Using Your Noodle

Talk about basic ingredients. Look at a package of pasta sometime: flour. You can't get much simpler than that. (All those chemical names are vitamin enrichments for the flour.) Yet pasta is anything but plain-tasting once it is cooked and sauced. It is amazing that the most elaborate lasagna, stuffed manicotti, linguine with pesto, red spaghetti, humble macaroni 'n' cheese, all begin with that nutritious, easy-to-prepare building block, pasta.

In the "Mediterranean Diet Pyramid," put out several years ago to describe how some of the healthiest, longest-lived people in the world eat, pasta is literally a building block. The Mediterranean model, a takeoff on the USDA Food Guide Pyramid, places breads, grains, pasta, rice, polenta, and bulgur on the foundational block. (Daily portions of fruits and vegetables come next, then beans and legumes, then smaller amounts of cheese and yogurt, olive oil, then weekly portions of fish and eggs, and sweets. Finally, in the eat-only-a-few-times-a-month category, comes red meat.) I can't think of a more pleasurable way to stay healthy than to sit down to a plate of warm pasta, salad, a glass of wine, and bread dipped in olive oil, the Mediterranean way.

Entire cookbooks have been devoted to the subject of pasta, because there are so many shapes and sauces. You could eat a different pasta meal every day of the year if you wish. Make it simple or complex. Mix and match such ingredients as garlic, olive oil, onions, broccoli, mushrooms, tomatoes, black pepper, herbs, walnuts, pecans, bacon, shrimp, roasted peppers, anchovies, or olives. Almost anything goes; I was once surprised by how well potato chunks worked in a pasta sauce.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 1996
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