We Americans have always considered pasta as a delicious--albeit it--fattening food. The way Americans typically consume pasta--overcooked, and over-sauced, while filling over-sized dinner plates--perhaps that impression is correct. But for the sampling of Italians in the Moli-sani and INHES studies, the opposite seems true: Their conclusion was that "as a traditional component of a Mediterranean diet, pasta consumption was negatively associated with BMI (body mass index), waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio and with a lower prevalence of overweight and obesity".
It goes like this: Eating your pasta al dente is important because the digestive enzymes in the stomach take longer to break down the al dente pasta's starch into sugars, so they are released more slowly into the bloodstream. On the other hand, when you overcook pasta, the softer pasta has a higher level on the Glycemic Index (GI). A given starch's GI indicates how fast glucose (sugar made from carbs) is absorbed into the bloodstream. Carbs with a high GI can be bad for you because because blood sugar taxes the pancreas, and can lead to diabetes and obesity. Al dente pasta is slowly digested, releasing less sugar into the bloodstream.
- An Italian would never pair angel hair pasta with a chunky meat sauce.
- Italians never cover tortellini in Alfredo sauce. Tortellini goes in a broth.
- Alfredo sauce is a little known sauce outside of Rome and is considered to be a tourist recipe. (Read the History of Fettuccine Alfredo HERE).
- Italians eat a small portion of pasta--separately from their meat or fish dishes.
- Italians never put olive oil in the cooking water. This would prevent sauces from sticking to the starchy pasta surface--perhaps causing over-saucing.
- Italians "pair" sauces to particular pastas the way people pair wine to a menu.
- Italians use lots of veggies with their pasta recipes.
- In the evenings, most Italians will eat lightly (small main courses and pasta portions) and take a walk in the local piazza after dinner (called a passaggiata) which helps digestion and burns calories.
- Italy is full of hills and hill-towns. Physical activity is a part of their life, without consciously having to "exercise".
- Italians won't use cheese on every pasta dish, but often incorporate grated Parmigiano Reggiano with a bit of water to make a light cheese sauce.
- Mozzarella cheese is usually eaten on its own--fresh with tomatoes and basil--and not melted over each and every pasta dish. Melted Mozzarella goes on pizza in Italy--not so much on pasta.
- Forget the cook time on the box or package. It's been my experience that while a boxed pasta will have times ranging from 8 to 15 minutes for "al dente", they are never correct. Sampling the pasta is the best way to determine whether it's done.
- e a large pot with plenty of rapidly boiling water. Pasta should not be crowded in a smaller pot.
- The water must be as salty as sea water. That's not a teaspoon of salt... it's more like a handful. I use Kosher salt for pasta water.
- Never use oil in the pasta water. It will make past shapes to slippery for sauces to cling.
- In the U.S., 1 pound of pasta can feed as little as 2 people, while in Italy, 1 pound would serve 5-6 people. Smaller portions is a lot healthier.
- In place of heavy sauces, try lighter sauces--olive oil, a splash of pasta water and pepperoncino (red pepper flakes); grated Parmigiano Reggiano, black pepper in a slurry of water (Cacio di Pepe alla Romanese); or carbonara (egg, bacon or ham, Parmigiano Reggiano)
- Forget the "Parmigiana" style of baked pasta with loads of mozzarella melted on top. There is no such thing as "chicken Parmigiana" in Italy (you won't find spaghetti and meatballs on the same plate, either). Italians have a little pasta as their Primo (first) course with the protein course following. Try shaved Parmigiano Reggiano on top of your pasta--it adds loads of flavor.
- If cooked al dente, your body will process the pasta through your body much quicker. Softer cooked pasta remains in the gut longer causing more of the starch to convert to sugars or to be stored as fat.
- Forget having large, dense, deli-style "Italian" hoagie bread with your dinners. Try half-inch (on the bias) cut, toasted slices of ciabatta--available nowadays at many U.S. supermarkets. It's less dense and full of air bubbles. Two slices per person is enough. Italians never put baskets of bread on the table.
- Consider making fresh pasta. You'll burn calories putting in the physical effort!
I'm not saying that we don't all over-indulge from time to time... I mean, hey, Lisa and I (and Lucas is learning, too) cook far better than most restaurants, so it's hard to resist having "seconds" in our house.
Remember, the whole point of my blog is taking a Grand Voyage even if you aren't in Italy... Think Italian, cook like an Italian with simple ingredients, and when you dine, eat and drink like an Italian.
You'll more than likely be healthier if you do...
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Copyright Jerry Finzi/Grand Voyage Italy - 2016