Spring Garden Pasta

   

Living in Texas it can sometimes be a little difficult to look forward to the oncoming summer, what with its droughts and relentless heat waves. That anxiety is quickly diffused once I glimpse the new crop of garden fresh veggies at the grocery store. Here is a crisp, healthy pasta dish to embrace spring’s bounty and warmer months.   

Spring Garden Pasta

This is a wonderful dish to prepare if you’ve blacked out in a farmer’s market and awoken in your kitchen to find yourself staring hazily at mountains of fresh produce. The first time I prepared this I was craving pasta primavera, but wasn’t wanting something heavy. I cut calories by removing half of the pasta and replacing it with loads of vegetables. Serving the dish slightly warm rather than piping hot really allows the texture and flavors of the vegetables to shine. 

Spring Garden Pasta

Spring Garden Pasta
Serves 4
A healthier pasta dish absolutely full of crisp, fresh veggies.
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
30 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
30 min
Ingredients
  1. 3 tablespoons salted butter
  2. 8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
  3. 2 cloves garlic, minced
  4. 2 broccoli crowns, cut into florets (about 2-3 cups)
  5. 1 cup carrots, sliced
  6. 1 cup frozen green peas
  7. 10-12 cherry tomatoes, halved
  8. 2 tablespoons flour
  9. 1/2 cup milk (I used flax milk)
  10. 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  11. 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
  12. 1/4 cup fresh basil
  13. 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  14. 1 1/2 cups Maffei fussili (or whatever pasta you like)
Instructions
  1. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in high sided skillet. Add minced garlic and sliced mushrooms, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and cover until the mushrooms release their juices.
  2. Stir in chopped broccoli and carrots, cover and let steam for about 7-8 minutes until crisp tender. Transfer veggies to a bowl (reserve any liquid in the pan if there is some) and leave covered while you prepare the sauce.
  3. Meanwhile cook pasta in well salted water according to package directions. I used a refrigerated pasta by Maffei which is 180 calories per 1/2 cup. You want it perfectly al dente or just a hair shy of al dente - you want the pasta to stand up to the crisp veggies.
  4. While pasta is cooking - in the same pan you cooked veggies in melt the other tablespoon of butter. Whisk in 2 tablespoons of flour - it will be very thick. Let cook for a minute or two to cook off the raw flour taste and then add milk, black pepper, fresh thyme. Remove from heat and whisk well.
  5. Transfer pasta plus 1/2-3/4 cup (depending on how thick you want your sauce to be) of the pasta cooking water to the pan along with all of the veggies, the green peas, and your grated parmesan. Toss well and cover to let the peas warm through. This will also slightly cool down the pasta and veggies. This is ok as the slightly cooler pasta maintains the fresh flavor and texture of the tomatoes.
  6. When the peas are warm add fresh basil and chopped tomatoes, toss well and serve immediately. Ideally your pasta water should have been salted well enough that you wouldn't need additional salt, but feel free to add more if needed.
Calories
  1. 358 calories for 1/4 of the pan as I've prepared it.
Variation
  1. Cooking the mushrooms in a bit of dry white wine (maybe 2 ounces) adds lovely flavor to the dish.
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Spring Garden Pasta

 


Autumn Minestrone

   

Few dishes are more comforting than a piping hot bowl of soup during the chilly months. I love making soups and stews; not only are they almost completely foolproof, they are also easily customizable. Whatever leftover veggies are in the fridge can be tossed into a pot and transformed into a hearty meal – it’s awesome.

Autumn Minestrone

For this minestrone I used Pomi brand boxed tomatoes because I love the flavor as well as the fact that they are not cooked with salt. One box of Pomi tomatoes is about the same as two 14oz cans, and you can substitute accordingly. Keep in mind that you may want to tweak the salt in the recipe if your canned tomatoes contain sodium. Also feel free to use more pasta. I choose to go fairly light to focus on the vegetables and keep the calorie count low.

