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Tag Archives: asparagus

Asparagus season varies based on the climate in which it is grown, though it typically matures in early summer in the US northern latitudes and even earlier in southern states, like Texas. In tropical regions of the world, such as the state of Hawaii or warm Mediterranean climates like those of southern Italy and Greece, asparagus season is year round. The plant, however, only lasts 90 days per season, so crops need to be planted incrementally to receive a steady harvest throughout the year.

A member of the lily family, asparagus comes from the Greek word, asparagos, which first appeared in English print around 1000 A.D. It cannot be definitively traced to any one specific area of origin, although it is known to be native to the eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor areas.

As early as 200 BC, Cato , a Roman statesman and author, gave excellent growing instructions for asparagus, in his work, De Agri Cultura. The ancient Egyptians cultivated asparagus and Romans, from Pliny to Julius Caesar to Augustus, prized the wild variety. “As quick as cooking asparagus” was an old Roman saying meaning something accomplished rapidly.

The asparagus growing beds in Northern Italy were famous during the Renaissance period. These graceful spears have always been a sign of elegance, and in times past, were a delicacy only the wealthy could afford. Roman emperors were so fond of asparagus, that they kept a special asparagus fleet for the purpose of fetching it.

Asparagus spears grow from a crown planted in sandy soils and, under ideal conditions, can grow 10 inches in a 24-hour period. The most common types are green, but you might see two others in supermarkets and restaurants: white, which is more delicate and difficult to harvest, and purple, which is smaller and fruitier.

This large vegetable is one of the most nutritionally well-balanced vegetables — high in folic acid and a good source of potassium, fiber, thiamin and vitamins A, B6 and C.  A 5-ounce serving provides 60% of the RDA for folic acid and is low in calories. You can enjoy this vegetable raw or with minimal preparation.

Like all vegetables, asparagus doesn’t instantly “die” when it is picked but continues to engage in metabolic activity. This metabolic activity includes intake of oxygen, the breaking down of starches and sugars and the releasing of carbon dioxide. The speed at which these processes occur is typically referred to as “respiration rate.” Compared to most other vegetables, asparagus has a very high respiration rate. Asparagus’ very high respiration rate makes it more perishable than its other vegetables and also much more likely to lose water, wrinkle and harden.

Three types of asparagus are pictured with white asparagus at the back and green asparagus in the middle. The plant at the front is wild asparagus.

Since asparagus varieties most commonly available in the U.S. are green in color, you are most likely to find these green-colored varieties in your grocery store.

Two other types of asparagus that are widely grown aside from the typical green variety are white asparagus and purple asparagus. These strains have the same asparagus season for harvesting and only differ in appearance and size.

White asparagus is produced by keeping the stems of the plant buried under mounds of dirt which prevents them from being infused with green chlorophyll from interaction with sunlight and gives the plants’ shoots a more mild and softer texture.

Purple asparagus was first grown in Italy and is a larger than normal strain with a sweeter taste. It is a hybrid plant where the spear edges of the stems are noticeably purple and is named Violetto d/Albenga after the Albenga north-western region of Italy situated along the Gulf of Genoa. 

Purple varieties typically have a higher sugar content than green and white varieties and for this reason have a sweeter taste. Even with this higher sugar content, asparagus is anything but a high-sugar food. We’re talking about 3 grams of total sugar per cup of fresh asparagus — less than half of the amount in an extra small apple.

Asparagus stalks should be rounded and not twisted. Look for firm, thin stems with deep green or purplish closed tips. The cut ends should not be too woody, although a little woodiness at the base prevents the stalk from drying out. Once trimmed and cooked, asparagus loses about half its total weight. Use asparagus within a day or two after purchasing for best flavor and texture. Store in the refrigerator with the ends wrapped in a damp paper towel.

Cooking Wild Asparagus

As asparagus grows almost everywhere in Italy there are many regional asparagus recipes. The spears can be boiled for a few minutes and served as a side dish with a splash of olive oil and lemon juice or added to an omelette. The tender tips have a delicate flavor and taste the best with as little cooking as possible.

