (keep this in case you need to add some additional moisture to your pasta later). If you leave the pasta in the water, it will continue cooking and turn to mush.
If you are not serving the immediately, or if you have leftover pasta, you can add a little bit of olive oil to the pasta to keep the noodles from sticking. However, the oil will also decrease the amount of sauce that will stick to the noodles.
4. Don’t sauce until you serve! Ever make a big pot of spaghetti, dump the sauce on top, and mix it all together? That is fine if you are going to eat all of the pasta in one sitting, but what happens if you put the leftovers into the refrigerator? That spaghetti loses its flavor and dries out by the next day. I’ve found that if you keep the leftover sauce and noodles separate until you serve, the sauce stays on top of the noodle making it easier for your taste buds to pick up the flavor. Plus, you will use less sauce. You will use about 25-50% less sauce if you wait to add the sauce. Cha-Ching!
5. Freeze the leftovers. Did you know that you can freeze pasta? The trick is keeping the noodles as firm as possible before they are frozen because when they are reheated, they will get softer. Also, freeze the sauce and the noodles separately if possible. Here is a great tutorial on freezing pasta.
All of this talk about pasta is making me hungry! Growing up my mom would let us choose what we wanted her to make for our birthday dinner. My choice was almost always some type of pasta, from mom’s prize winning lasagna, to spaghetti, or fettuccine alfredo with chicken, tomatoes, and green onions. When we would visit my Italian grandparents there was almost always a pot of spaghetti to go with Grandma’s chicken cacciatorre. My cousin, Jill, introduced me to the beauty of eating plain spaghetti with butter and parmesan cheese. Today my children love bowtie noodles (farfalle) with alfredo sauce and peas. A couple of years ago my family started a tradition of making homemade ravioli for Christmas Eve dinner. I don’t think I’ve met a noodle that I didn’t like. What is your favorite way to eat pasta?