I hope you all had a fine weekend of doing not very much. Or at least doing something that you wanted to do. Weekends are often the time when busy folk do all the mundane things they didn’t have time to get to during the week – weed-pulling, bill paying, car tinkering,…hen house clearing (me). But, as a discerning and cultured person, I am sure that you are much more interesting than that. While I am cleaning the chicken coop or sniffing and squeezing melons at Lidl, I imagine that you are meeting friends at some smart gallery for a bone-china cup of tea and a peruse of the paintings. Or at least enjoying a good book in the garden.
These are things I enjoy as well, but sometimes a bit of scrubbing, buffing and straightening are fine, too. As it happens, Mr A was away in Portugal smacking a tiny white ball around, and as he is the main instigator/scheduler in casa foodtoglow, Miss R and I were left to our own devices. Did we get all dressed up and go to Harvey Nichols to exclaim at the price tags and nibble sushi? Did we put the top down on my cute little pistachio-coloured Figaro and drive down the coast, hair flying, stereo cranked? Did we heck. Despite visions of girlie bonding time the reality of this past weekend was a homework marathon for Miss R (I know – what’s the rush?) and me on my knees scrubbing floors. And, do you know what? It was good. Sad, I know, but sometimes it’s just what is needed.And we still did the girlie bonding thing – we went for a late lunch of homemade bean burgers and coffee milkshakes at Moo (thanks for the tip-off, Sam), bought birthday gifts from the delightful Galeries Mirages, and rented a sentimental movie that skipped and shuddered until it gave up completely (moral: don’t rent old movies).
There was also some serious mother-daughter cooking too, with Miss R wielding a scary Japanese knife and me issuing instructions from the sofa (well, the cat was on my lap…). Saturday’s lazy supper was beet tops sauteed with anchovy, lemon, garlic and capers, mixed with pasta and topped with grana padano. Super scrummy with very little effort required. We make it whenever our neighbour Warwick comes over with fresh beets from his allotment – he knows to keep the tops intact. I know it sounds a bit weird but beet tops are so good – the stems are tender and the whole thing has a very unbeet-like taste, a bit like chard but nicer in my opinion. Pretty too. And, because it was a girlie weekend – and we are girls after all – bedtime was heralded with melt-in-the-middle chocolate puddings (from Waitrose) and a rare glass of the white stuff. Who needs sushi off a conveyor belt when you’ve got a kid who can cook? Certainly not me.
Although we aren’t normally pasta people, the beet tops pasta thingy was the second pasta dish of the week, the first being this one – lemony courgette & fine bean tagilatelle with herbed creme fraiche. Pasta can sometimes be a bit stodgy and make me feel a bit blah. A lot of you may be nodding in agreement: tastes wonderful but isn’t worth the bloating, pain or tiredness. But even the bought kind can make a perfect evening meal in small amounts, with lots of veg to fill it out and give us the nutrients that pasta lacks.
Most of us who sometimes feel yuck with pasta are suffering from refined carb overload, and just cutting back on it can help. If this sounds like you perhaps keep track of how many daily servings of bread, pasta and other wheat containing products you eat and reduce these. Even making your own bread from good flour can be a total revelation, for a number of reasons. This may be all you need to do. But don’t ever eliminate wheat completely without first discussing it with your doctor. Wheat is too big a part of most diets to be eliminated without serious thought and planning.
As for this recipe, it reflects the less is more idea about eating pasta and refined grain products. What I mean by that is that you get the taste of pasta without eating enough of it to cause the ‘blahs’. The vegetables, herbs and lower fat dairy give the recipe additional protein, nutrients, and fibre that the pasta lacks -however delicious it is. You can easily apply this idea to most pasta dishes, and even bread – Swedish open sandwich, anyone?
For others, of course, the gluten is a real problem and wheat must be eliminated, along with other gluten containing foods like barley, rye and most oats. There are a lot of gluten free pasta products to try and this recipe can of course be adapted to include these. Here is a good website that details the ins and outs of gluten free living. Although it is aimed at diagnosed coeliacs, it is instructive for anyone with strong intolerances to gluten too. If you know of a better website, please let me know. Thanks.
And a final point before you read the recipe: if you are undergoing cancer treatment often times the refined stuff is more easily digested than the virtuous, nutritious wholegrain versions. Eat what tastes good, feels okay going down and doesn’t upset what will be a challenged tummy. It is more important to eat this way than worry too much about the nutrients, because if you can’t digest it, it isn’t doing you much good. Have what you like and complement it with freshly pressed juices and soups. See my articles on eating well while on treatment and also my tips on juicing. You may also like to look at make it quick and easy, too.
Nutrition Notes: You might expect me to skip this bit due to lack of anything to report, but here I am. In fact, pasta is not unhealthy at all. For many years it has been vilified as being fattening, but in a one-cup serving it provides less than 1 gram of fat and 40 grams of carbohydrates for its 200 calories. And in fact it has a low GL rating, meaning that it doesn’t cause a big spike in blood sugar levels; overcooking will however raise it.
Pasta also provides useful amounts of some B vitamins, iron and protein, although the latter is incomplete and needs pairing with beans or animal protein. What makes pasta calorific is the sometimes massive portions we are served and the butter and cream sauces we slather on it. This recipe maximises the vegetable and minimises the starchy carbohydrates and fat. So, you can have your pasta, and eat it too.