To make a simple pasta dish: cut the asparagus shoots into medium length pieces and then saute them for 3-4 minutes along with some finely chopped garlic, pepperoncino (chilli pepper) and a few shavings of lemon zest. Pour this mixture over cooked spaghettini (a thinner variety of spaghetti) and sprinkle with pecorino-romano cheese.

 

Italian Asparagus Gratin ( Asparagi alla Parmigiana)

Roasting is an excellent way to prepare asparagus. Asparagi alla parmigiana is a springtime favorite in northern Italy.

4 to 6 servings

Ingredients:

  • Asparagus, trimmed — 2 pounds
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Parmesan cheese, grated — 1/2 to 2/3 cup
  • Salt and pepper — to taste

Directions:

Preheat oven to 450°F. Oil a shallow baking dish that is just large enough to hold the asparagus. Place a layer of asparagus in the dish with the tips all facing the same direction. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and some of the cheese. Keep adding layers until all asparagus and all cheese is used, finishing with the cheese.

Drizzle with olive oil and place the dish on the top rack of the oven. Bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until the asparagus is cooked through and beginning to brown and the cheese is melted.

Asparagus and Sausage Pizza

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. Dough for Pizza
  • 1/2 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch long pieces
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large sweet red pepper, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch wide strips
  • 1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage with fennel, casing removed
  • 3/4 cup shredded provolone cheese, or cheese of choice

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Place the asparagus in a skillet and add 1 cup water. Cook until the asparagus are tender; drain and transfer to a bowl.

In the same skillet add the olive oil and cook the peppers until they soften. Transfer to the bowl with the asparagus.

In the same skillet, cook the sausage until it is no longer pink. Cool.

Pat the dough into a large pizza pan. Spread the sausage over the dough.

Spread the asparagus and peppers over the sausage. Sprinkle the provolone over all.

Bake until the crust is brown and the cheese has melted. Slice and serve.

Spring Asparagus and White Bean Salad

Makes 4 – 1cup servings

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 1½ lb)
  • 1½ cups canned cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 5 thinly sliced radishes
  • 1/2 cup (2 oz) crumbled feta
  • 1 medium shallot, peeled and minced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint

Dressing:

  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tteapsoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Directions

Steam asparagus, covered, 2 minutes or until crisp-tender.

Rinse asparagus with cold water and drain.

Gently combine asparagus, beans, radishes, feta, shallot and fresh mint in a serving bowl.

Make the dressing by combining lemon juice, lemon zest, mustard, olive oil, salt and pepper and whisk to combine.

Pour dressing over asparagus mixture and toss gently to coat.

Rigatoni with Bacon and Asparagus

8 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 package (16 ounces) whole wheat rigatoni pasta
  • 1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed and coarsely chopped
  • 8 bacon strips
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2/3 cup fat free half-and-half cream
  • 1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
  • 1/8 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions:

Cook pasta according to package directions. (Cook asparagus with pasta during the last 3 min.) Drain.

In the same pan, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove to paper towels to drain. Crumble bacon and set aside. Drain fat from pan.

Add butter and oil to the pan and heat. Saute garlic briefly. Stir in cream.

Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 3-4 minutes or until slightly thickened.

Stir in mozzarella cheese until melted. Add drained pasta and asparagus. Stir in the salt, parsley and reserved bacon. Sprinkle with pepper and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

 

Asparagus and Herb Lasagna

The lasagna takes some time to make, but it can be prepared the day before you entertain. It keeps very well for a day or two in the refrigerator before you bake it.

Ingredients:

  • 2 large garlic cloves, peeled
  • Salt
  • 2 pounds asparagus
  • 1 recipe Olive Oil Bechamel, recipe below
  • 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh herbs, such as tarragon, parsley, chives, basil
  • 12 no-boil lasagna noodles

Directions:

Fill a pasta pot with water and add the garlic cloves. Bring to a boil while you trim the asparagus by breaking off the woody ends but do not discard. When the water comes to a boil, add salt and the asparagus woody ends. Reduce the heat to medium low, cover partially and simmer the asparagus ends for 30 minutes. Remove the asparagus ends and the garlic cloves from the water and discard.

Bring the water back to a boil and add the asparagus stalks. Boil thick asparagus stalks for five minutes or medium and thin stalks for three minutes. Transfer them, using a spider or tongs, to a bowl of ice water. Do not drain the cooking water.

