Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Whole Wheat Pasta... to eat or not to eat?

This is a question that comes at me a lot. Whether I'm making pasta at home with company or just my family, or whether I'm just talking food with friends: "What do you think about whole wheat pasta?"
What I really think about whole wheat pasta is that it's another easy way out for us (the American public) to think that we are eating more healthy. The answer is not to turn everything into whole wheat and cut out the things you've enjoyed in the past. Balance your diet. Control your portions. Make sure your diet consists mostly of whole foods. Personally, I don't like whole wheat pasta. I've had some in my pantry, and I gave it a try one time, even two times, and I found that to be too many times. It just didn't taste good to me. My kids didn't fall for it either. If it doesn't taste good to me or my family, then it's just not worth my time or my eating it!
But it's not only that I don't like the stuff, it's that I don't believe that whole wheat pasta is better for me than the regular kind. And the truth is, it's not. Darya at Summer Tomato backs up my argument very well. I love her food website! She loads it with tons of great food facts since she is also a scientist.
In the attempt to putting my own opinions on the matter aside, I did some further research on whole wheat pasta. I have heard the argument that it has its place and stands up well to very earthy sauces and ragouts with duck... hmmmm... I'm open to trying this out.
Also, I have read about all of the different kinds of grains that Italians use... they have a pasta grain that makes a black pasta. Still, this is far from whole wheat pasta, though! It's real Italian and you can bet that when and if I visit Italy, I will eat my way through all the pastas I see so that I can enlighten all of us.  
Which bring me to my ultimate question...
How many times do you see a real Italian recipe call for whole wheat pasta? I've never heard of any Italian Nonna serving her family a meal with whole wheat pasta. I've been into watching a lot of food network series, and my quote used to be... "Giada doesn't eat whole wheat pasta so neither do I!" Well, now Giada has a line of whole wheat pasta with her name on it. What's up with that? I can only attribute this to the fact that chefs (especially high profile ones) get a lot of pressure to cater to the entire general public. I don't know why she caved, but I still like her.
If some of you out there believe that you are adding extra whole grains to your diet through pasta and you can actually eat the stuff... then go ahead. But, unless you really love the taste of the whole wheat pasta, I challenge you to incorporate whole grains into your diet in a more substantial way.

Keep your pasta portion in moderation and enjoy it! If we (Americans) could learn to eat more different kinds of grains, and more things in moderation, we wouldn't have to think that we need to substitute whole grain pasta for regular pasta.  Some things are just best enjoyed as they should be, but in small amounts. So go on ... make some regular pasta! I treated my family to two different pasta dishes this past weekend. This is the recipe for the one that everyone loved... the other dish was one with a marinara sauce with roasted veggies added to it- also yummy, but this one won out!

Rosemary Lemon Butter Rigatoni with Roasted Asparagus and Mushrooms

1 box of Rigatoni pasta (not whole wheat!)
4- 6 Tbsp. of butter
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
1/4 c. (or more) of white wine (good enough to drink)
1 very juicy fresh lemon
1 box sliced white mushrooms (can sub. baby bellas, too)
fresh rosemary
1 bag of fresh organic baby greens
sea salt
 fresh pepper
good Parmesan cheese for grating

Boil a big pot of water, salt the water after boiling, and cook the rigatoni until al dente.
Set your oven to 375 degrees F. Break the ends off of your asparagus, toss them in a bit of light olive oil and salt and pepper. Place asparagus on a sheet pan in a single layer and roast in 375 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes.
Melt the butter in a large pan on medium to medium/high heat and add the mushrooms and the garlic. Once the mushrooms have browned a little bit, add the white wine.
Cut your cooked asparagus into one inch pieces and add to the mushrooms. Add a little salt and pepper to taste. Add some lemon zest and the juice of half of your lemon. On medium/low heat add the leaves of an entire sprig of fresh rosemary to the pan. Add your freshly cooked pasta and toss.
Prepare a large serving dish with a bed of fresh baby greens. Add a little crushed sea salt and pepper to taste. Squeeze the other half of your lemon over the bed of greens before adding the pasta mixture over the top. You now have a fresh spring pasta to enjoy and feel good about eating!!!  Grate some good, fresh Parmesan cheese over the top and you are ready to eat!!!      Mangia!!!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

"Fried" Shrimp Dinner

For some reason, I just couldn't get my cooking mojo going tonight. Maybe it was because I totally lost track of time, or maybe it was the screaming child pulling on my leg for about an hour...
Somehow the afternoon got away from me and before I knew it, it was 5:30. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. I dinner planned since this morning-panko fried shrimp with homemade fried rice. It was sure to be a crowd pleaser.
Now I was rushing against screaming, starving children to put dinner on the table because I had started too late. It didn't help that when I went to the thaw out the basketball sized ball of shrimp from our freezer (which I didn't expect to be so big and I should have also done earlier) I also checked for oil and realized I had forgotten to buy the frying oil at the store today. Big oops. What to do... the kids were all fired up about fried shrimp. Kids get fired up about fried anything, really. I had some bell peppers that were about to go bad in the fridge so I decided to just turn the dish into a Ginger shrimp stir-fry with onions and bell peppers. Now that's what I call improvisation! And now to sneak the new and improved "fried shrimp" dish past my kiddos.
Baron: "Mo-ooooom, I thought you were making fried shrimp!" The question was bound to come at me (and it did!), the kids are too smart for my own good.
Me: "I am... this is called Ginger fried shrimp! Doesn't that sound good?" Totally came up with that one on the fly.
Baron: "Oooooooh! That DOES sound good! It smells good, too!" ...Or maybe they're not as smart as I thought... that was way too easy! I expected a better fight than that. They must have been too weak to fight- the starvation was setting in.
I finished the Ginger stir-fried shrimp, quickly fried up the rice with some onions, eggs, and peas, and voila!
They loved it! My kids love shrimp, but this "fried" shrimp was way too easy to pull off! Give it a try!

Ginger Garlic "Fried" shrimp:

1.5 pounds of medium shrimp peeled and deveined
1 red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
1/2 red onion sliced thin
1 Tbsp ground or minced ginger (or more if you like)
2 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp soy sauce or more to taste
olive oil
soy sauce to taste

Put a bit of olive oil in the bottom of a hot pan. Stir fry the onions with the bell peppers. Add the ginger, garlic and shrimp and stir fry until the shrimp is done. Add a little bit of soy sauce to taste at the end. Serve hot alongside some stir -fried rice!

Fried Rice

use leftover or fresh white rice (or brown- whatever you have is fine)
1/2 bag of frozen peas
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 onion, diced
1/2 Tbsp. of butter
soy sauce to taste

Melt the butter in a very hot pan. On high heat, toss the rice in the butter with the onions, add the peas. Move the rice mixture to one side of the pan to make room for the eggs. Add the eggs on the empty side of the pan and scramble them until done. When they are done, mix the rice into the eggs. You can add some fresh bean sprouts to give the rice some extra texture at this point. Finally, add some soy sauce for color and taste. Enjoy!