My landlady in Florence, Italy, once offered this truth: Pasta never made anybody fat.
I know it sounds incredible, given the no-carbs frenzy we’re currently engaged in, but she was right. Let me put it another way: Pasta never made anybody fat all by itself.
Italians eat pasta all the time. Many eat pasta twice a day. In fact, the average Italian eats more than 60 pounds of pasta a year compared to our 20 pounds. But Italians aren’t as fat as Americans. Not by a long shot. How is that possible?
It’s because of the amount of pasta they eat at one sitting — and because of what they put on it.
When Americans think of pasta, many think of heaping plates of noodles swimming in some rich sauce and covered with meatballs. Our seam-splitting portions do not reflect the Italian way of eating. Put our American version of pasta in front of an Italian, and she’ll say, “What’s that?” Worse yet, she might not want to eat it.
Pasta prepared and served the Italian way is, in my opinion, a dream food. It’s versatile, flavorful, and easy to make. It provides a healthy blend of carbs and protein, vitamins and fiber. Eaten sparingly, the way Italians eat it, it still fills you up, but it doesn’t fill you out.
You won’t find Pasta Alfredo on many tables in Italy. The original “Fettuccini All’Alfredo,” came about as a result of a desperate husband’s search for something to tempt his ailing wife after the birth of their child some hundred years ago. Alfredo di Lelio’s recipe called for handmade fettuccine with copious amounts of butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. His wife liked it and started eating again.
If you’d like to try it, cook up some fresh fettuccine and dress it with one part unsalted butter and one part freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. This, of course, is a diet buster, so only eat a little of it.
That’s the problem. Americans tend to eat too much pasta at one meal. And they like the rich stuff, which Italians do not eat on a regular basis.
In Italy, if pasta is served before a main course of fish or meat, two ounces of dried pasta per person is standard. (Remember, it doubles in size when it’s cooked.)
As I mentioned, the next cardinal sin of Americans, after the portion problem, is the way we dress our pasta, or I should say overdress. I’m talking about the sauce. We use too much of it. A light drizzle of a thin sauce or a couple tablespoons of a chunky one should be sufficient.
You can’t taste the pasta if you drown it in too much sauce. Your high-quality Italian pasta, not the sauce, should be the star of the show. High quality pasta is tasty. Artisan brands from Italy are extruded through what are called “dies” made of bronze. These give the pasta a rough texture that clings to the sauce so it doesn’t end up in the bottom of your bowl.
A light sauce can be something as simple as a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a light sprinkle of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
Now for that bum rap pasta gets as the Diet Devil’s favorite tool. Pasta is low in calories. Really, it is, when you watch your sauce and portions. It’s filling, nutritious and it’s easy to make. Pasta is not the same as bread, cake, cookies, pastries and all those other goodies that break down quickly during digestion and cause your blood sugar levels to spike, then plummet, resulting in feelings of hunger.
Pasta cooked al dente, or “to the tooth,” the way Italians like it, has a low glycemic index, which means it has staying power. Eating it at one meal helps you avoid feelings of hunger that can cause snacking before your next.
Come to think of it, it may very well be pasta that allows Italians to be such trim and disciplined eaters.