I don’t think I’ve always enjoyed food like I do now. Somewhere in my early 20’s my taste buds must have grown up, and one major contributor to this may have been the time I spent living in Rome. On my first visit I instantaneously fell in love with ancient ruins, the rich history and the open culture–but the cuisine is what really kept me coming back for more. I don’t care what the French say, Italy has the best cuisine, hands down (so maybe I’m a little biased). But how can you argue a plate of warm, handmade pasta, doused in rich, creamy sauce and smothered with truffles? You can’t. Or at least, I couldn’t.
Once I made the Eternal City my home, I knew I couldn’t indulge on a daily basis (try as I did). I began to seek out healthy options in the Italian cuisine: the fresh and abundant produce, the simple ingredients, and the rich grains (not just pasta!). While my preferred fettuccine al tartufo may not be the best for me, it was definitely a tasty treat on many occasions. I mean, you’ve got to live a little, right? Discovering healthier Italian dishes helped me balance out my diet and appreciate the simple pleasures. Sure, maybe it was followed by gelato on many occasions, but I picked my battles. Point is, there are healthy alternatives out there! You just have to find them.
As a good alternative to durum wheat pasta, Italians use farro, a whole grain made popular in Mediterranian regions long ago. In fact, the complex carbohydrate has been a part of the Roman diet since the late Empire (Ezekiel even mentions it in the Bible). Thanks to recent interest in whole grains, farro is making a comeback with special attention thanks to the fact that it is unhybridized, and easy to grow organically. It has a rich, nutty flavor and is often ground up and used to make many pastas and breads, providing a healthy but tasty white pasta alternative (my dear expert friend, Bianca, tells me that ancient Romans practiced a wedding rite called “cumfarreatio,” in which the new couple would share a piece of bread made from farro).
Rich in fiber and vitamin E, the ancient grain contains antioxidants and minerals such as calcium, potassium and magnesium, which help support the immune system and regulate blood sugar levels. It does contain gluten, although thanks to the fragile molecules that today’s wheat lacks, it’s easier on the digestive system (meaning: eases IBS symptoms!). Farro can be used in a variety of dishes, and in fact it’s often compared to spelt. But in the way of pasta, farro pasta can increase your bran consumption ten-fold. And protein? Plenty. What’s not to love?
Bianca was also kind enough to offer up one of her favorite Italian dishes using farro pasta and simple ingredients for a healthier pasta dish (she also sent me an amazing zuppa di farro recipe for when the weather gets chilly). Farro pasta can be found in most specialty stores, and depending on the shape, most hail from Abruzzo (a region along the eastern coast known for their high grade pasta).
200g (or 7oz) farro pasta (Bianca recommends using spaghetti di farro, but my local specialty store was out, so I used linguine)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons water
1 Small yellow onion, chopped (I used a cippolini onion)
4 Large zucchini, chopped
Pint of cherry tomatoes, halved
In a large sauce pan, combine the olive oil and water over medium heat, and add a pinch of salt. Let it heat up for a moment, then add in the chopped onion. Let it begin to simmer for about three minutes. Next, add in the chopped zucchini, stir, and cook for about 10 minutes. Then add the halved cherry tomatoes, cover, and cook on medium-low heat for another 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to boil and cook the pasta according to the directions on the box. I always cut it short by a minute or two to keep it al dente.
Once the pasta is cooked to your liking, strain, and place in a large serving dish. Mix in the contents from the large sauce pan, and you’re ready to serve. I topped my servings with a bit of fresh parmiggiano. È finito! Pasta di farro con zucchine e ciliegini per due.
I love finding ways to enjoy meals that can otherwise seem unhealthy (perfect example: pasta), because it helps me to feel balanced for those times when I do indulge in the not-so-healthy. It’s also about giving yourself more options- healthy eating doesn’t have to be restricted to a bland salad or tasteless “diet-approved” meals.
Healthy eating is really about maintaining a balance and enjoying real foods that keep you feeling great inside and out. So eat your (farro) pasta and enjoy it.
3 comments July 29th, 2009