One cooking challenge that I deal with almost daily (and I'd bet my KitchenAid mixer that I'm not alone here) is trying to prepare something that is both substantial enough for Eric while still being healthy enough for me. It's not that my dear husband doesn't strive to keep a sensible diet; it's just that his definition of "sensible" is quite different from mine. For example, if you ask him, chips go with everything. Whether he's eating a salad or a plate of lasagna, you can be sure that a napkin full of chips will be sitting on the side. Apparently, his dad does this too. Maybe it's a Vermont thing.....
As far as entrees go, it is usually fairly easy for me to come up with something appealing to both of us. Grilling is always a good option for chicken, steaks, and fish, and I just put the big piece on Eric's plate for him to douse with his preferred sauce du jour. Somehow, the dogs always know to beg from me, the easy target, which is so enjoyable when I am trying to eat my dinner. The challenge typically lies in finding versatile side dishes that we'll both enjoy. I try not to eat white flour based foods very often, so I have started looking to whole grains for inspiration.
One of my favorite finds has been whole grain pasta, especially those containing flax, which I think tastes ten times better than the run-of-the-mill variety. This pasta has more texture, a slightly nutty flavor, and I like its rustic appearance. This pasta dish started with the penne, and then I basically rummaged through the pantry and refrigerator, adding a bit of this and a bit of that. How's that for sophisticated gourmet technique? This recipe is delicious hot, cold, or at room temperature. I give Eric a big bowl, which he gobbles down, and I just take a smaller portion. In my experience, most people either don't notice that the pasta is whole grain or they even like it better, so why not use it? Here are a few extra tips for this nutritious and delicious pasta:
- The pasta that I have started to use, almost exclusively, is the Trader Joe's brand of pasta with flax. At an unheard of 99 cents per pound, it is not only budget friendly, but it is also much healthier than white flour-based pasta, with a pleasant, earthy taste. I believe that it is available in penne, rotini, and spaghetti varieties.
- While this recipe calls for penne, you can really substitute almost any variety of pasta, such as shells, rotini, rigatoni, spaghetti, orecchiette, etc.......
- If you don't have sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, simply rehydrate dried ones in some hot water for 10 minutes, drain, and toss with some olive oil. Chopped fresh tomatoes can also be substituted in this recipe.
- This recipe is open to interpretation. Instead of goat cheese, try crumbled feta. Add some chopped kalamata olives or canned artichokes. Top the pasta with some sliced grilled chicken or fish. Stir in canned white tuna.
Whole Grain Penne with Arugula, Chickpeas, and Sun Dried Tomatoes
Serves 4 as a main dish, 8 as a side dish
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained
4 packed cups baby arugula
1/3 cup packed golden raisins
1/2 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, julienned
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
4 ounces crumbled goat cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Bring a large pot of boiling salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook for about 9 minutes or until al dente. Drain the pasta and transfer to a large bowl. Immediately toss the pasta with the olive oil and toss to distribute.
While the pasta is still hot, add the chickpeas, arugula, raisins, tomatoes, and walnuts, and toss to combine. Cool to room temperature and then stir in the goat cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.