With over 500 different types of pasta available, it is not only, one of the most popular foods in the world, but it can be served in hundreds of different ways.
The drying process is also a key to the flavor of pasta. Slow drying at low temperatures helps to preserve the nutty flavor of the durum wheat. This method of slow drying pasta is an art as well as a science, since drying times vary depending on the shape of the pasta and outdoor relative humidity levels and temperatures. This subtle difference of a slow-dried pasta can be tasted best before you add the sauce.
There is archeological evidence that noodles existed in China about 4,000 years ago.
Spanish colonists brought pasta to the U.S, but it wasn’t until the large immigration by Italians in the last half of the 19th century that pasta gained popularity. By the 1920′s, pasta was a comfort food throughout America.
Pasta is a healthy food. It is a source of complex carbohydrates, thiamin, folic acid, iron, riboflavin and niacin, and it contains only negligible amounts of fat, cholesterol, or sodium. Fettuccine Alfredo is high in calories from heavy cream, butter and Parmesan cheese. Make pasta healthier by serving it with a tomato-based sauce that contains clams, shrimp, peppers, mushrooms, chickpeas, or other low fat foods and flavorings.
A one cup serving of cooked pasta contains about 40 grams of carbohydrates. And in the context of a balanced diet, 40 grams of carbohydrates is not over doing it. It is the same amount of carbs as in a cup of rice, for example. The problem is that, when it comes to pasta, we seem to think that a larger portion is the norm. For example, a one-cup serving of rice looks perfectly appropriate to us—actually generous, but put one cup of pasta in front of us and it doesn’t look right at all.
If you’re trying to figure out how much to cook, a serving of dried pasta is about two ounces. For long, thin shapes, that’s a bundle the size of a dime. For smaller shapes, it’s about a half cup. You can also mentally divide up the box. Each one pound box contains about eight servings. Once it’s cooked, a serving of pasta equals one measuring cup, or about the size of your fist.
Different Types of Pasta
Whole Foods Market has an excellent description (as described below) of the various types of pasta on their product information sheet. You can vary the type of pasta you serve based on your nutritional needs or what other ingredients you are going to combine with the pasta.
Alternative grain pastas: This category includes Kamut® (a whole grain pasta), spelt pasta (made with 100% spelt flour) and quinoa (an ancient grain pasta similar to rice).
Durum semolina pasta: This is the best choice for wheat-based pasta. Durum wheat is a high-gluten, exceptionally hard wheat, while “semolina” refers to the milling texture (that of fine sand). If your pasta has a rich ivory color approaching yellow, you can be sure it is made with durum semolina.
Egg noodles: They may be delicate, but egg noodles absorb sauces more readily than regular durum noodles. These are best eaten with light sauces.
Gluten-free pasta: The primary ingredients used as flour in gluten-free pasta are brown rice, corn, a combination of corn and quinoa, potato and soybeans.
Whole wheat pasta: This pasta choice offers nutrition and a rich, nutty flavor that stands up to robust sauces. Since production varies, if your first experience with whole grain pasta doesn’t meet expectations, try another brand before giving up on this healthy pasta choice. Vegetable combinations are best used with this type of pasta.
How To Cook Pasta
The term “al dente” in Italian literally means “to the tooth,” and can be best translated as “chewy.” It is a pasta that is boiled just to the point of being cooked through, and remains firm. Americans prefer their pasta to be cooked longer. This is unfortunate, because the length of time pasta is cooked can have quite substantially different effects on blood glucose and the softer the pasta, the higher the glycemic index. (The Glycemic Index (GI) is a numerical scale used to indicate how fast and how high a particular food can raise our blood glucose (blood sugar) level.)
For 1 pound of pasta, use a pot that’s at least 8 quarts. When the water has boiled, salt it generously—about 2 tablespoons.
- Add the pasta; stir it right away so it doesn’t stick. Push longer pasta down into the water with tongs or a spaghetti fork to make sure it’s totally submerged. Stir occasionally to keep the pasta from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
- When the pasta begins to soften, try tasting it. If you bite into a piece and see a thin, starchy line inside, keep boiling.
- To achieve the al dente texture, cook the pasta a minute or two under the recommended cooking time.
- Drain the pasta in a colander. Don’t rinse, the starch that remains on the pasta will help the sauce adhere.
Save a cup of the boiling water before you drain the pasta. The starch in the water will help thicken the sauce and help it coat the pasta.
My family certainly likes pasta with a tomato based sauce and we always have plenty of that on hand. In order to eat less meat and less fat, I have also accumulated a number of recipes that utilize vegetables, fish, citrus flavorings and low-fat sauces. Here are some recipes that are good for you:
Penne with Artichokes
I’ve had this recipe from Gourmet Magazine for many years and made it into a healthy version.
- 1-9 oz package frozen artichokes, defrosted
- 1 1/4 cups water
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 oz sun-dried tomatoes, in oil, drained and sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- Salt and pepper
- 1/4 cup Progresso Italian bread crumbs
- 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan
- 12 ounces penne, cooked and drained ( or any short pasta of your choice)
Combine artichokes, water and lemon juice in medium saucepan and cook over medium heat until tender. Cool artichokes, then cut into thick slices. Reserve the artichoke cooking liquid.
Cook and stir 3 tablespoons garlic and 1 tablespoon oil in skillet over medium-high heat until golden. Reduce heat to low. Add artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes; simmer 1 minute. Stir in artichoke liquid, red pepper flakes, parsley, salt and pepper. Simmer 5 minutes.
Stir together the bread crumbs and grated Parmesan cheese.
Pour artichoke sauce over pasta in large bowl; toss gently to coat.
Sprinkle with bread crumbs and cheese mixture.
Pasta with Asparagus and Shrimp in Lemon Sauce
This recipe can be adapted to whatever vegetables are in season and your protein or herbs of choice.
- 1 pound asparagus, cut into 2-inch lengths
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large shallot, minced
- 1 lb large ( any size is fine) shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- salt to taste
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound short curly pasta, such as corkscrews, fusilli, chiocciole (small snails) or small shells
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- zest of 2 lemons, finely grated and the juice from the lemons (should be about 4 tablespoons)
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- Lemon slices for garnish
- Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, drop in the asparagus and cook until tender but firm. Remove the asparagus with a slotted spoon to a bowl and reserve.
- Bring the water back to a boil, drop in the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid.
- Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook about 1 minutes. Add the shrimp and garlic, season with salt and pepper and cook for 1 minute. Add the asparagus and cook until the shrimp are cooked through (just pink) and the asparagus are warmed, about 2 minutes more. Add the lemon juice and toss. Remove from heat.
- Return the pasta to the pot and toss it with 1/2 of the Parmesan, 1/2 of the parsley, lemon zest, remaining olive oil and reserved cooking liquid. Season with salt and a generous sprinkling of coarsely ground fresh pepper. Pour into a serving bowl.
- Arrange the shrimp and asparagus on top and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese and parsley. Garnish with lemon slice.
This recipe is under 350 calories per serving.