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Who doesn’t love pasta?! It is a great and versatile dish that can be made countless ways. It can be made for lunch or dinner and scales easily from a single portion to feeding a large crowd. The cook time is relatively fast and it doesn’t require a lot of fancy equipment (no, a pot and a strainer are not fancy. Plus, you don’t even need the strainer if you can use the pot lid to separate the pasta from the water). But as great as pasta is, after making it too many times, it can get a bit stale and boring. So here are some quick and easy ways to spruce up your pasta and impress your friends and family (as well as your stomach!)
1. Add Grilled Veggies and Proteins
A great way to bulk up your pasta dish with some healthy and hearty items is to add vegetables and lean proteins like chicken. But don’t just toss them in the bowl, quickly grilling or roasting the veggies will add an additional layer of flavor that will help elevate the dish to a whole new level. Vegetables and/or chicken can be cooked on a barbeque, grill pan, pan, or oven and you can even season each vegetable slightly differently. Try to get those beautiful char marks on the vegetables, helps add depth to the flavor and will look great in your #foodporn dinner Instagram picture. While anything you have on hand would work, which is part of the beauty of this trick, I recommend including zucchini, grilled chicken, tomatoes, and/or butternut squash.
2. Mix Unique Sauces/Flavors
Jarred tomato sauce is fine, but why not take a chance mixing some new and exciting flavors together to create a unique sauce that will keep you (and your friends/family) coming back for more? Take flavors that you like and incorporate them into a sauce, tasting as you go. For example, I am a big fan of peanut butter and of soy sauce so I often mix them together, adding some garlic and a little oil and pour it over my pasta. If you are looking for something a bit more mainstream, even a classic tomato sauce tastes much better homemade than it does from a jar (and it is healthier too, as many jarred sauces are full of sugar). Some tomatoes stewing, garlic, onion, and herbs come together to make a great sauce and it complements lots of toppings ranging from meatballs to cheeses. Combining flavors and tasting as you go is part of the fun, just remember to write down what works so you can replicate it when you crave it next time.
3. Alternative Pasta Options
Jazz up the pasta itself by using a variety of pasta, and I don’t just mean noodles and bowties. We live in the 21st century—a fancy time where we no longer only have white flour pasta options. There are pastas made out of other grains, such as whole wheat, quinoa, and rice. These are great options for gluten free pasta eaters, who want to indulge without harming their bodies. There are also pastas made out of vegetables: squash, lentil and black bean. They have slightly different textures and flavors than traditional pasta, so make sure to cook them al dente to avoid them getting too mushy. But don’t let that deter you! They are still delicious and as an added bonus, they are deemed healthier than the traditional white flour noodle. A related yet slightly different noodle option is spaghetti squash. It is a type of vegetable that you bake, de-seed, and then scrape out the contents of the squash with a fork and you have yourself healthy “pasta” ready to eat. You can mix the squash with garlic and onions and add in sauces and vegetables just as you would any other pasta dish. But you feel healthier because it came from the ground instead of a bag. Pro tip: you can actually microwave spaghetti squash if you are short on time—just make sure to poke holes in it first. Lastly, there is an increasing trend of using a spiralizer to make “pasta” shapes out of vegetables such as zucchini and carrots. I am not going to pretend it is the same thing as digging into a bowl of spaghetti, because it is not, but it is a good way to fool yourself into thinking you’re eating spaghetti when you look down at your plate. Healthy food is great and definitely has its place, but if you eat lots of “zoodles,” (the playful name for zucchini noodles) promise me you’ll indulge in a giant bowl of real spaghetti and meatballs once in awhile.