When the weather is warm, the last thing you feel like doing is heating up the oven or spending an hour at the stove to cook dinner. Believe it or not, pasta can actually be the perfect entree for hot-weather nights—just skip the creamy sauces and heavy toppings. Instead, toss your favorite noodles together with seasonal veggies, olive oil and a bit of grilled or sauteed meat.

If you think all carbs are created equal, think again. The truth is, pasta is and has long been a healthy carbohydrate and a central component of the Mediterranean diet, considered one of the best lifestyle diets for maintaining a healthy weight.

How did pasta get such a bad rap? The primary reason is a simple misconception — that pasta is akin to bread made from white flour. In fact, Italian pasta is made from durum, a wholly different species from bread wheat, in that, it contains a third fewer chromosomes. Durum is an older species and a hybrid of wild grasses while modern bread wheat is processed grain.

The second reason why pasta gets criticized is what we tend to do to it: over-process it and top it with too much salt and fat. This is what has turned inherently healthy pasta into something far less desirable.

Why is pasta healthy ? It has a low glycemic index (GI) — a modern concept of how fast glucose, a sugar from carbohydrates, is absorbed into the bloodstream. The GI runs from zero to 100 and foods with a higher index number tend to spike the blood with sugar. This taxes the organs — in particular the pancreas, and can lead to diabetes and obesity.

Pasta is remarkably low on the glycemic index. Pasta is anywhere from 25 to 45, depending on the type. That’s in the range of many fruits and (non-starchy) vegetables. Compare this with two staples of the American diet: white bread, with a GI of about 75; and potatoes (not sweet), with a GI of about 80. (Mashed potatoes come in at 90.) Did you have corn flakes for breakfast? They have a GI of 80, as do many breakfast cereals.

What gives Italian pasta its low GI ranking is semolina flour. Semolina is comprised of large, crystal-like yellow particles and its naturally strong gluten content prevents starch from leaching out quickly. This in turn leads to slower digestion, slower release of sugar into the blood and a greater feeling of satiation.

Researchers in the United States found that eating salad with pasta combined to produce a feeling of fullness with fewer calories. Those results were published in February, 2012 in the journal, Appetite and in the journal, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, from January, 2013, where researchers in India suggested that bringing more pasta into their country, supplemented with iron and other nutrients, could combat nutritional diseases and undernourishment.

The following recipes will fill you up without weighing you down or making you sluggish. Don’t forget the salad!

Linguine with Clam Sauce

Canned clams make this recipe a quick and easy weeknight meal.

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:

  • 1 (1-pound) package Italian brand Linguine
  • 1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 3 (6.5-ounce) cans chopped clams, drained and reserve the liquid
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
  • Salt and pepper

Directions:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook linguine al dente. Drain.

In a large saucepan, heat oil on medium heat. Add garlic and saute‚ until golden, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add clam juice, wine, salt and pepper.

Bring to a low boil and simmer until liquids are slightly reduced, about 10 minutes. Add the clams and fresh chopped parsley. Stir.

Add the hot cooked pasta to the clam sauce in the saucepan and saute together on medium-heat for two minutes. Serve immediately.

Spaghetti with Cherry Tomato Sauce

4 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 sprigs basil
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 1 sprig tarragon
  • 1 whole star anise pod
  • 1 whole clove
  • 4 cups yellow cherry tomatoes (if they are available, otherwise regular cherry tomatoes are fine)
  • 2 teaspoons Sherry
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 12 ounces Italian brand spaghetti

Directions:

Cut tomatoes in half. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until soft but not brown, 6–8 minutes. Add garlic, basil, thyme and tarragon sprigs, star anise, and clove, and cook, stirring often, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and Sherry. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes release their juices and a sauce forms, 10–15 minutes. Discard thyme, tarragon and basil sprigs, star anise, and clove. Season sauce with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, cook spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid. Add pasta and 1/2 cup pasta cooking liquid to the sauce in skillet. Cook, tossing and adding more pasta cooking liquid as needed, until sauce coats pasta, about 2 minutes. Serve immediately.

Pasta, Red Beans and Broccoli Toss

Makes: 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces dried Italian brand medium shell pasta
  • 3 cups broccoli florets
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onion
  • 1-15 ounce can red kidney beans, drained, reserving 1/4 cup of liquid
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup finely shredded Pecorino or Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup snipped Italian (flat-leaf) parsley

Directions:

Cook pasta according to package instructions, adding broccoli the last 3 minutes; drain.

Meanwhile, in a 12-inch skillet heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Reduce heat to medium; cook about 5 minutes or until onion is tender.

Increase heat to high; add pasta, broccoli, beans, chicken broth, reserved bean liquid and crushed red pepper to the pan. Cook over high heat for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add cheese and parsley. Cook and stir until cheese is melted. Serve in individual pasta bowls.

Spaghetti With Quick Meat Sauce

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces Italian brand spaghetti (3/4 of a box)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 pound lean ground beef or ground turkey
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 26-ounce container Pomi strained tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan (1 ounce)

Directions:

Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 8 minutes.

Increase heat to medium-high. Add the beef, salt and pepper and cook, breaking up the meat with a spoon, until no longer pink, 4 to 5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce slightly thickens, about 5 minutes. Stir in the parsley.

Add the cooked pasta to the sauce, stir well and heat for a few minutes. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese.

Italian Pasta with Tuna

4 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces dried Italian brand orecchiette or other short pasta
  • 15 ounces cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh sage, chopped plus extra for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon drained capers
  • 7 ounces canned tuna, in olive oil, large chunks broken up
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the orecchiette according to package directions. Drain and transfer to a large bowl.

In a medium skillet heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and stir in the garlic and beans. Saute for a minute. Add the scallions, sage, capers, lemon juice and tuna. Stir gently and add remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Taste for seasoning and adding salt and pepper, if necessary. Pour into the bowl with the cooked pasta. Mix and garnish with sage leaves before serving. This dish is also tasty at room temperature.

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