Autumn Minestrone

Autumn Minestrone
Serves 6
A warm, comforting soup that is full of vegetables and low in calories.
Print
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
40 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
40 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 teaspoon olive oil
  2. 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  3. 2 stalks celery, diced
  4. 1 cup carrots, chopped
  5. 2 cloves garlic, minced
  6. 4 cups stock
  7. 1 28oz carton chopped tomatoes (or 2 14oz cans)
  8. 1 can cannelini beans, rinsed and drained
  9. 1/4 teaspoon salt (adjust depending on the sodium content of your stock and tomatoes)
  10. 1 sprig of rosemary, stem removed and leaves minced
  11. 1 bay leaf
  12. 1 teaspoon black pepper
  13. 1/2 cup small, dry pasta (I used cavatelli)
  14. 2 cups kale, chopped (or other green of choice)
  15. 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
Instructions
  1. In a deep soup pan heat olive oil on medium high heat. Add onion, celery, and carrots and cook until onions are slightly translucent – about 4-5 minutes. Add garlic and cook another 2-3 minutes.
  2. Add stock, tomatoes, and all of your seasonings. Bring soup just to boiling, reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes.
  3. Add pasta and kale, cooking for another 10-12 minutes (or however long your pasta needs to cook based on package instructions).
  4. Just before serving stir in fresh parsley.
Calories
  1. 148
Optional olive bread crouton topping
  1. Cut olive bread into 1 inch pieces and toss with a small amount of olive oil to coat. Spread onto a nonstick baking sheet and put into a 400F oven for about 15 minutes or until the croutons are dry and crunchy.
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Autumn Minestrone


Handmade Potato Gnocchi

   

The first time I tried gnocchi was from a vacuum-sealed pack I picked up at my local grocery store. At first bite I immediately wondered how I had gone so long without even once consuming these tasty little dumplings. Seriously, what was I doing with my life? You can imagine how I felt the first time I ordered a plate of fresh, handmade gnocchi from a reputable Italian restaurant. I was floored by how much more light and pillowy they were than their prepackaged cousins. With that meal I decided that I needed to learn how to make gnocchi myself… which unfortunately led to a series of failures that never measured up to the quality I came to expect from an Italian kitchen. Through trial and error, plenty of research, and a bit of patience, I’m happy to say that I’ve finally married each of the elements needed to making a soft, delicious gnocchi!

Handmade Potato Gnocchi

Making a dish like this is certainly a labor of love, but the results are very much worth it. Even though the entire process is rather lengthy, the majority of that process is waiting. Handling the dough is arguably the most tedious step, particularly if you choose to roll your gnocchi on a gnocchi board or a fork to get the iconic grooves in each dumpling. The nice thing is that you don’t have to roll your gnocchi. It’s perfectly fine to simply cut up the pieces and cook them as is. There is a benefit to the grooves however – they provide a lot of “grip” for holding onto sauces. If you want a compromise you could simply press a small indentation into each dumpling and forgo the grooves.

Handmade Potato Gnocchi

Here is a list of the things I’ve learned when it comes to making quality gnocchi:

  • Choose the right potato. You want a mealy, starchy potato (such as a russet).
  •  Make sure your potato flesh is dry and lump-free. I use a ricer to get an even, fluffy texture.
  • Use only enough flour to bring the dough together.
  • Do not over handle the dough. This runs the risk of producing dense, heavy gnocchi.
  • Cook your gnocchi at a gentle boil, not a rapid one that will throw them around in the pot.
  • They cook quickly, be ready to scoop them out as soon as they float to the surface.

I started by boiling 3 medium sized russet potatoes in well-salted water. Once fork tender (about 30 minutes) I took them out and removed the skins with the help of some paper towels. The potatoes were still warm and the paper towels not only have an uneven texture that pulls the skins away easily, it also makes it possible to handle the hot potatoes. The naked tators were pressed through a ricer onto a cookie sheet lined with paper towels. This is a step that I made up myself after having experienced problems with too-wet potatoes in the past. I preheated the oven to 200F, put the cookie sheet in the oven, left the door cracked open, and turned off the heat. The potatoes were left there to cool completely and the residual warmth from the oven helped dry them out a little further. Once cool, the riced potatoes were put onto a lightly floured surface and sprinkled with about 3/4 cup of cake flour. One recipe I read suggested 1 cup of flour per pound of riced potatoes – 3/4 cup ended up being the right amount for me. I used cake flour because of its lower protein content, which during my intense gnocchi studies I learned helps promote a lighter texture in the end. Work the flour into the potato until it become a soft, pliable dough. Cut dough into 3-4 equal pieces and roll the pieces into ropes. Line the ropes up next to one another and cut your gnocchi into approximately 1″ pieces. You can either cook them this way or choose to roll your gnocchi on the back of a fork (or gnocchi board) to get the grooved texture. Place the gnocchi at the top of the fork tines and gently press down, rolling it across the fork with your thumb. It will be slightly curled with the indentations on the opposite side.

