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Pasta, an easy, healthy and delicious dish

With so many people trying to eat healthier, even the thought of enjoying a pasta meal may seem to be literally off the table. A big plate of pasta smothered in rich sauce conjures up thoughts of an expanding belly, unbuttoned pants, and practically rolling out of the dining room to settle onto the couch and sink into a carbohydrate induced snooze.

How to make healthy, delicious, easy pasta

But, pasta doesn't have to be a fat saturated, carb loaded meal. Actually, many of the more popular pasta dishes passed down from generation to generation weren't originally so extreme. Pasta dishes were meant to be rich in flavor, and not in bulk. Those healthy recipes have, through the years, been diluted down in flavor and heaped up into huge portions and fatty sauces. 

Pasta classics pack big flavor in small portions

What do we do to eat healthier pasta dishes?  Go back to the original recipes which were packed with flavor, keeping in mind quality more than quantity. Here are three pasta classics that are made to please your taste buds and your appetite without eating huge portions.

Vodka penne

This is a ridiculously simple meal that has intense flavors so even a small portion will make a big impression on your taste buds without overwhelming your stomach.  To make this dish, choose a good quality marinara sauce, either homemade or store bought, a cup of vodka, half a cup of room temperature heavy cream, a half cup of grated Parmesan cheese, and a pound of your favorite penne pasta, even whole wheat.  This recipe makes a lot of servings, so each portion only has a very little cream in it, translating to less than fifty calories from the cream.  But, the creaminess adds to the satisfaction, which again means smaller portions.

The marinara and vodka simmer in a skillet over low heat to cook out the alcohol but leave the flavor. About twenty minutes into the cooking process, the cream is added to give the sauce a rich creamy texture, which also cuts some of the acid from the tomatoes. Once the skillet comes back up to temperature, the Parmesan is stirred in until it melts. Meanwhile, the penne is cooked until al dente, then drained, dumped into the sauce and stirred to coat. A small plate is all you will need to satisfy your hunger due to the super flavor and creamy taste. 

Parmesan prosciutto cavatappi

This is  a nice light pasta dish that will become a go-to meal for your family because it's so easy to make and so tasty. All you need is cavatappi, which is a spiral shaped pasta, minced garlic, some fresh parsley, olive oil, thinly sliced prosciutto, and freshly shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

Cook the cavatappi according to directions, reserving about three tablespoons of the pasta water after cooking, then drain the pasta well. In a big skillet, add a little olive oil and cook the garlic for about a minute. Then add the reserved liquid, prosciutto and parsley, stir together, then add the cavatappi. Taste and add salt and pepper, then top with the shaved cheese and stir immediately to melt the cheese.  Serve hot with more shaved cheese on top if desired. This simple pasta dish is perfect for anyone who wants to do minimal work preparing a meal but enjoy maximum flavor.  And, again, this dish has such depth of flavor that you need only a small portion size to satisfy your appetite.

Lemon basil and Parmesan pasta

How can you go wrong with two powerhouses of flavor like lemon and basil?  With the refreshingly light taste of lemon and the earthier taste of basil, the flavors play off each other perfectly.  Add to that the saltiness of Parmesan cheese and you won't leave the table wanting.  For this simple dish all you'll need is 1 pound of spaghetti, 2 cups of freshly grated Parmesan, 3/4 cup of lemon juice, 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/2 tablespoon of lemon zest, and 2 cups of basil leaves cut chiffonade style.

Cook the spaghetti until just al dente. While the pasta is cooking, put the Parmesan and lemon juice in a big serving bowl and start whisking, adding the olive oil in while you whisk until it becomes creamy and frothy. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, add the lemon zest, and stir to combine. Then add the cooked, drained spaghetti along with the basil, tossing all to coat well with the dressing. This light and lemony dish boasts such powerful flavors that you'll naturally eat a dainty portion, keeping the calories, carbs, and fat at a very respectable level.

Make delicious pasta dishes fast with 5 ingredients or less

When you think of pasta do you think of meat sauce bubbling away on the stove top all day? Well, that's delicious, but sometimes we don't have all day to simmer a sauce. Can you create a tasty pasta dish without spending all day in the kitchen?

