“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” So begins author and food writer Michael Pollan’s seminal essay on food, which begins to navigate the complex and often convoluted question of what to eat for dinner. The ever-expanding vegetarian pasta recipes, assuming one doesn’t over-eat, fits Pollan’s seven word mandate, as well as being an inexpensive, versatile, good-for-the environment way of answering the daily question of ‘what’s for dinner.’
What goes into this recipe?
Pasta is used in a wide-variety of cuisines, including Italian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Modern British, fusion, etc. Pasta can be dried or fresh. The dried variety is generally made from durum wheat, although it can be made from many grains, including buckwheat flour, quinoa, eggs, or rice. Dried, pasta can be kept for up to two years, while the fresh variety, which is generally made from eggs, must be eaten in a couple of days. There are more than 600 different pasta shapes worldwide, including spaghetti (thin strings), maccheroni (tubes or cylinders), fusilli (swirls), and lasagne (sheets), angel hair and tortellini. There are also myriad sauces that can compliment the pasta, including five cheese, sundried tomato, soy sauce, garlic and ginger (with rice noodles), pesto, alfredo, and vodka tomato sauce.
With a healthy dose of vegetables and vegetarian sauces, pasta can satisfy all your food groups. You can try gently sautée garlic and broccoli and then add sundried tomatoes and fava beans for Tuscan vegetarian pasta. Pasta with jarred pesto is one of the world’s easiest meals. If you want to improve its nutritional content, throw in some green beans, peas or asparagus chopped into 1 inch pieces into the pot of boiling water. Serve with pesto and grated fresh Parmesan. Add some sautéed tofu for extra protein. Tofu can also add a meatless protein punch to nutrient-packed lasagna.
If you want your vegetarian pasta to have a Mediterranean flavor, you can try sautéing garlic and onions, and then adding some chili flakes, red peppers, mushrooms, wine and crushed tomato for a spicy Margherita sauce.
Pasta Alfredo is a popular and easy-to-make vegetarian pasta recipe, and you can substitute the cream for milk to lower the calorie count.
How will it benefit me?
These days, many types of pasta are enriched with iron, folate, and several other B-vitamins, including thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin. Whole-wheat pasta is good for a heart-healthy diet and has two on three times more fiber and slightly more protein than refined-wheat pasta.
- Carbohydrate – While there have been a bunch of diets that advise reducing carbohydrates, most nutritionists don’t recommend you removing all carbohydrates from your diet. Carbohydrates are an important source of fuel for your body. All pasta is high in carbohydrates, although the amount depends on the type of pasta, its shape, fresh or dried, etc.
- Protein – The amount of protein in pasta varies, although typically, it’s about 12 g per 100g. Milk, cheese, tempeh, tofu, and mushrooms are all ways to add more protein to your vegetarian pasta dish.
- Folate – Enriched pasta is fortified with folic acid, a mineral that is essential for women of child-bearing age. Folate is one of the B vitamins that people need for their bodies to replicate DNA and RNA when their cells divide each day. Check the label whether the pasta has been enriched with folic acid.
Any reason why I shouldn’t eat too much of this?
Pasta is generally made from durum wheat, so if you have a wheat allergy, you should avoid durum wheat (regular pasta), although you can also try egg, rice or quinoa pasta. A sensitivity or allergy to wheat can produce a variety of symptoms in the body such as sneezing, itching, rashes, watery eyes, runny nose, coughing, hay fever, headaches, nausea, digestive problems, swollen limbs or general aches and pains.
Pasta is high in carbohydrates which are broken down to glucose for your body to use as fuel. If your body does not have any use for the glucose, it is converted into glycogen and stored it in the liver and muscles as an energy reserve. Your body can store about a half a day’s supply of glycogen. If your body has more glucose than it can use as energy, or convert to glycogen for storage, the excess is converted to fat. So if you eat too much pasta, vegetarian or not, you will gain weight. High glucose levels can also switch off the brain cells that keep us awake and alert. So remember Pollan’s “not too much” food edict to keep this dish good for body and health.
The healthy twist
Pasta is easy to prepare and versatile enough to be seen as a blank canvas to absorb sauces. For a healthy twist you can:
- Replace refined with whole-wheat pasta: Whole-wheat pasta contains about 2-3 times the fiber as regular wheat pasta, and slightly more protein. The pasta has a firm texture and its quality and taste has come a long way in the past decade. Pair with hearty sauces to compliment the heavier flavor.
- Replace refined wheat with quinoa pasta: Quinoa has more slightly higher protein (14 g/100 g) compared to pasta’s 12 g per 100 g. It is also high in antioxidants and has zero gluten.
- Add steamed rather than sautéed vegetables: steaming your vegetables will cut down on the amount of oil and fat in your vegetarian pasta recipe.
Vegetarian pasta offers myriad culinary possibilities, a blank canvas for sauces. It is high in carbohydrates, low in fat, and has protein (12 g per 100 g serving) too. There are myriad vegetarian sauces or you can use a meat recipe and replace the animal protein with tempeh or tofu. New varieties of whole-wheat pasta provide a more robust texture and extra fiber. While it has come under criticism for its high carbohydrate content, pasta can be an essential part to a low-fat, nutritious diet. For a healthy twist, moderate the amount of fat added to the recipe. Try to steam or grill the vegetables rather than fry or sauté.