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Penne With Garlic Tomatoes, Lemon Zest and Spinach healthy and tasty

Vegetables bulk up this whole-grain penne dish while bringing nutrients and lots of color.

Associated Press

Vegetables bulk up this whole-grain penne dish while bringing nutrients and lots of color.

Ask my husband what his favorite comfort food is and the answer will be quick: pasta. Who doesn't love a steamy bowl of noodles?

As adults, we decide to eat healthier, and it almost seems like our loyal noodle friend gets tossed aside, as if there were no way to include pasta in a healthy diet. Well, I'm here with good news: Pasta can be part of a healthy diet, and I have a few tips to help keep things both comforting and nutritious.

First: Read the labels, because not all pastas are created equal. Look for whole-grain pastas, which usually translate into more protein and fiber, which makes your meal more filling.

If you are feeling extra ambitious, you can even seek out some pasta versions that are made from beans and legumes. The next tip is to minimize fat by using starchy pasta water for saucy silkiness: Just scoop out some water with a measuring cup before draining the pasta. Saute up some veggies and aromatics in a smidge of olive oil, and use the pasta water to add the saucy vibe.

Adding veggies to the pasta will bulk it up, add nutrients and make the pasta prettier. My go-to is frozen spinach. You could saute it up with the aromatics and olive oil, or in a weeknight rush, toss the frozen spinach right into the boiling pasta just before draining.

My final tip: Try lemon zest instead of part or all of the Parmesan cheese. The zest adds an aromatic depth that somehow makes the nutty Parmesan cheese less pronounced if missing.

Food Network star Melissa d'Arabian is an expert on healthy eating on a budget. She is the author of the cookbook "Supermarket Healthy."

PENNE WITH GARLIC TOMATOES,

LEMON ZEST AND SPINACH

12 ounces whole-grain penne pasta

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 cups grape tomatoes, washed and thoroughly dried

6 ounces chopped frozen spinach, thawed, excess moisture squeezed out

1 tablespoon fresh chopped thyme

2 tablespoons lemon zest

Lemons for squeezing (optional)

Salt and pepper

Cook the pasta according to package directions, reserving about ¾ cup of starchy pasta water before draining. While pasta is cooking: Place the olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes in a ramekin and mix with a spoon, gently pressing the garlic into the oil. Place the garlic oil in an unheated deep saute pan and turn the burner on medium heat.

As the oil heats, it will become fragrant. As soon as the oil is warm and smells of garlic, add the tomatoes, cooking until they are coated with garlic oil and they barely begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the spinach and cook, stirring for 3 minutes.

Increase the temperature to medium-high, and add the cooked pasta and about half the starchy water. Stir and let simmer for 1 minute. Add extra water if needed. Add the thyme, lemon zest and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with lemons for squeezing (optional).

Makes 6 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 221 calories (36 calories from fat), 4g fat (0g saturated, 0g trans fats), 0mg cholesterol, 157mg sodium, 43g carbohydrates, 6g fiber, 4g sugar, 10g protein.

Penne With Garlic Tomatoes, Lemon Zest and Spinach healthy and tasty 05/11/17 [Last modified: Thursday, May 11, 2017 4:56pm]
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