The answer is, yes!  Making a good pasta dish does not have to be difficult.  The wonderful thing about pasta is that you can use very few ingredients and make a slew of different dishes that the whole family will enjoy, and it won't take you all day.  Here are a few quick, delicious pasta dishes to try.

Pasta bake

This is a super simple pasta dish that can be created in thirty minutes or less. Pasta Bake is a generic term I'm using here for any type of pasta, meat, sauce and cheese combination made exceptionally gooey and delicious by placing it in the oven to bake rather than cooking it all in a pot. The idea is that once you have your pasta cooked, pick a sauce, some cheese, maybe some veggies, and rather than just stir it all together, turn it out into a casserole dish and bake it.  Baking it just makes the dish look more appealing and taste better.  Let's just say it's more like dinner and less like something thrown together on a hotplate in a college dorm room.

How easy is this dish? Just put any pasta you cook, ziti, rigatoni, spaghetti or whatever, in a buttered or oiled casserole dish, then add whatever you have on hand. Grab some tomato sauce and even a little tomato juice and mix it in, along with some dried oregano. Stir in that last bit of muenster cheese and add a little yellow mustard for tangy goodness. Maybe a spoonful of sour cream, too. See what kind of sausage links you have left from breakfast. Top with shredded mozzarella or Parmesan. Experimenting with different ingredients is key, but what takes this dish from being just a mixed-up bunch of noodles to a delicious pasta dinner is that you baked it. Pulling a casserole out of the oven is so much nicer than just scooping noodles out of a pot.

Tortellini soup

Most people don't automatically think of soup when thinking about how to make a simple dinner using pasta as the key ingredient.  But, tortellini soup is definitely one meal to keep in mind.  This soup is filling and light at the same time. Tortellini soup consists of chicken cut into chunks, chicken broth, a couple carrots cut into rounds, either Swiss chard or kale depending on your taste for greens, and a package of tortellini.

Bring the broth and carrots to a rolling boil and let them cook for about seven minutes, just until the carrots are softened. Then add the chicken and simmer for just a minute, since it's already cooked.  Cut your greens up into small strips and add to the soup, then add in the tortellini and cook following directions on the package of tortellini. This is such a simple soup, but it tastes amazing, and is actually rather elegant. You can omit the chicken if you want and choose a meat stuffed tortellini. You could also choose the cheese stuffed tortellini and add a handful of diced tomatoes or some tomato juice to the broth. No matter what you add to this soup, it's never going to take very long to make, so you can serve a delicious pasta dinner on the table quick and easy.

Pasta carbonara

For a meal with only five ingredients, pasta carbonara is one of the most delicious dishes you will make.  And, the best part is you probably have all of the ingredients in your fridge and pantry right now. You will need a box of spaghetti, about six strips of bacon, diced and fried crisp, four egg yolks, a cup of Parmesan cheese, and some frozen peas. Add some chopped parsley on top and you have a pretty pasta dish that tastes better than many you will find in a restaurant.

When making this simple dish, it is important to have the egg yolks and Parmesan mixture ready before the pasta is done cooking. The heat from the pasta, after you drain it, is what cooks the egg yolks.  Just whisk together your egg yolks and Parmesan cheese in a big bowl. Then dump in your drained pasta and stir.  Add the peas and the bacon, and that's it. You have a pasta dish that is ready to serve in practically no time at all, and one that tastes as good as it looks.

Pasta can be easy, delicious and healthy

As you have seen, a great pasta meal is only five ingredients away... or less.  All it takes to create simple pasta dishes is a bit of creativity and the willingness to experiment. Dig around in your kitchen right now and I'll bet you find the inspiration you need to throw together a fabulous pasta dinner with very little fuss at all.

When you cook pasta dishes using powerful, multi-layer flavors, you don't have to heap a big dinner plate full to satisfy your appetite.  Start with healthier ingredients, like olive oil, lemon, herbs, and whole wheat pasta, then you can add in the foods and flavors that change an ordinary plate of noodles to a fantastic gourmet pasta dish that any restaurant would be proud to serve.  And with flavors that pack a punch, you won't pack on the pounds. Enjoy smaller portions, healthier ingredients, and bigger flavor when you cook these delicious pasta dishes on the lighter side.