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Yes, pasta is healthy!

Pasta makes the perfect delivery system for the healthy foods you should have each day. Pair pasta with a variety of nutrient-dense foods and create meals that you can feel good about. Fiber-filled vegetables and beans, heart healthy fish and monounsaturated oils, antioxidant-rich tomato sauce and protein-packed cheeses, poultry and lean meats are all nutrient dense foods.

Carbohydrates like pasta provide glucose, the crucial fuel for your brain and muscles.  Pasta is an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, which provide a slow release of energy.  Unlike simple sugars that offer a quick boost of energy, pasta helps sustain energy.

Pasta is very low in sodium and enriched varieties provide a good source of several essential nutrients, including iron and several B-vitamins.  Whole wheat pasta can provide up to 25% of daily fiber requirements in a one cup portion. Enriched pasta is also fortified with folic acid – essential for women of child-bearing age.  FDA regulations require enriched grain products to contain this important vitamin.  A serving of dry pasta supplies the equivalent of roughly 100 micrograms of folic acid or 25% of the recommended daily intake.

Pasta meals are central to the Mediterranean Diet, not only because they are tasty, inexpensive and easy to prepare, but because they are the perfect way to highlight and complement many of the other healthy foods in this diet. The New England Journal of Medicine reported that the Mediterranean Diet reduces the risk of death from heart disease and cancer and it is one of the most recognizable successful diets.

So here is how to keep your pasta healthy:

Farfalle with Zucchini and Butternut Squash

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This pasta dish makes a great meatless Monday dinner option.

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 lb farfalle (bow-ties) pasta
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons fresh oregano, chopped
  • 1 butternut squash, diced into 1 inch pieces
  • 2 zucchinis, sliced into half moons
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1/3 cup grated Pecorino cheese

Directions

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta al dente according to the package directions. Reserve one cup of the pasta water.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and oregano and sauté for 1-2 minutes.

Add the butternut squash and sauté for another 6-8 minutes, or until lightly browned and softened.

Add the zucchini and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add 1 cup of the pasta cooking liquid to the vegetables and bring to a simmer.

Toss the drained pasta with the sauce and cheese.

Chicken Fettuccine in Parmesan Cream Sauce

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4 servings

Ingredients

  • Non-stick olive oil spray
  • 10 ounces skinned and boned chicken breast, cut into 1-inch long strips
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons butter
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups reduced fat milk
  • 1 1/2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/4 teaspoon each salt, white pepper and ground nutmeg
  • 8 oz. dried fettuccine
  • 2 cups broccoli florets, blanched or frozen florets, defrosted and drained on paper towels

Directions

Cook pasta al dente according to package directions. Drain.

Spray a 10-inch nonstick skillet with nonstick olive oil spray, add the 2 teaspoons of butter and heat over medium-high heat for 1 minute; add chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until cooked through, about 3 minutes. Remove chicken from the skillet; set aside and keep warm.

In the same skillet melt remaining butter over medium-high heat; add garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 1 minute. Sprinkle butter with flour and cook, stirring constantly with wire whisk, for 1 minute. Continuing to stir, slowly add the milk; cook until bubbly and thickened, about 3 minutes.

Add cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg to the milk mixture; stir until the cheese is melted. Add cooked fettuccine, broccoli and reserved chicken; reduce heat to low and toss until all ingredients are evenly coated with the sauce and heated through.

Pasta with Eggplant Olive Sauce

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6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 medium eggplant
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • One 28 – ounce can Italian-style tomatoes, cut up, undrained
  • One 6 – ounce can Italian-style tomato paste
  • One 4 – ounce can (drained weight) sliced mushrooms, drained
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine or beef broth
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano, crushed
  • 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives or pitted ripe olives, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons snipped fresh parsley
  • Salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • 8 oz. penne pasta
  • 1/3 cup grated or shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted

Directions

Peel eggplant, if desired; cut eggplant into 1-inch cubes.

Heat oil in a large saucepan and add the eggplant, onion and garlic. Cook until the eggplant begins to brown.

Add undrained tomatoes, tomato paste, mushrooms, wine or broth, the water and oregano.

Bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer with the saucepan cover ajar and cook for about an hour or an hour and a half or until the sauce thickens.

Stir in olives and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cook pasta al dente according to package directions. Drain.

Mix the cooked pasta into the eggplant sauce; add the Parmesan cheese and toasted pine nuts. Serve.

Herbed Shrimp Linguini

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4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 pound fresh or frozen peeled, deveined medium shrimp
  • 8 ounces dried linguini or spaghetti
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons snipped fresh rosemary, plus additional for a garnish
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

Directions

Thaw shrimp, if frozen. Rinse shrimp and set aside.

Cook pasta al dente according to package directions. Add the shrimp to the pasta water the last 3 minutes of cooking.

Drain well and place in a large pasta bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of the cheese, the garlic, olive oil, snipped rosemary, salt and black pepper and toss until well coated.

Sprinkle evenly with the 2 tablespoons remaining cheese and garnish with additional rosemary leaves. Serve immediately.

Rigatoni With Roasted Cauliflower and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

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6 servings

Ingredients

  • 12 oz rigatoni pasta
  • ½ medium head cauliflower (about 1 pound), cut into florets
  • ½ cup sliced sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil and drained
  • 1 medium red onion, cut into 1/4-inch wedges
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons sun-dried tomato oil from the jar
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 2 ounces grated Pecorino cheese (about 1/2 cup), plus more for serving

Directions

Heat oven to 450° F.

On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss the cauliflower and onion with the thyme, sun-dried tomato oil and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper.

Roast, tossing the vegetables once halfway through cooking, until golden brown and tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

Cook the pasta al dente according to the package directions. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water; drain the pasta and return it to the pot.

Add the roasted vegetables, sun-dried tomatoes, Pecorino cheese and ½ cup of the reserved pasta cooking water to the pasta.

Toss to combine (add more cooking water if the pasta seems dry). Serve sprinkled with additional Pecorino cheese.

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