There are some days when you absolutely need pasta. Need. For me, they are the days when stress gets the better part of me, and nothing soothes like a bowl of starchy, toothsome, savory pasta.
But, I have to admit that I am very carefully watching what I am eating lately. It is not because the doctor said so, it is because I realize that it is simply too easy to ignore the fact that I am 'of a certain age' and I should be eating better. And I feel better - and sleep better - because of it.
Happily, when Mark and I drove across country to our new home in the Arizona desert in 2005, we decided that we would not eat any junk food or fast food along the way. No Mickey D's, no Burger König, no highway rest stop junk food. To our surprise, it was easy.
We stopped in little cafés and restaurants, or at grocery stores to pick up picnicking supplies. Then, when we got to Tucson, we were starving. It was the moment to break the fast and eat junk food. But we didn't, deciding instead to make a better choice and continue the ban on fast (and junk) food. To this day I think each of us has only slipped once. It was, all in all, a very good decision.
So what am I giving up now? Not too much really - just taking a good look at the balance of the meals and the portion sizes. It is something akin to the Weight Watchers program, but also modeled on the diabetic diet my father was on when they discovered his type 2 diabetes. No one needs a 12-ounce steak for dinner, and no one needs 8 ounces of pasta for dinner, and no one needs a sixth of a pie with two scoops of ice cream. No, these are simply things we want... or that we think we want.
So, now we are down to sane portions in our lives. Four ounces of protein (meat, chicken, fish, tofu, legumes) is all we really need. A small sliver of pie is sufficient for meal closure. And, to the point of today's post, 2 ounces of pasta (dry) per person is more than sufficient to fill the belly and feed the stressed soul.
This particular pasta dish is healthy, flavorful and very filling. The arugula can be switched out and replaced with baby spinach and more vegetables can be added, but are not at all necessary. The roasting of the tomatoes and shallots alone is a nice sauce, but the green bite of the arugula really adds to the dish. I made this (using spinach and served over soft, white polenta) for friends Susan and John - they heartily approved!
Pasta with Chicken, Spicy Roasted Tomatoes, Olives and Feta
1 pound skinless and boneless chicken breasts (two halves)
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 pounds grape tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 shallots, peeled and quartered
8 chiltepin peppers, crushed, or 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
12 kalamata olives, pitted and cut lengthwise into quarters
8 ounces pasta – campanile, penne or other short form
6 cups arugula leaves (or baby spinach)
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Wash, dry and trim chicken breasts; place on a greased cookie sheet. Lightly coat tops with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 22 minutes, then let cool. Raise the oven temperature to 475°F. Mix cherry tomatoes, oil, shallots, and crushed chiltepins in a roasting pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake until tomatoes are soft and beginning to brown in spots, stirring once halfway through, about 20 minutes.
Transfer tomato mixture, including any juices, from sheet to large skillet. Shred and add chicken to skillet with olives and simmer until heated through, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook pasta in large pot of boiling well-salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Using a large staining spoon, remove pasta and add to your skillet. Reserve the pasta water.
Add 1/4 cup pasta water and arugula; toss over medium heat just until arugula begins to wilt, about 1 minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer pasta to a warmed serving bowl or into 4 individual serving plates. Sprinkle with feta cheese and serve.
- Large Asian straining spoons (like the one pictured above) are invaluable for pasta dishes. They make it easy to get the pasta out of the water without having to pour it into a colander.
- Chiltepin peppers are a Southwest pepper and are, with the exception of the Tabasco pepper, the 'mother of all peppers' we know. They are very hot, considering their tiny size, and we generally use one per person and an additional for the pot. As we like this sauce spicy, we add a few more.