Allow the asparagus to cool for a few minutes, then drain and dry on a clean kitchen towel. Cut the asparagus into 1-inch lengths. Set aside.

Make the bechamel sauce according to directions below.

Whisk 1/2 cup of the cooking water from the asparagus into the béchamel, along with 1/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese and the herbs. Add freshly ground pepper to taste and adjust salt.

Oil or butter a 3-quart baking dish or lasagna dish.

Bring the asparagus cooking water back to a rolling boil and drop in 3 lasagna noodles. Boil just until the pasta is flexible (about three minutes for no-boil lasagna). Using tongs, transfer the pasta to drain on a clean dish towel.

Set aside 1/3 cup of the bechamel sauce for the top of the lasagna and spread a very thin layer of bechamel over the bottom of the baking dish. Cover with the just parboiled pasta noodles.

Stir the asparagus into the remaining bechamel and spread a layer over the noodles. Sprinkle on 2 tablespoons Parmesan.

Parboil another layer’s worth of pasta, top with the asparagus bechamel sauce and with another 2 tablespoons of Parmesan.

Repeat with one more layer. End with a layer of pasta and spread the 1/3 cup reserved bechamel sauce over the top and sprinkle on the remaining Parmesan.

Cover tightly with plastic, if storing in the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the lasagna and cover tightly with foil. Bake for 30 minutes until bubbling. Uncover and continue to bake until the top just begins to color, about 10 minutes. Remove from the ocen. Allow the lasagna to sit five to 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 6-8

Make Ahead: You can prepare this dish up to a day or two before you bake it. Don’t drizzle on the last tablespoon of olive oil until you’re ready to bake. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate. Remove the plastic and replace with foil before baking.

Olive Oil Bechamel

The main thing to watch for here is scorching. Stir often with a rubber spatula, especially at the bottom and edges of the pan, so that the mixture doesn’t stick and begin to burn. If it does, immediately pour the sauce into another pot and continue to cook over very low heat.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups low-fat milk
  • Salt to taste
  • Freshly ground white or black pepper

Directions:

Heat the oil over medium heat in a heavy medium saucepan. Add the shallot and cook, stirring, until softened, about three minutes. Stir in flour and cook, stirring, for about three minutes until smooth and bubbling but not browned. The paste should have the texture of wet sand. Whisk in the milk all at once and bring to a simmer, whisking all the while.

Turn the heat to very low and simmer, stirring often with a whisk and scraping the bottom and edges of the pan with a rubber spatula, for about 10 minutes or until the sauce thickens. Season with salt and pepper. 

Variation: Substitute vegetable stock for the milk for a vegan version of this sauce.

Makes 1 1/2 cups

Wild Italian Asparagus


Are veggie haters born or made? The answer seems to be both. Some of us have negative veggie experiences from our childhood that come back to haunt us as adults. Maybe you were forced to eat vegetables, or had to plow through a stack of green beans to get to dessert. Maybe you were served overcooked, mushy vegetables. “If veggies are only served in ways that don’t match your personal flavor preferences, they won’t seem exciting,” explains Karen Collins, MS, RD, nutrition adviser for the American Institute for Cancer Research. So if you love spicy food, you won’t like veggies served plain; or if you love simple, earthy flavors, veggies covered with a rich sauce won’t be appealing. 

When my children were young, they struggled with eating some vegetables that were on their dinner plates.  I, also, know that many parents struggle to get their kids to eat their vegetables – it’s a never-ending battle in many households in America. Nagging and taking away dessert are often futile remedies. What can help is, if a parent can involve their children in food preparation and find healthy ways to make vegetables taste good. 

Deep frying or adding butter and cheese make everything taste so good.  The real challenge is how to make vegetables taste good without it, if you are trying to make your meals more healthy. Cooking vegetables with the right herbs can make a difference, such as oregano, basil, parsley, thyme, rosemary, tarragon, coriander, dill and garlic. Adding chopped nuts to vegetable dishes is another way to bring more flavor and nutrition into the meal. Using cooking techniques other than boiling in water, such as roasting and grilling, are ways to improve the taste of vegetables without adding a lot of fat.

