Seniors & Aging

Pasta packs nutrition into inexpensive and easy-to-make meals

Pasta is a favorite the world over, it’s no surprise nearly every ethnic cuisine has its own pasta specialties. Pasta is inexpen-sive and quick to cook, which makes it work well with senior lifestyles.

Several companies have recently introduced pasta products that have a taste and texture similar to regular white-flour pasta but with enhanced fiber and nutrients, due to the addition of a whole wheat flour blend.

In several of my recent cooking classes, we substituted the healthier pasta, and none of the students could tell the differ-ence. Both Barillaand Ronzonimake a variety of blended flour pastas.

For added nutrition, choose flavorful sauces loaded with fresh vegetables and herbs; go easy on oils, cream and cheeses; and select lower fat chicken and turkey products over traditional higher fat sausages and meats.

Upcoming classes

  • Soups On, 6:30 p.m., Sept. 25 at Bellingham High School home economics room. Cost: $45. Register with Whatcom Community College at 647-3277.
  • Pasta Perfecto, 6:30 p.m., Oct. 9 at Community Food Co-Op. Cost: $29 for Co-op members, $33 non-members. Info: 734-8158.
  • Trader Joe's in Your Kitchen, 6:30 p.m., Oct. 23 at Pacific Chef . Cost: $39. Register with Whatcom Community College at 647-3277.


PASTA COOKING TIPS
  • Use at least 3 quarts of water for each half pound of pasta.
  • Salt water before adding pasta — 2 teaspoons per half pound. Don’t add oil to the water.
  • Do not ever cover cooking pasta since it may boil over.
  • Stir often, and keep water at a boil
  • Cook a few minutes less than the package indicates. Pasta continues to cook after draining.
  • Only rinse pasta after cooking if you’ll be using it for salad or soup. The natural starches help the noodles hold onto sauces.
  • Best way to reheat pasta: Drop into pot of boiling water for 2 minutes.


PASTA WITH ZUCCHINI, TOMATOES AND SAUSAGE

Omit the sausage for a low-calorie, vegetarian sauce. Try tossing hot pasta with some crumbled feta for a Mediterranean twist.

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil½ small onion, sliced

½ red pepper, sliced

1 small zucchini, sliced (about 2 cups)

3 Roma(plum) tomatoes, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 Italian sausage, cooked and sliced (choose chicken sausages, which are lower in fat and calories)

Pinch Italian seasoning

Handful fresh basil leaves, torn in large pieces

8 ounces pasta, cooked according to package directions

Salt and pepper

Optional: 10 mushrooms, sliced

Start sauce as soon as pasta enters cooking water.

In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil. Add onions, peppers and zucchini; cook for about 5 minutes.

Add tomatoes, garlic, Italian seasoning and sausage slices (and optional mushrooms, if using). Cook, covered, additional 5 minutes, stirring once.

Uncover, stir in basil and warm pasta, season with salt and pepper.

Serves two.

SIMPLE 1-HOUR MEAT SAUCE

This recipe makes quite a large amount of sauce, but the leftovers freeze well.

Don’t be intimidated by the long ingredient list, this authentic tasting sauce goes together quickly and tastes like it sim-mered all day.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 carrot, finely chopped

1 stalk celery, finely chopped

1 medium onion, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

(Optional veggies: zucchini, peppers, mushrooms, olives)

1½ pounds lean ground meat (I like a mix of equal parts beef, pork and veal, but you could also use turkey, sausage or lamb. Any combination, or all one variety.)

1 cup beef stock

½ cup red wine

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

1 bay leaf

½-1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Freshly ground black pepper

26-32-ounce can tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce or “recipe-ready” tomatoes

2 tablespoons tomato paste

Sauté the veggies in olive oil just until they begin to soften, about 3 minutes.

Add the garlic, cook one minute.

Add in the ground meats and cook, breaking meat up, until barely pink.

Add the stock and the wine; bring to a boil until liquids are reduced by half.

Stir in tomatoes and spices; reduce heat and simmer uncovered about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Using a splatter screen will allow the sauce to reduce while protecting your stovetop from the mess.

PASTA WITH TUNA

Make sure to use tuna packed in olive oil; it has great flavor and texture.

Italians would never top a seafood dish with grated cheese, but would use toasted breadcrumbs instead. Just grind up some leftover bakery-style bread in a food processor and toast on a cookie sheet in a 350-degree oven until golden brown, stirring every 5 minutes.

8 ounces pasta

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup shallots, chopped

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

Pinch red pepper flakes

½ cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved

½ cup sundried tomatoes, thinly sliced (see note below)

1 can olive-oil packed tuna, flaked

2 tablespoons vermouthor white wine

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon lemon zest

2 tablespoons capers

Freshly ground black pepper

Handful fresh basil leaves, sliced into thin ribbons

Start sauce as pasta enters water.

Note: Reserve ¼ cup of pasta cooking water.

Sauté shallots in olive oil until just beginning to soften, 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and red pepper flakes. Stir.

Add all other ingredients except basil and pasta water.

When sauce is hot, stir in basil and pasta water.

