I just love Italian food, especially pasta. Pizzas are good, but not exactly healthy. I can eat them once in a while, but give me pasta everyday, I would be only too happy. There are many Italian joints around (wonder if there is any specific reason why the Italian cuisine has become so popular in India these days - is this a "foreign hand" at work????? ).
Anyway, coming back to the point, pastas when eaten outside are delicious and yummmmmmmm...... but not exactly healthy - they generally have a lot of cheese and olive oil. OK, olive oil is healthy, but oil being oil, moderation is of the essence.
Today I was a bit fed up with the usual kind of menu and was craving a change. So it was asparagus-broccoli soup, pasta with green pesto sauce (Sacla italia - Wild garlic pesto) and tomato based sauce (Dr. Oetker's Fun Foods - Pasta and Pizza sauce).
The asparagus-broccoli soup was made according to a recipe I found on the net (http://chefinyou.com/2007/12/healthy-leekbroccoli-and-asparagus-soup/). Although the recipe involved adding leek, I did not have any at home and so substituted with one additional onion.
Coming to pastas: Making pasta at home is advantageous in that it can be made really healthy by adding vegetables and cutting out cheese. There are a variety of sauces available in the market - some imported like Sacla's pesto (green and red - made of sundried tomatoes), Ragu's or Prego or local brands too. Ragu's or Prego sauces are far less oily. The pesto sauces generally have a lot of olive oil. So if I am using a ready made pesto, I generally do not add any additional olive oil. I just use some of the oil in the sauce to saute the vegetables before cooking and then add the pesto with as little oil as possible (just drain out excess oil).
It is also possible to make one's own sauces or pesto with as little oil as possible.
Talking of health quotient, my individual choice of sauces would be in this order:
Home made tomato sauce = Home made pesto (no preservatives) - Ready made tomato sauce (preservatives present) = Ready made pesto (preservatives present).
The tomato sauce has no oil, but green pesto, although it has a lot more olive oil, is healthy as it has fresh basil leaves and pine nuts in it. So it really is a trade off. While buying readymade sauce/ pesto, please look for the green dot if you are a vegetarian. If you are an eggetarian, check the labels carefully. They might have a brown dot and other non vegetarian components such as fish, beef etc. or just eggs.
Recipe for home made green pesto: There are many variations available on the net. Here I have given the ingredients I use.
1 big bunch corriander
1 small bunch pudina (mint)
4-5 leaves of ajwain / omavalli (bishop's weed / caraway)
1 bunch of basil leaves (available in organic food stores) or a handful of tulsi leaves
1 handful of pine nuts (can be substitute with walnuts or cashew nuts or a mixture of both)
Salt to taste
Olive oil - enough to cover the pesto (or vary according to individual preference)
Blend all the above in a blender, add salt to taste. Mix in some olive oil. Preserve in a glass jar. Use immediately or freeze to preserve.
*I have never made pesto with sun dried tomatoes.
Recipe for tomato based sauce:
Chop a few tomatoes, puree them and add a few Italian herbs to them. Also add a little bit of salt to taste. If you like, you can defer adding salt to when you use the tomato sauce. Use immediately or store in the freezer.
Making the pasta:
Boil the pasta in some water. When boiling use a teaspoonful of olive oil to ensure that the individual pieces do not stick to each other. When the pasta is cooked (you can see the change in colour - it looks almost white and turns soft - just make sure you do not overcook the pasta otherwise it will turn into a paste), drain the excess water.
Take 2 teaspoons full of olive oil in a wok (kadai). Add the chopped vegetables to it (you can include whatever vegetables you like), saute them. Add a little water along with a bit of salt (1/2 teaspoonful) and allow them to cook. Then add some pureed tomatoes or pesto to the cooked vegetables. Add the cooked pasta to this along with whatever Italian herbs and spices you like. Mix the vegetables, pasta, herbs and pesto / tomato sauce and cover the wok for a minute. The pasta is now ready to be eaten.