Prep veggies, like carrots, asparagus and peppers, place in foil, mist with extra virgin olive oil, drizzle with a tablespoon or two of balsamic vinegar or another flavored vinegar or with a low-fat dressing, sprinkle with herbs like thyme, rosemary and cracked black pepper and place the package on the grill. Some take as little as 10 minutes to become tender. Or use the same seasonings on vegetable kabobs, alternating  vegetables of your choice with cherry tomatoes and onion slices.

You can roast just about anything, but vegetables especially benefit from the high, dry heat of the oven. Their flavor becomes concentrated and their natural sugars caramelize, transforming them into richly satisfying sides. For every 2 pounds of vegetables, toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil prior to roasting. Spread in a single layer, with space in between the pieces or they’ll just steam instead. You can roast different veggies together if their cooking times are similar.

The recipes below are ones I have made, adjusting ingredients, cooking techniques and utilizing Italian flavors to make these dishes just right. These are vegetable side dishes that my family likes and enjoys at our family dinners.  

Mashed Potatoes With Kale

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds russet potatoes, scrubbed and peeled
  • Salt
  • 1 pound (1 large bunch) kale, either curly or cavolo nero, with the ribs removed and the leaves washed
  • 1-1/4 cups low-fat milk
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Directions

Cover the potatoes with water in a saucepan, add 1/2 tablespoon of salt and the garlic and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, cover partially and cook until tender about 30 to 40 minutes. Drain off the water, return the potatoes with the garlic to the pan and mash with a potato masher.

While the potatoes are cooking bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil and add the kale. Cook the kale for 4 to 6 minutes (after the water returns to the boil) until the leaves are tender but still bright green. Allow to cool for a couple of minutes, drain and squeeze out excess water. Chop into small pieces and add the olive oil.

Stir the chopped kale into the hot mashed potatoes along with the milk.  Add salt to taste and freshly ground pepper.

Tip: This is a good dish to make ahead and reheat for dinner.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

Oven-roasted Vegetables with Rosemary, Bay Leaves and Garlic

 The process of roasting brings out the natural sweetness in vegetables and intensifies their natural flavors

Ingredients

  • Sea salt
  • 1 lb red or Yukon gold potatoes, cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 1 lb butternut squash, seeded and cut into chunks
  • 2 medium red onions, cut into eighths
  • 1 fennel bulb, trimmed, cored and cut into chunks
  • 3 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 3 parsnips, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 4 sprigs of rosemary
  • 4 sprigs of bay leaves

Directions

In a large baking pan sprayed with olive oil cooking spray place potatoes, squash, onions and 2 tablespoons of the oil. Toss to coat, then roast for 20 minutes.

Add the remaining tablespoon of oil and the remaining ingredients to the baking pan.

Roast for another 20 minutes, turning the vegetables occasionally until tender and edges slightly brown. Salt and pepper to taste.

Remove bay leaves before serving.

Makes 4 servings.

Grilled Vegetables with Basil Dressing

Makes 8 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 small eggplant, sliced into chunks
  • 1 zucchini, cut into chunks
  • 1 yellow summer squash, cut into chunks
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into squares
  • 1 small red onion, sliced and cut into 8 segments
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic  vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
Dressing
  • 1/4 cup non-fat Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons reduced-fat olive oil mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Directions

Thread skewers with alternating pieces of eggplant, zucchini, squash, bell pepper and onion. Place skewered vegetables in shallow pan.

Make the marinade for vegetables by blending vinegar, oil and 1/4 cup fresh basil. Pour over vegetables. Let stand 10 minutes, occasionally turning skewers so marinade coats all sides.

Meanwhile, make the dressing. Place yogurt, mayonnaise, 1 tablespoon fresh basil and lemon juice in a bowl and whisk until smooth. Transfer to small serving dish.

Grill vegetables, adjusting height of rack to avoid charring, if using an outdoor grill.

Serve vegetables as a side dish, as a sandwich filling in ciabatta rolls or on sliced Italian bread or bruschetta. Pass basil-yogurt dressing to use as a topping.   

Baked Spaghetti Squash

What I like about this spaghetti squash dish is that when it comes out of the oven, it’s ready to serve. It does not need any additional cooking to give it flavor.

