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5 fresh, healthy ways to dress up plain ol’ pasta

By Penelope Wall, April 4, 2011 - 11:35am

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5 fresh, healthy ways to dress up plain ol’ pasta

Got a box of pasta in your cupboard? I suppose the easiest thing to do with it would be to boil it up and smother it with some sauce from a jar. But this is not the stuff inspiring meals are made of—let alone healthful or satisfying ones. With the right mix of ingredients, even a plain old box of pasta can be elevated to something truly wonderful, something you would happily serve to your family or even to guests.

No need to slave in the kitchen for days, either. The best pasta dishes are usually the simplest, in my opinion. It is pasta, after all.

Here’s how the EatingWell Test Kitchen makes sure pasta is healthful:

Try whole-wheat: Whole-wheat pastas have the benefit of retaining their magnesium, zinc and other nutrients. On average, whole-wheat pasta offers two to three times more fiber per serving than regular white pasta.

Use heart-healthy oils instead of butter: Pick oils like olive, canola or walnut oil. These are high in heart-healthy unsaturated fats, as opposed to butter, which is loaded with saturated fat. (Butter has 7.3 g saturated fat per tablespoon vs. olive oil, which has just 1.9 g.) But keep in mind that even though unsaturated fat is better for your heart, these oils are still high in calories and need to be used in moderation to maintain a healthy weight.

Give it a vegetable boost: To keep your serving generous but still healthy, use less of the higher-calorie ingredients like meat or pasta and add in more vegetables. Near the end of the pasta-cooking time, add your favorite vegetable to the boiling water, drain and combine it with your sauce.

More Healthy Pasta Ideas from EatingWell:
Chicken Piccata & More Delicious Low-Calorie Pasta Recipes
The Best Pasta to Eat on a Diet
15+ Homemade Pasta Sauce Recipes
30-Minute Healthy Pasta Dinners
Healthy Baked Mac & Cheese and More Creamy Pasta Recipes

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1. Tomato Sauce
Recipe to try: Raw Tomato Sauce

In this raw sauce, tomatoes marinate in their own juices along with some fresh herbs, garlic, extra-virgin olive oil and red-wine vinegar. Diced fresh mozzarella absorbs the delicious flavors of the whole melange. Toss with hot or room-temperature pasta.

2. Creamy Sauce
Recipe to try: Creamy Asparagus Pasta

Lemon zest ties all the flavors together in this light and creamy pasta. Make it a meal: serve with a salad of sliced fresh mozzarella and cherry tomatoes tossed with a little fresh basil, balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

3. Pesto
Recipe to Try: Goat Cheese Pesto

The taste of soft goat cheese is more present in this California version of pesto than Parmigiano-Reggiano is in a basil pesto. Consider it a multidimensional recipe: dip, sauce and spread. Toss with your favorite cooked pasta.

4. Peanut Sauce
Recipe to try: Peanut Noodles with Shredded Chicken & Vegetables

If you can’t find a bagged vegetable medley for this easy noodle bowl, choose 12 ounces of cut vegetables from your market’s salad bar and create your own mix.

5. Carbonara Sauce
Recipe to try: Spaghetti alla Carbonara

In this version, the eggs are cooked into a custardlike sauce. An extra step, yes, but the technique ensures food safety. To vary the vegetables, try green beans, asparagus or frozen peas (cook peas separately from pasta).

What's your favorite way to dress up a box of pasta?

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TAGS: Penelope Wall, Food Blog, Dinner, Entertaining, Family meals, Recipe Makeover

Penelope Wall
Penelope is a web producer and writer for EatingWell.com. When she's not busy geeking out at the computer, she loves cooking and trying new recipes on her friends. Some of her favorite foods are dark chocolate, coffee, apples, sweet potatoes and cheese.

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