Handmade Potato Gnocchi

That’s all there is to it! Yeah ok, I know it is kind of a lot of take in. The only way to really master the technique is to buy some potatoes, flour up your hands, and get to practicing! The beautiful thing about gnocchi is that once you’re done making them, they cook in a flash, and there are dozens of super quick ways to serve them. Gnocchi have a very simple flavor on their own, making them ideal vehicles for rich, flavorful sauces. I prepared (and photographed) my finished gnocchi three different ways to give you some ideas for serving. Each of these preparations took under 10 minutes.

The top image on the page is the vegan option where I sauteed garlic in a bit of olive oil and threw in the gnocchi (straight from the pot it was boiling in) with some pine nuts. Just before serving I squeezed lemon juice over the top and tossed it with fresh parsley and black pepper. The second dish shows one of the more common ways of serving gnocchi. Browned butter with sage. It’s hard to beat a classic! The final image (at the bottom) shows an oven-baked variation. I sauteed some garlic in a bit of butter, threw in my cooked gnocchi to get a quick sear, added chopped tomato, torn basil, and cubes of soft, fresh mozzarella. Popped it under the broiler for a few minutes to brown the top and it’s done. Now all you need is some fresh handmade gnocchi and you’re good to experiment on your own!

Handmade Potato Gnocchi

Handmade Potato Gnocchi
Serves 3
A soft, fluffy gnocchi prepared without any eggs.
Print
Prep Time
2 hr
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
2 hr 10 min
Prep Time
2 hr
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
2 hr 10 min
Ingredients
  1. 3 small to medium sized russet potatoes
  2. 3/4-1 cup cake flour (amount used depends on the size of your potatoes)
  3. Salt, both for boiling and for seasoning the gnocchi
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 200F.
  2. In generously salted water, boil potatoes until fork tender (about 30 minutes for the potatoes I used).
  3. Remove potatoes from boiling water and carefully remove the skins. Press potatoes through ricer. If you do not have a ricer I’ve heard that grating the potatoes works quite well too.
  4. Transfer potato to cookie sheet lined with paper towels and place in oven. Turn off heat, crack open the oven door, and allow potatoes to cool completely.
  5. Put fresh pot of salted water on to boil while you make your gnocchi.
  6. Spread cooled potato mixture onto lightly floured surface. Sprinkle with a bit of salt (maybe 1/4 teaspoon) and cake flour. Work flour into the potato until it becomes a smooth, pliable dough.
  7. Cut dough into 3-4 equal pieces and roll into ropes. Line ropes up side-by-side and cut your gnocchi into roughly 1″ pieces.
  8. If desired roll your gnocchi on the back of a fork for added texture.
  9. Put cut gnocchi into gently boiling water (if the boil is too rough it can bounce them around more than necessary). When they float to the surface they are cooked. Remove immediately from water and toss in hot oil, butter, or other prepared sauce of choice.
Calories
  1. 217
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Handmade Potato Gnocchi

 


Spinach & Artichoke Dip Pasta

   

There is something gratifying about taking one dish that I enjoy and transforming it into another. It’s a realm between novelty and nostalgia that I want to find my way into, all while trying to maintain a health conscious lifestyle. When I saw spinach and artichokes sitting in my refrigerator one night as I was trying to decide what to whip up for dinner, I knew that spinach artichoke dip pasta had to happen.

 

The first time I prepared this pasta I tried to use of Greek yogurt to make the cream sauce more healthy. Although tasty in its own way I felt that the flavor wasn’t true enough to the original, so I set to recreating it with the more traditional – although reduced fat –  cream cheese. I also figured why not roast the artichokes and garlic first? Hell yeah.

This recipe makes for a simple weeknight meal and is a great way to get some greens into someone that would normally shun the stuff. It has the added bonus of fooling you into thinking that you’re eating something much naughtier than it actually is. You could go to Applebees to split  a skillet of spinach artichoke dip and a mountain of tortilla chips with three people for about 500 calories a piece… and that’s before you even order dinner. Or you could stay home and make a simple, filling dish that satisfies the desire for an appetizer and an entree in one go – for under 375 calories a serving. I know what I’ll pick, because let’s not kid anyone – I’d probably gobble up that whole appetizer by myself anyway.