Ingredients:

  • 1 small to medium spaghetti squash
  • Olive oil cooking spray
  • Kosher or salt and fresh pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder

Directions

Cut the squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and fibers with a spoon. Place on a baking sheet, cut side up, spray lightly with the cooking spray, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl mix together the paprika, onion powder, Italian seasoning and garlic powder. Sprinkle over squash.

Bake at 350° F for about an hour or until the skin gives easily under pressure and the inside is tender. Remove from the oven and let it cool 10 minutes.

Using a fork, scrape out the squash flesh a little at a time. It will separate into spaghetti-like strands. Place in a serving dish and serve.

Spicy Broccoli Rabe with Garlic and Lemon Zest

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds broccoli rabe
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (adjust to taste)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add salt. Cook broccoli rabe in water for 4 to 5 minutes until tender and bright green. Drain well in a colander and set aside.

In a large saute pan heat  2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and pepper flakes then toss in the broccoli rabe.

Season with salt and pepper and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, gently tossing it in the pan. Finish with the lemon zest and toss to combine. Serve immediately.

Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Lemon Vinaigrette

Serves  6

Ingredients

  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Progresso Italian Bread Crumbs

Lemon Vinaigrette

Whisk together:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • Pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon small capers

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Wash the head of cauliflower and trim off the outer leaves. With a sharp knife, remove a cone-shaped piece from the core, keeping the head intact.

With your fingers, rub a little olive oil into the bottom of a deep oven-safe baking dish, rub the remainder on all over the cauliflower, working the oil into the crevasses as best you can. Place core-side down in the baking dish and sprinkle with salt and breadcrumbs.

Bake for 1 hour or 1-1/4 hours, until the exterior is brown and crusty and the center soft.  With a spoon, drizzle the vinaigrette over the top of the cauliflower and let it seep slowly.

Crispy Parmesan Broccoli

2 servings

Ingredients 

  • 1/2 lb broccoli, rinsed, dried, and cut into flat sided bite-size pieces
  • 1/2 cup egg substitute
  • 1/4 cup Italian seasoned Panko Crumbs
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated

Directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

In a small bowl combine the bread crumbs and cheese.

Put the broccoli in a large bowl, add the egg substitute, and toss with your hands to coat.

Sprinkle in the bread crumb and cheese mixture and toss to combine.

Transfer to a baking sheet, flat side down, and roast for 12 minutes.

Italian Green Beans Marinara

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds fresh green beans, cleaned and stem ends removed
  • 1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes, no salt added
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 6 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Directions
Snap the beans into 2-inch pieces. Blanch lightly salted boiling water for 2 minutes to soften slightly. Drain well.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté until softened. Add the tomatoes, oregano, salt and pepper.
Simmer uncovered, until tomatoes start to break down. Add the green beans and cook, covered, until tender.
Taste the beans for seasoning and, if desired, add more salt, pepper or oregano. 6-8 Servings

Roasted Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus 

Servings: 4
 
Ingredients
  • 1 1/4 lb thin asparagus spears, tough ends trimmed
  • olive oil spray
  • fresh cracked pepper to taste
  • 4 slices (2 oz) thin sliced prosciutto
  • grated Parmesan cheese
Directions

Preheat oven to 400° F.

Lightly spray asparagus spears with olive oil cooking spray. Season with fresh cracked pepper and divide into 4 bundles.

Bundle 1/4 of the asparagus together and wrap a slice of prosciutto around it.  Place on a baking dish seam side down.  
Repeat with the remaining asparagus and prosciutto.
Place in the baking dish and bake 12 minutes or until asparagus is tender crisp. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan.


regional pastaWith 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.

Italian Portion of Pasta

American Portion of Pasta

Different Types of Pasta

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” or pasta that is boiled just to the point of being cooked through, yet 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.

  1. 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.
  2. When the pasta begins to soften, try tasting it. If you bite into a piece and see a thin, starchy line inside, keep boiling.
  3. To achieve the al dente texture, cook the pasta a minute or two under the recommended cooking time.
  4. 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.

Pasta Pot with Built in Strainer

I have an oval Dutch oven that I like to use to cook spaghetti.

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

Ingredients

  • 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)
Directions

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

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.

Servings: 6

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.



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