Eat Like A Mediterranean: The Key Ingredient We’ve Been Ignoring

Photo: Miranda Hammer

I have always been a sucker for a bowl of pasta. It is one of my “happy” foods that I enjoy in moderation. Summer is one of my most favorite times to enjoy a bowl of pasta, specifically laced with garlicky pesto and layered with a bounty of fresh seasonal produce.

The Mediterranean Diet

You can’t think of pasta without thinking of Italy, a country whose eating habits are one of the foundations for the Mediterranean diet.

The principles of the Mediterranean diet are simple. Eat mainly fresh plant-based foods—this means fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Consume fish at least twice a week, limit red meat, use fresh herbs and spices in place of salt, consume healthy fats like olive oil, and incorporate red wine in moderation, if you wish.

Being physically active and eating with friends and family are also important cornerstones of the diet. This style of eating is filled with antioxidants, fiber, and healthy fats, which may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Pasta as a pantry staple

Pasta—a part of a Mediterranean diet—is made from simple and clean ingredients and can serve as part of a healthy and balanced lifestyle. My key tip for enjoying pasta is to serve it with plenty of nutrient-dense veggies. Pasta is quick and versatile, and it pairs perfectly with all kinds of nutrient-rich foods you should consume more often, including vegetables, beans, lean proteins, olive oil, and herbs.

Knowing I have a clean and simple vehicle for tossing blanched, roasted, raw, or sautéed vegetables keeps me calm when trying to compose seamless and nutritious weeknight meals.

Cooking with pasta

Incorporating fresh vegetables with pasta is a simple and accessible way to create dinner in a snap.

In the featured recipe below, making a pesto from blanched broccoli and toasted walnuts gives this pasta topper mega nutritional mileage. Protein and fiber come from the walnuts, and Vitamins K and C are found in the broccoli. These two ingredients are blended together to make a vibrant pesto.

This is also a sneaky way to incorporate extra vegetables into your meal, especially when serving someone who is not a vegetable fan. Add various herbs or switch up the nuts and toss with your favorite pasta shape for a simple summer or anytime meal. For more pasta inspiration, you can visit PassionForPasta.com or #PassionForPasta.

Pasta Shells With Broccoli Pesto And Oven-Roasted Tomatoes

Serves 6

Ingredients for pasta

  • 16oz of your favorite pasta, shells recommended
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half or left whole
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ cup basil

Ingredients for broccoli pesto

Makes 1 ½ cups - repurpose leftover pesto with scrambled eggs or as a dip with crudités

  • 1 head broccoli
  • ½ cup walnuts, toasted
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 teaspoons lemon zest + 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon chili flakes + additional for finishing
  • ⅓ cup olive oil
  • Sea salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees. On a parchment paper-lined sheet tray, toss tomatoes with olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Roast for 2 hours or until soft and beginning to wrinkle.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

3. To prep the broccoli for the pesto, cut off the florets and set aside. Trim the end of the broccoli stalk and, using a peeler, peel off the outer layer of stalk and roughly chop. Prepare a large bowl of ice water to use to shock the broccoli. Toss the stems into the boiling water. After 30 seconds add the florets and let cook for another minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the broccoli to the ice bath and chill. Drain and set aside.

4. In a food processor, add garlic and pulse gently. Add in broccoli, walnuts, chili flakes, lemon zest and juice, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Pulse a few more times until all of the ingredients are chopped. With the motor running, stream in the olive oil and puree until the mixture is smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings, if needed.

5. Cook the pasta al dente in the same water that was used to blanch the broccoli. Remove ½ cup pasta water and drain.

6. In a large serving bowl, add ¾ cup pesto, ¼ cup pasta water, and whisk to combine. Pour in hot pasta and toss well, making sure to incorporate pesto into pasta. Add additional pesto and pasta water, if needed. Top with oven roasted tomatoes, torn basil leaves, and additional chili flakes.

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