After my recent post about the huge dietary changes I’ve made, I’m sure you’re rather surprised to see this big plate of pasta. Yes, I ate some of it. It was fantastic.
I guess this would be a perfect time to tell you a bit more about my approach to low carb eating. Yes, I have almost completely cut grains out of my diet for now (and many other things as well). I plan on eating this way for the rest of my life because I feel better than I ever have. I haven’t eaten pasta for about three months and for the most part, I really haven’t missed it much. And that’s because I’ve never had any intention of completely restricting myself from a food that I love so much. I will sometimes eat pasta, but when I do, it will be with intention. It will be made with wonderful, fresh ingredients and it will be shared with the ones I love. Maybe I will only eat a few bites, which is what I did last night, maybe I will eat a bit more. I just don’t know yet. But one thing I do know is that it will never be a last-minute meal thrown together from a box, consumed in front of the television. Never.
Just like pasta, I know that sometimes I will eat bread. But it will be bread that’s worth eating. Not some strange, spongy, grocery store loaf filled with preservatives. Not even the oven-warmed (or sometimes microwaved), flavorless white stuff that comes to the restaurant table needing copious amounts of butter to give it flavor. When I eat bread, it will be from a favorite bakery in San Francisco when the smell of fresh-baked loaves is too overwhelming to resist. It might be wrapped around the best pulled-pork I’ve ever tasted from an amazing barbecue joint. Or perhaps it will come from a friend’s oven – the first loaf of sourdough from a starter that I shared. And maybe it will be from my own oven, made with care for those I love. It will be an occasional treat and it will be wonderful.
As you might have guessed, the same applies to sweets. I will someday add small amounts of honey, maple syrup, and other sugars (the less refined, the better) to my diet. I have no intention of going completely without sweets for the rest of my life. But I’m also aware of the damage that sugar has done to my body and now that I have abstained from it for so long, I can actually feel what it does to me when I do eat some. So yes, occasionally I’ll eat a bite (or more) of some fantastic-looking dessert. I’ll let myself enjoy it and hopefully I’ll stop before it makes me feel horrible. But I’ve already lost the serious cravings for really sweet things and I love how it’s affected my taste buds. Fruit and vegetables taste amazing now. I look forward to a handful of fresh berries from the farmer’s market with the same anticipation I used to feel standing in line for Pistacchio Gelato at my favorite Gelateria in Catania.
So now that you know a bit more about how I’m eating, let’s talk about this pasta! When the lovely Domenica Marchetti sent me a message on twitter a while back asking if I’d make and share a recipe from her upcoming pasta cookbook, I immediately said yes. Although we haven’t actually met in person, Domenica is one of my favorite people to follow on twitter. She’s so warm and welcoming, I feel like I’ve already sat in her kitchen and shared a meal. You’ll feel the same after reading this book. Everything about it is warm and welcoming – the recipes, the writing, the photography. It’s beautiful.
When I first got the book, I took it over to my Aunt Kathy’s house. I knew that if I made a big pasta dinner, my family would have to be involved. I left the book with my cousin and aunt so they could choose a recipe, and when I got it back, my book looked like this.
Just like me, they couldn’t choose just one recipe. Unfortunately, I lost track of time, and wasn’t able to pull together a big homemade pasta dinner for my family. But it will definitely happen at some point in the future, and this book will definitely play a part.
Since I didn’t have time to make some pasta from scratch (there are several wonderful recipe for homemade pasta in the book), I chose to make Domenica’s simple Tomato-Cream Sauce to pair with some store-bought Radiatori. This gave me an excuse to go to one of my favorite local specialty stores – Sam’s Italian Deli and Market – to buy canned San Marzano tomatoes for the sauce and to find the special pasta shape I was after. Not only did Sam’s carry the dried Radiatori pasta, they also had a fresh version in their freezer. I bought a bag of the fresh pasta, which contained two servings. Perfect, since I wasn’t cooking for a crowd after all.
Now for the sauce.
It starts with a combination of extra-virgin olive oil and butter – my two favorite ingredients.
When the oil and butter are heated, add a mixture of chopped onion, carrots, and celery.
While the vegetables are sauteeing, you’ll have time to process the canned tomatoes in a food mill. If you don’t have a food mill, you really should get one. It’s an inexpensive and wonderful tool!
The tomatoes will pass through the mill, leaving behind the seeds, cores, and any skin that was left on the tomatoes.
What you’ll end up with is a beautiful tomato puree.
After about 15 minutes, the vegetables should be nice and soft. Even though I was busy with the tomatoes, I kept an eye on the vegetables, stirring them occasionally, and adjusting the heat to keep them from browning much.
