- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2003

Years ago I wrote a book called “365 Ways to Cook Pasta.” It’s out of print now, but if what my cooking school students tell me is true, there are many battered and sauce-splattered copies still in kitchens across America.

Perhaps because it’s so convenient to prepare and easy to eat, pasta continues to be a popular meal in many households, including mine.

Undaunted by the recent low-carbohydrate-diet fad, my family eats pasta at least once a week. If there has been any change in our pasta consumption, it’s a change in the ratio of pasta to fresh vegetable sauce.

At one time, the pasta-to-vegetable ratio in my recipes was two times the amount of pasta to one of vegetables. Today, because I am more aware of eating as many vegetables as possible and balancing carbohydrates, proteins and fat, I have reversed the ratio.

Now I cook 3 ounces of dried pasta for each serving and double the amount of vegetables I once used. This ratio seems to work for both maintaining our waistlines and getting our weekly pasta fix — a necessity.

For the menu that follows, select one of the two pasta recipes. One is made with a raw vegetable sauce utilizing the last of the harvest tomatoes and a ripe avocado. The other uses a sauce of sauteed jarred roasted red peppers and fresh cauliflower. Both are crowned with a sprinkling of grated cheese.

For a full blast of flavor without overconsuming, make sure to buy the authentic imported stuff, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, grana padano or pecorino Romano.

For dessert, serve fresh pears. Select any variety and let them ripen at room temperature for a few days before serving. Serve them chilled, cut into wedges, cored and sprinkled with fresh lemon juice.

Penne with cauliflower, roasted red peppers and thyme

cup extra-virgin olive oil

12-ounce jar roasted red peppers, rinsed, well drained, cut into -inch by about 2-inch dice

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves

Pinch of red pepper flakes

Salt

12 ounces penne pasta

1 package (about 4 cups) cauliflower florets

Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, grana padano or pecorino Romano cheese

Heat oil in a large skillet. Add the peppers and cook, stirring, until coated and warmed, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, thyme and red pepper flakes; cook 1 minute. Keep warm over low heat, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile heat a large saucepan of water to boiling. Add 1 tablespoon salt, or to taste, and the pasta, stirring gently, until the water returns to a boil.

Boil the pasta until half cooked, about 6 minutes. Add the cauliflower and cook until both the pasta and cauliflower are tender, 6 to 8 minutes more.

Ladle out about cup of pasta cooking water and reserve. Drain the pasta and cauliflower. Transfer pasta mixture to the skillet. Add the reserved pasta cooking water and fold to combine.

Cook, stirring, so that the pasta has a chance to absorb the flavors. Stir in half of the cheese. Pass extra cheese to sprinkle on each serving.

Makes 4 servings.

Pasta shells with avocado and fresh tomatoes

Salt

12 ounces shell pasta

4 cups (about 2 to 3 pounds) tomatoes, cut into -inch cubes with seeds and juice

1 ripe avocado, halved, peeled, seeded, cut into -inch cubes

cup extra-virgin olive oil

cup lightly packed basil or cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, grana padano or pecorino Romano

Heat a large saucepan of water to boiling. Add 1 tablespoon of salt, or to taste, and the pasta, stirring gently, until the water returns to a boil. Boil the pasta until it is al dente or tender to the bite, 10 to 15 minutes depending on the brand of pasta. Drain.

Meanwhile combine tomatoes, avocado, olive oil, basil or cilantro, garlic and salt to taste in a large bowl. Stir to blend. Add the cooked pasta. Fold to combine. Sprinkle with about 2 tablespoons of cheese. Serve with additional cheese on the side. Makes 4 servings.

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