Friday, May 20, 2011

Pasta Salad

For many of us, getting ready for beach weather means setting limits on carbs without going hungry.  The challenge for the pure-minded is that much so-called diet food uses additives for texture and flavor.  The ensuing sacrifice in flavor and health is off-putting.  Sometimes you need something really hardy between all those salads and this pasta dish makes the cut on both taste and nutrition. 

Even non-whole grain pasta enthusiasts went for this pasta salad made with rotini-shaped pasta that picks up the creamy yet low-cal sauce.  The secret is an ounce of cream cheese. And yes, you can use regular cream cheese and still get the low-cal benefits.  The high ratio of  vegetables to pasta (especially mushrooms) also lowers the calorie count while the whole grain pasta makes it deeply satisfying.

Whole Wheat Pasta Salad
Serves 4, recipe can be doubled

8 ounces whole grain rotini (like Barilla)
8 ounces portabello mushrooms, sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 ounces asparagus, trimmed and chopped in 3-4 sections
2 carrots, peeled and julienned
1 ounce cream cheese
1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup leftover pasta water, low-fat milk or chicken broth to taste
salt & pepper
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped (other fresh herbs like tarragon, thyme or dill may be substituted)
  1.  Cook pasta according instructions on package and drain well. (Reserve a small amount of pasta water to use in the sauce.)
  2. While pasta cooks, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and saute mushrooms.  Remove from pan.
  3. In same skillet, add a 1/2 cup cold water, asparagus and carrots.  Boil over high heat, uncovered until water evaporates and vegetables are crisp-tender.  Cook a little longer with more water if you like your vegetables a bit more tender.  Lower heat to simmer. 
  4. Return mushrooms to skillet and add warm pasta. Stir in cream cheese and Parmesan cheese.  Add pasta water, milk or broth to thin the sauce so that it coats pasta well. 
  5. Sprinkle with chopped herbs and serve immediately or chill to use a cold pasta salad.
This transports very well to a picnic, pot luck or the office.  A serving with a few slices of cooked chicken breast or tofu make a complete lunch. 

While  meant to be a side salad served cold or room temperature, that first night it got gobbled up hot and never got a chance to chill.  The next day I added a little low-fat milk to moisten the leftovers and served it cold alongside sandwiches.