Thursday, July 07, 2011

Guest Post: Quick and Easy Veggie Pasta

Hi everyone! 

My name is Stacy and I blog about delicious vegetarian food and also teach busy people to fit healthy habits into their hectic lives without deprivation as a board-certified Holistic Health Coach. 

While I absolutely agree that physical activity is a huge part of our overall health (along with our career, relationships, finances, and spirituality), my personal focus is on food.

One of the things I work on with my health coaching clients is incorporating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains into their diets. We avoid drastic changes and start small by adding fruits and veggies into dishes they already eat. An easy place to start is with pasta, and I want to share a simple weeknight meal with you that shows you what I mean.

Pasta is easy, fast… and made of refined carbs. Jarred sauces are convenient, but contain added sodium and sugar. A few simple changes can mean a quick, fresh, and easy meal that has real nutritional value and tastes delicious in the same amount of time as it takes to make a box of macaroni and cheese.

My first trick is loading your pasta with flavorful vegetables. This adds fiber which takes longer to digest and helps prevent spikes in blood sugar. This means you feel full longer and don’t sugar crash. My second trick is using high-impact ingredients for intense flavors. It’s so fast to make – you can prep the veggies while your pasta water boils, then cook the pasta and vegetables side by side. 

By cutting (or in this case, grating) the vegetables into small pieces, they cook very quickly. Zucchini doesn’t have a strong flavor of its own. Pungent onions and garlic and the concentrated flavor of sun-dried tomatoes give the dish a stronger presence. 

Dark leafy greens are woefully absent from most peoples’ diets, so I added a heap of spinach to this dish for color and nutrition. Sometimes I substitute chard or kale if that what’s in my fridge. Greens lose a lot of volume when cooked, so adding them to meals is a great way to pack lots of vitamins and minerals into a single serving. 

To finish, I add a generous dusting of parmesan cheese, but also a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Why salt? The salt on the top hits your tongue first, which means more flavor-enhancing impact with less salt in the dish overall. 80% of the sodium in the average diet comes from processed and restaurant food, so a few grains of salt in your dinner is not what’s raising your blood pressure. 

Try this recipe out and let me know what you think. And next time you’re throwing together a weeknight meal, think about one vegetable you could add that would make your meal better for you.

Quick and Easy Veggie Pasta
Serves 2

I highly recommend using whole wheat pasta which has more protein and fiber than traditional refined pastas. If you’re not used to whole wheat pasta, buy one box of whole wheat, one box of regular, and use half of each (the whole wheat sometimes needs to go in the pot a minute or two earlier).

·        4 ounces (112 g) dry pasta (I used whole wheat spaghetti)
·        1 tablespoon olive oil
·        1 small onion or ½ medium onion
·        1 medium zucchini or summer squash
·        1 clove garlic, minced
·        4 cups (6 ounces) loosely packed spinach leaves
·        3 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, drained
·        Salt and pepper
·        Optional: parmesan cheese, minced basil

Boil water for pasta. While water heats up, slice the onion from root to tip, then into thin half rings. Heat a pan over medium heat and add the olive oil. Add onion and stir to coat. Cook until onion starts to soften.

When pasta water boils, add noodles and cook according to package until al dente.

Meanwhile, grate the zucchini with a box grater. Squeeze the grated zucchini to remove some of the water. 

When onion has softened, add zucchini and spread it out to maximize contact with the bottom of the pan. Add a pinch of salt. Cook 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally.

When the zucchini starts to look glossy and develop some color, add garlic and spinach. Turn the mixture to help the spinach wilt. Add sun-dried tomatoes and stir. Remove from heat.
When pasta is done, drain and add to the vegetable pan. It’s fine if the pasta has some water on it, it will help deglaze the pan. Toss well.Serve with a sprinkle of salt, some cracked black pepper, basil and parmesan cheese if desired.

For more healthy meal ideas, please visit me at Little Blue Hen. For more health and nutrition information, check out Center Stage Wellness. I would love to hear from you!

What’s your favorite fast and healthy dinner?

Thank you so much Stacy for sharing your fantastic meatless meal with us! In case you are interested, I am guest posting for her today as well, so head on over after you finish reading :)

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