Spinach & Artichoke Dip Pasta
Serves 4
A party favorite transformed into a simple pasta dish with less than 375 calories per serving.
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
40 min
Total Time
50 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
40 min
Total Time
50 min
Ingredients
  1. 5 oz whole grain rotini pasta
  2. 1 15oz jar artichoke hearts packed in water, chopped
  3. 2 cloves garlic, minced
  4. 1/4 teaspoon salt
  5. 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  6. 1 tablespoon flour
  7. 1 cup unsweetened almond milk (could use skim milk if you prefer)
  8. 3 oz reduced fat cream cheese
  9. 4 tablespoons grated parmesan
  10. 2 tablespoons Veganaise (or other mayo of choice)
  11. 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  12. 1/8 teaspoon of salt, plus more to taste if desired
  13. 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  14. 5 oz (about 4.5 cups) of fresh baby spinach, chopped
  15. 1 oz shredded mozzarella
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400F and set a pot of water to boiling for your pasta.
  2. Spread chopped artichokes hearts and minced garlic onto a cookie sheet and spray lightly with cooking spray. Use your fingers to toss with 1/4 teaspoon of salt and place in the oven to roast for 20 minutes. While the artichokes are roasting you will boil your pasta according to package instructions and make your cream sauce.
  3. In a nonstick skillet melt the butter. Whisk in flour and let cook for a couple of minutes, it will be pasty but it will thin out when you add the milk.
  4. Add milk and bring to a light simmer, whisking until smooth and slightly thickened – about 5-7 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat and stir in the cream cheese and parmesan until melted. Add the Veganaise and season with salt, pepper, and oregano.
  6. By now the artichokes and garlic should be roasted. Combine them with the sauce, chopped spinach, and cooked rotini pasta, Transfer to a baking dish that has been coated with a light mist of cooking spray, top with shredded mozzarella, and bake for 15-20 minutes. Alternatively you could just pop it under the broiler for a few minutes to save time.
Calories
  1. 364
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Truffled Macaroni w/ Roasted Cauliflower & Mushrooms

   

Sometimes I get a hardcore craving for macaroni and cheese that just won’t quit. The problem is that I’m still in the process of my weight loss and I have a calorie budget to consider. Fortunately I love the challenge of taking a delightfully fatty and indulgent meal then converting it to something a little more figure friendly… without sacrificing flavor of course. I used a 2 quart baking dish and calculated the calories based on it being enough to feed 4 people – so we’re not skimping on the portion size with this one either. You could probably serve this as a side and spread it between 5-6 people (344 & 287 calories per serving in those cases), but like I said… my craving for macaroni that just won’t quit? I’m so eating 1/4 of what’s in that pan.

 

 

I knew that I wanted to deviate from my traditional macaroni recipe which calls for enough butter to give a stegosaurus a heart attack and enough cheese to set Wisconsin back 15 years. My first decision was to replace some of that carby pasta with nutty, roasted cauliflower and my second decision was to use truffle oil in it. I love mushrooms with truffle oil so opting to toss those in was a no brainer. In the end I feel like I made a macaroni and cheese recipe that stands well enough on it’s own to grace any Thanksgiving table. It’s not something that you eat and say, “Oh yeah this is good… for having reduced calories…” Instead you say, “More macaroni please!”

 

 

Truffled Macaroni w/ Roasted Cauliflower
Serves 4
Lighter version of macaroni and cheese that will fool you into thinking you’re cheating on your diet.
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
45 min
Total Time
55 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
45 min
Total Time
55 min
Ingredients
  1. 1/2 Head of Cauliflower, cut into small florets
  2. 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  3. 1 8oz Package of Mushrooms, chopped
  4. 2 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter
  5. 2 Cups Fusilli Pasta, dry
  6. 2 Tablespoons Flour
  7. 2 Cups Skim Milk
  8. 2oz Neufchatel (1/3 reduced fat)
  9. 2oz Fontina, grated
  10. 2oz Havarti, grated
  11. 1/2 Teaspoon Truffle Oil
  12. 1 Tablespoon Fresh Thyme
  13. 1/4 Cup Panko Bread Crumbs
  14. Salt & Pepper, to taste
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 425F. Spray or butter a 2-quart baking dish and set aside.
  2. Toss cauliflower florets with the olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and distribute evenly on a cookie sheet. Roast for 20-25 minutes.
  3. While the cauliflower is in the oven, heat 1/2 of the butter in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. When the butter is warm add in your chopped mushrooms, sprinkle with salt and pepper to season, and cover. Let cook for 5-6 minutes until the juices are released and mushrooms are soft. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
  4. Cook your pasta for 1-2 minutes less than the suggested package time. When done, drain and rinse under cool water to stop the cooking process. The cauliflower should also be finishing around this time. Remove it from the oven and set aside with the pasta and mushrooms. Reduce oven temperature to 400F.
  5. In a high sided skillet, heat the other half of your butter over medium heat until it begins to bubble. Add flour and whisk, allowing it to cook for 1-2 minutes. Pour in your skim milk and whisk well. Continue to stir occasionally while the sauce thickens slightly over the next 8-10 minutes.
  6. Remove the sauce from heat and stir in the neufchatel until melted. Add 3/4 of the grated cheeses and stir until melted. Season with a bit of salt and pepper (I used about half a teaspoon of each), then add your truffle oil and fresh thyme.
  7. Gently fold your mushrooms, cauliflower, and pasta into the cheese sauce and transfer to your greased baking dish. Top with the remaining grated cheese and panko bread crumbs. Bake uncovered for about 20 minutes or until lightly browned.
Calories
  1. 431
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Creamy Basil Rotini

