We regularly enjoy a variety of pasta dishes in the Micozzi household.
Plus, pasta is a key part of the Mediterranean diet, the healthiest diet on the planet. And—despite eating twice as much pasta each year as Americans do—Italians suffer from much LOWER rates of obesity, Type II diabetes, and heart disease.
Of course, Italians also know to add fresh herbs, greens, beans, cheeses, organic creams, garlic, olive oil, and tomatoes to their pasta for some serious nutritional punch. So, in a moment, I’ll share with you my recipe for a simple, weeknight pasta with lots of healthy greens and peppers.
But first, let’s back up to go over some science that shows eating the Italian way…with pasta on the menu in moderation…does NOT harm your health or your waistline…
Pasta-eaters have SMALLER waistlines
A recent study published in the journal of Nutrition & Diabetes followed the dietary habits of 23,000 people living in Pozzilli, Italy. It turns out, people who regularly ate pasta had a much lower risk of becoming obese. (And I’m not just talking about having a lower body mass index [BMI], which I always say is an imperfect indicator of excess weight in any case.)
The researchers also found that pasta-eaters had smaller waist circumferences and waist-to-hip ratios—meaning they had less of the abdominal obesity that is associated with chronic health conditions like diabetes and heart disease.
These findings may surprise you, considering how pasta and other carbs have come under fire for their effects on metabolism and weight. But that’s mostly connected to refined, white-flour pasta and carbs. And, thankfully, there are lots of tasty, healthier alternatives…
For example, organic whole-wheat pasta contains fewer carbs than refined, white-flour pasta. Plus, it also contains lots of B6, riboflavin, niacin, thiamine (all B vitamins), magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, fiber, and iron. And just one serving (two ounces) of whole wheat pasta gives you 8 grams of protein.
You can also try pasta made with organic beans—such as lentils. These healthy varieties can pack in up to 25 grams of protein and 11 grams of fiber per serving! In fact, many Italians routinely add beans or legumes to their pasta dishes for the added protein and fiber.
(Just make sure to stay away from pasta made from corn or rice pastas—as they’re no better than refined, white-flour pasta.)
Now, let’s move on to my simple, weeknight pasta dish with some healthy greens…
Whole wheat penne with greens
- 16 cups of chopped mixed green vegetables—such as arugula, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, chicory, dandelion, mustard greens, or spinach
- 1 whole garlic bulb, cloves, chopped
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
- 1 tablespoon dried basil
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 fresh chili pepper, finely chopped, and/or 1/2 teaspoon chili pepper flakes
- 1 pounds dry, organic, whole wheat penne pasta
- Extra-virgin olive oil (to drizzle)
- Grated Italian cheese to taste, such as pecorino or romano
1.) In a large saucepan, add glug of olive oil and fill with greens. Press down and pack greens to fit into the pan. Cover and place on medium-high heat for 5 minutes. The natural moisture in the greens will help cook and tenderize the mixture, and the bulk of the fresh greens will quickly cook down to a smaller volume.
2.) Add in garlic, sesame seeds, spices, and chili pepper. Reduce heat to medium and stir occasionally for 12 minutes.
3.) Meanwhile, add a few pinches of sea salt to a large pot of water. Bring to a boil.
4.) When the water reaches a rolling boil, add pasta and cook until al dente, or according to package instructions.
5.) To get just the right texture, pull a few penne out of the boiling water using a slotted spoon and rinse under cold water. When pasta is cooled down (within a few seconds), try nibbling to sample. When the texture reaches just the right amount of firmness (al dente means “to the tooth”), take the pot off the burner.
6.) Drain the pasta in a colander and put it back in the pot.
7.) Stir the cooked greens, mixing them with the pasta. Drizzle olive oil and sprinkle in grated cheese to taste.
8.) If the mixture seems dry, add 1 or 2 tablespoons of reserved pasta water and/or add in a few cherry tomatoes. Enjoy!
In the end, the science shows what Italians have known all along: You don’t have to avoid pasta, as long as you consume it in moderation and as part of a healthy, balanced diet. Plus, when you combine it with nutritious herbs, greens, and spices as most Italians do, a moderate portion of pasta can be a healthy, delicious addition to any meal.