Pasta: dieter's friend or foe?

Q: I recently ate at a restaurant that offers a low-fat pasta primavera with a lemon-flavored sauce. It was delightful! How would I recreate this sauce? When I experiment, it turns out too thin and bland. I am trying to avoid the fatty cream sauces and eat a healthful diet.

A: Whenever I scan a restaurant menu and see cream in the pasta primavera sauce, I want to scream! When are chefs going to realize that primavera catches folks’ attention because it is – or can be – a low-fat pasta? The cream sauce is an automatic turn-off, because it heaps a ton of fat onto an otherwise healthful meal.

From your question, it sounds like you found an enlightened chef who knows how to pour on flavor with little fat. Personally, I love to cook pasta primavera with aromatic broths. But if a lemony touch is what you’re after, I’ll give you a speedy version of lemon-scented pasta and vegetables, adapted from a recipe that I have been cooking.

Yes, this is a broth recipe. But the boiling and steaming concentrates the flavors and starch from the cooking pasta naturally thickens the broth to a texture that nappes, or coats, the vegetables and angel hair.

Fresh basil and garlic broth can create a heady bowl of pasta. For a quick tomato broth, combine vegetable broth with a can of diced tomatoes. Some brands of canned tomatoes feature flavors like “roasted garlic.” Use these for a quick weeknight pasta primavera without much fuss. A few drops of extra-virgin olive oil to sauté the vegetables will prime the flavor.

Experiment with fat-free canned broths, fresh herbs, flavored fat-free sauces and seasoning mixes. And don’t be afraid to mix fresh vegetables with frozen vegetables for convenience; frozen sugar snap peas are a perfect primavera candidate.

Have fun and enjoy pasta and vegetables the way they were meant to be – luscious and low-fat.

Lemon-Scented Pasta Primavera

  • 2 1/2 cans (14.5 oz) fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tbsp fresh or frozen lemon juice
  • 1 tsp salt-free lemon-pepper seasoning mixture
  • 1/4 tsp Spanish saffron (optional)
  • 1 c (heaping) peeled baby carrots
  • 1 c (heaping) fresh or frozen whole green beans
  • 1 c (heaping) frozen broccoli florettes
  • 1 bunch scallions, cut 1 1/2 inches
  • 4 fresh plum tomatoes, cut lengthwise into 6 wedges
  • 12 oz angel hair pasta, broken in half
  • 2 tbsp shredded Romano cheese

In a large skillet, combine chicken broth, lemon juice and lemon pepper. (Add saffron, if using.) Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

Add carrots, beans, broccoli and scallions to broth. Stir, cover and cook 4 minutes. Add tomatoes. Stir, cover and cook 1 minute. Remove vegetables to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to keep warm.

Add broken angel hair to simmering broth and stir. Cover and cook 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Using a pasta fork, remove pasta to a serving bowl. Spoon vegetables over pasta. Pour hot broth over vegetables and pasta. Top with Romano cheese.Serves 4.

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