   

I made this sauce one afternoon when I was craving alfredo, but knew I couldn’t spare the calories. This cheesy sauce has a bit of richness from the heavy cream, but the other key ingredients keep the fat content manageable. As if that wasn’t reason enough to make it, you create the sauce in your food processor in just a few seconds. If you don’t have a food processor you can work the ingredients together with a fork, but make sure your basil is finely chopped as you won’t have the food processor to do the work for you.

 

Creamy Basil Rotini
Serves 3
Lightened up cream sauce with sausage & broccoli that whips up in seconds.
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Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
12 min
Total Time
17 min
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
12 min
Total Time
17 min
Ingredients
  1. For the sauce:

  2. 3 wedges Laughing Cow Light Cheese
  3. 3 tablespoons Fat Free Cream Cheese
  4. ¾ cups Skim Milk
  5. 1/8 cup Heavy Whipping Cream
  6. 1 cup Basil
  7. ¼ teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
  8. ½ teaspoon Garlic Powder
  9. ½ teaspoon Onion Powder
  10. Salt & Pepper (to taste)

  11. For the pasta:

  12. 1 ½ cup Whole Wheat Rotini (dry)
  13. 1 ½ Tofurky Italian Sausage
  14. 2 cups Frozen Broccoli
  15. 3 tablespoons Parmesean Cheese (grated)
Instructions
  1. Blend all sauce ingredients in a food processor until smooth.
  2. Bring pasta to a boil. 2 or 3 minutes before the pasta is fully cooked, put the broccoli into the pot to cook. Strain the pasta and broccoli and return it to the pot.
  3. Add sauce and vegetarian sausage to the pot and mix well. Cook on low heat until warm, then add the parmesan and mix it in well. When the parmesan melts, it’s ready to serve.
Calories
  1. 396
Notes
  1. If you’re using non-vegetarian sausage, you should make sure it’s fully cooked. You can also replace the laughing cow wedges with plain cream cheese, but I happened to have several on hand and I enjoyed the extra flavor they added.
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Whole Wheat Orzo with Meyer Lemon & Thyme

   

Quickie lunch noms.

 

Whole Wheat Orzo w/ Meyer Lemon & Thyme
Serves 1
A quick, low calorie lunch for one that’s simple to toss together.
Print
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
20 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
20 min
Ingredients
  1. ¼ cup whole wheat orzo, prepared according to package instructions (make sure to salt your water!)
  2. ½ cup cooked Quorn tenders
  3. 4-6 quartered cherry tomatoes
  4. 3-4 chopped kalamta olives
  5. 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  6. 1 teaspoon meyer lemon juice, plus the zest from the outside (about ¼-½ of the lemon is zested)
  7. 1 teaspoon water
  8. 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
  9. Dash of garlic powder
  10. Salt & pepper to taste
  11. 2 teaspoons grated parmesan cheese
Instructions
  1. In a small bowl whisk together the oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, water, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. I didn’t give exact measurements for these things because you use a small amount. Make it tasty to your specifications.
  2. When the orzo is done, toss it with… well, everything. I generally like to leave a little of each ingredient on the side to top my dish with because I eat with my eyes first. :)
Calories
  1. 315
Notes
  1. For those unfamiliar with meyer lemons, they are a little sweeter than regular lemons. The skin is much less bitter as well. Regular lemons would work just fine in its place, but I really like the taste of these.
Variations
  1. The veggies can be modified quite a bit. Throw in some cucumbers, peppers, chopped spinach. Change the thyme to basil. Change the lemon to lime and use cilantro. Try feta instead of parmesan. There are a lot of possibilities for customization here.
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