Toss pasta with sauce in sauté pan.

Serves 2-3.

Note: If using dry-pack tomatoes, reconstitute in warm water before using. Oil-packed tomatoes are available presliced.

PASTA SALAD WITH CHICKEN AND PEPPERS

If planned ahead, this salad can be made mostly from leftovers.

8 ounces penne or rotini pasta, cooked al dente and cooled

10-12 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 cup Italian dressing

1 small sweet onion, cut in half

4 pepper halves: any mix of green, red, yellow, orange, purple

1/3 cup sliced black olives

4 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into ½-inch dice

1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley

Salt and pepper

In a zip-top bag, marinate chicken in ¼ cup Italian dressing, at least two hours or overnight.

Remove chicken from marinade. Toss onion and pepper halves in marinade, just to coat.

Preheat barbecue grill.

Grill chicken and veggies over medium high heat. Chicken will take 15-20 minutes depending on size. Onion will take about 20 minutes, peppers 15-20 minutes. Veggies should be charred on skin.

Remove peppers from grill and place in plastic or paper bag to steam for 15 minutes, to loosen skin. Peel.

Slice chicken and veggies into cooled pasta. Add olives, cheese and parsley.

Stir in half the remaining dressing, mix well. Add salt and pepper and additional dressing, if needed.

Serves 2-3.

PHO

Traditional pho takes several hours to prepare, most of the labor going into the preparation of the broth. Here I’ve used canned broth, and enhanced it with some traditional Asian seasonings.

You can find a variety of precooked Asian noodles in most supermarkets or cook dry noodles in water, per package direc-tions, and add 2 cups of the cooked noodles into soup.

1 14-ounce can low-sodium chicken broth

1 14-ounce can low- sodium beef broth

1 cup water

2 teaspoons beef bouillon paste (or 2 beef bouillon cubes). See note below.

½ onion, sliced

1 star anise1 1-inch piece cinnamon stick, crushed

2 cloves garlic, split

1 tablespoon chopped ginger

8 peppercorns

1 tablespoon fish sauce

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon sesame oil

6 ounces boneless pork loin chops, very thinly sliced

3 cups sliced greens – bok choy, napa cabbage, spinach or similar

½ cup shredded carrot

1 cup bean sprouts

6-8 ounces cooked Asian noodles – soba, yakisoba, etc.

¼ cup each of mint, basil and cilantro for garnish

Combine broths, water, bouillon and next 9 ingredients in medium saucepan.

Simmer 30-40 minutes.

Strain, discard solids.

Add sliced pork, greens, sprouts, carrots and noodles to broth.

Simmer additional 5 minutes or so, until noodles are tender.

Garnish each serving with generous amount of fresh herbs.

Serves 2-3.

Note: Better Than Bouillon is available in the soup section of most grocery stores. It lasts for months refrigerated and tastes much better than bouillon cubes. Costco stocks a similar product in the spice aisle.

STEAMED MUSSELS AND CLAMS IN A WINE & HERB SAUCE

This Italian spin on a French classic is an elegant, albeit messy, company-worthy dish. Serve with crusty bread to soak up the juices.

Sauvignon Blanc is a good choice for a white cooking wine. Its neutral flavor blends well with foods.

12 mussels

1 pound small clams

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/3 cup shallots, finely diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

Pinch red pepper flakes

3-4 Roma (plum) tomatoes, chopped (2 cups)

8 ounces pasta, cooked according to package directions

¾ cup of white wine

½ cup fresh herbs – mix of oregano, thyme, parsley, savory or basil

In a large pan melt butter with olive oil and sauté shallots 2 minutes. Add garlic, cook additional minute.

Add tomatoes and red pepper flakes, cook one minute longer.

Start cooking the pasta when you put the tomatoes into the sauce.

Add the wine and the mussels, cover and cook about 5 minutes.

Add clams and herbs, stir well. Cover and continue cooking until seafood shells open.

Spoon seafood and cooking juices over pasta. Serves two-three.

Note: Any of the clams and mussels that don’t open can be cooked in the microwave for a couple additional minutes. If they still don’t open, discard them.

MUSHROOM SAUTÉ WITH FRESH PASTA

Washington state wines are gaining a reputation worldwide.

Pastazza restaurant and Nettles Farm on Lummi Island both sell fresh pasta.

9-10 ounce package fresh pasta (I like cheese tortellini or ravioli, but even spaghetti is good)

1 tablespoon butter

2 cups sliced leek, white and light green parts only

12 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced (I like to use a mix of whatever is available at the market)

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon fresh thyme

Salt and pepper

¼ cup white wine

2 ounces chevre, crumbled (substitute cream cheese, boursin or any soft cheese)

Cook pasta according to package directions.

In a large fry pan, sauté leeks in melted butter for 5 minutes.

Add mushrooms, stir and cover for 3 minutes. Remove lid and continue cooking about 5 more minutes.

Add garlic, thyme, salt and pepper, cooking one minute longer.

Add wine and cheese, stirring to melt cheese.

Stir in pasta, cook for two minutes and serve.

Serves two.

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