In what has got to be the best scientific study ever done, it was recently found that pasta doesn’t make you fat and is, in fact, associated with a reduction in body mass index (BMI).
Pasta has been taking a beating at the hands of the anti-carb and anti-gluten camps for years and has become for many people a guilty pleasure to be avoided at all costs if one aspires to good health and weight maintenance or reduction. Pasta consumption is down even in Italy. This new information comes as decidedly good news for pasta lovers everywhere.
The study was conducted by the Department of Epidemiology, I.R.C.C.S. Neuromed in Pozzilli, Italy.
George Pounis, author of the study, said in a news release,“By analyzing anthropometric data of the participants and their eating habits, we have seen that consumption of pasta, contrary to what many think, is not associated with an increase in body weight, rather the opposite. Our data show that enjoying pasta according to individuals’ needs contributes to a healthy body mass index, lower waist circumference and better waist-hip ratio.”
But there are caveats. There always are.
The study doesn’t actually say that eating pasta causes a reduction in Body Mass Index. It just says that it is associated with it. There is a difference there.
Remember that the study was conducted in Italy where the Mediterranean Diet is standard. The Mediterranean Diet has long been considered beneficial and it’s hard to tell if pasta’s good effects would hold true outside of the context of the Mediterranean Diet.
Also, a standard portion of pasta in Italy is about three ounces as it is generally eaten as a first course, not a main course. We Americans tend to tuck in a good bit harder when the pasta hits the table. Not to mention most Americans are way more generous with the sauce. Italians lightly dress their pasta with sauce. We drown it.
Last but certainly not least, the study was partially funded by pasta company, Barilla and the Italian government, neither of which can be considered a neutral entity. For what it’s worth, the study authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.
But with all that being said, there’s no time like the present to enjoy a plate of guilt-free pasta. It may not last long. New studies come out all the time and who knows how long it will be before one this good comes around again.
This recipe will serve six Americans or a few dozen Italians. It’s a lot of pasta. Figuring at six servings, it’s 434 calories and 9.3 grams of fat each. Also, depending on where you shop, you should be able to make it for about $1.50 per serving. Even better, every ingredient is a pantry staple so it’s possible to have everything you need to make this dish without a special shopping trip. Don’t worry about the parsley. Use dried if you want to. No one is judging. Best of all, half an hour start to finish. Perfect for busy weeknights. (If there are anchovy haters in your family, adopt a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. You really need them to get the full briny, rich flavor but they won’t know where that richness is coming from if you keep quiet.)
1 pound spaghetti
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
4 to 6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tin flat anchovy fillets, drained
1 /2 tsp. red pepper flakes
20 oil-cured black olives, cracked away from pit and coarsely chopped or 1 can black olives
3 tbsp. capers
1 (28 to 32-ounce) can chunky style crushed tomatoes
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
A few grinds black pepper
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 14.5-oz can artichoke heart quarters, drained or 1 bag, frozen (optional)
Cook pasta in salted water until al dente. Drain and set aside. In a large skillet, combine oil, garlic, anchovies, and red pepper and heat over medium heat. Cook about 3 minutes, until anchovies are completely dissolved. Add olives, capers, tomatoes, black pepper, and parsley (and artichoke hearts, if using). Once it starts to bubble, drop the heat to medium-low and cook 8 or 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add pasta to pan. Toss to coat. Serve.
Pasta Salad with Italian Sausage, Zucchini, Red Pepper and Olives
This recipe makes 6-8 servings. It doesn’t strictly need the zucchini but at this time of the year, why not. Makes a great pot luck dish.
2-3 small zucchini, cut in fourths lengthwise, then cut into pieces
4-5 links Italian Sausage (hot or mild, as you prefer)
3 cups (dry) Penne pasta
1 can sliced black olives
1 jar (12 oz.) roasted red bell peppers
1/2 cup coarsely grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for adding at the table
1 cup vinaigrette dressing (make your own or use bottled, as you prefer)
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil (or use frozen basil)
1 tbsp. dried basil
Cut zucchini lengthwise into fourths, then cut into pieces about 3/4 inch long. Cook zucchini about 5 minutes in boiling, salted water, then drain well and cool. While the zucchini cooks, wash fresh basil and chop finely (or thaw the frozen basil.) Mix fresh or frozen basil and dried basil into the dressing.
Drain the zucchini well in a colander placed in the sink; then put zucchini into small Ziploc bag with about 1/4 cup of the dressing and let it marinate on the counter until you’re ready to assemble the salad. (If you can, let this marinate for an hour or two, although even 20-30 minutes marinating time will add to the flavor.)
Saute sausage in small amount of olive oil in large frying pan until it is firm and nicely browned on all sides. Remove from pan and let cool until it’s is cool enough to handle, then cut into slices slightly less than 1/2 inch thick.
While sausage is cooling, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta 9-10 minutes, or until still slightly al dente. (Be careful not to cook it until it is soft or it will be mushy in the salad. Slightly underdone is better than overdone if you’re not sure.) Briefly rinse pasta with very cold water, then drain in colander and let cool.
Drain the olives well (and if you don’t have sliced olives, cut olives in half lengthwise or slices.) Drain the red peppers and cut into bite-sized pieces. When pasta is slightly cooled, mix pasta and and sausage into olive/pepper mixture. Add zucchini and any dressing which is in the bag. Add the rest of the dressing mixture and 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese and mix gently.
Chill the salad for 1 hour or more if possible. Serve with additional coarsely-grated Parmesan to add at the table. This will keep for a day or so in the refrigerator, but you might want to add a little extra dressing before serving the leftovers.
Linguini with White Clam Sauce
Another supper that can be done in a half hour with mostly pantry ingredients.
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
4 to 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tin flat fillet of anchovies, drained, 6 or 7 fillets
2 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, 4 or 5 sprigs stripped or 1 1/2 tsp. dried
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup clam juice or chicken stock
1 can (15 ounces) fancy whole baby clams
1 lemon, zested
1 pound linguini, slightly undercooked, about 6 to 7 minutes
1/4 cup chopped parsley leaves
Lots of black pepper and some coarse salt
Crusty bread, for mopping
Heat a large deep skillet over medium heat. Add extra-virgin olive oil, 4 turns of the pan in a slow stream, red pepper flakes, garlic and anchovies and cook until anchovies melt into the oil. Add thyme and wine. Reduce wine 1 minute. Add clam juice or stock, clam juice will give the dish a stronger clam flavor, chicken stock will give it a buttery personality. Stir in clams and lemon zest. Drain pasta. Add to skillet and toss with sauce 2 to 3 minutes, until pasta is al dente and has absorbed some of the sauce and flavor. Add parsley, pepper and salt, to your taste and serve with bread for mopping up remaining juices.
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Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699, on Twitter @BillColvard.