Next, add the tomato puree, salt, and pepper to the vegetables and bring it all up to a slow simmer. At this point, you’ll partially cover the pot with a lid then let the sauce simmer for about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, your house will smell amazing!
After 45 minutes, the sauce will have thickened and the vegetables will be very tender. Take the pot off the heat and let it cool for a few minutes. Next, you can puree it with an immersion blender or in batches with a regular blender.
The final step is to stir in some cream. If you’d like to freeze part of the sauce, remove that portion to a freezer container before adding the cream.
Once the cream is stirred in, taste the sauce, try not to swoon, then add more salt and pepper if you’d like.
While the ingredients are very simple, this sauce is amazing! I couldn’t stop eating it by the spoonful. And since I knew I wouldn’t be eating much pasta, I decided to try the sauce a different way. My friend and I had just made Grilled Chicken Under a Brick and I couldn’t resist trying a piece of the rosemary-scented chicken smothered with the tomato-cream sauce. It was so delicious!
The thing to keep in mind is that Italian pasta sauces can be used in so many ways. If you can’t eat pasta, there’s no reason you shouldn’t make a big pot of delicious tomato sauce. For dinner, simmer some big meatballs and vegetables in the sauce. Pour it over sliced meatloaf, chicken, or Italian Sausage. Toss it with zucchini ribbons or spaghetti squash. The options are endless. You can do the same thing with any sauce. Be creative!
And if you are gluten-free but eating other grains, you can substitute your favorite gluten-free pasta in any of the recipes in the book. There are so many recipes in here that can work for anyone.
Yesterday on twitter, my friend Tari and I were talking about tossing shaved asparagus with a rich cream sauce rather than eating asparagus on the side of Fettuccine Alfredo. It sounded so good, I almost dropped what I was doing to go buy some asparagus. Making dietary changes is hard, but rather than worrying about having to say no to your favorite foods, try saying yes to new variations of your favorites.
I am so happy that Domenica asked me to join her Pasta Party to celebrate today’s launch of her new book. Making that sauce yesterday – the first pasta sauce I’ve made since going low carb – really made me think about how to combine my love of Italian cooking with my new way of eating. I may not be eating pasta very often, but The Glorious Pasta of Italy will still inspire many terrific meals in my kitchen.
Domenica is hosting a pasta party on her blog today and several other fantastic bloggers have joined in and tried a recipe from the book. Visit Domenica Cooks to see what the others have made.
Enjoy the recipes!
Radiatori with Tomato-Cream Sauce and Fresh Basil
from The Glorious Pasta of Italy by Domenica Marchetti
1 lb (455 grams) dried radiatori
2 cups (480 ml) Tomato-Cream Sauce, heated to a simmer (recipe below)
5 to 10 fresh basil leaves, cut into narrow strips
1/2 cup (55 grams) freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese, plus more for serving
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and salt generously. Add the pasta, stir to separate, and cook according to the directions on the package, until al dente. Drain the pasta in a colander set in the sink, reserving about 1 cup (240 ml) of the cooking water.
Return the pasta to the pot and spoon in about two-thirds of the sauce. Gently toss until the pasta is evenly coated with the sauce. Sprinkle in the basil and 1/2 cup (55 grams) Parmigiano and toss to mix well. Add a splash or two of the reserved cooking water if necessary to loosen the sauce. Transfer the dressed pasta to warmed shallow individual bowls and spoon the remaining sauce on top. Sprinkle with more cheese, if you like. Serve immediately.
from The Glorious Pasta of Italy by Domenica Marchetti
makes about 6 cups (1.4 liters)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 celery ribs, chopped
two 28-0z (800 gram) cans whole or diced tomatoes, with their juice
kosher or fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup (180 ml) heavy/double cream
Warm the olive oil and butter in a large Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot placed over medium heat. When the butter is melted and begins to sizzle, add the onion, carrots, and celery and saute, stirring often, for about 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are softened. If necessary, reduce the heat to medium-low to prevent the vegetables from browning.
While the vegetables are cooking, pass the tomatoes through a food mill fitted with the disk with the smallest holes. Discard the solids.
Add the milled tomatoes to the vegetables and stir in 1 teaspoon salt and several grinds of pepper. Cover partially and cook at a gentle simmer for 45 minutes, or until the vegetables are completely tender. Remove from the heat and let the sauce cool for 10 minutes.
Puree the sauce using an immersion blender or a stand blender. (If using a stand blender, you will need to puree the sauce in two batches and then return the pureed sauce to the pan). Add the cream, place over medium heat, and bring the sauce just to a simmer. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, if you like.
Simplify: The sauce may be stored in a tightly lidded container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months. If freezing, omit the cream and add it when you reheat the sauce.