With spring in the air and sunshine filling our homes, offices and gardens, it’s reminded me of why I love cooking dishes that are filled with the sunny vibes of the Med. Forget fad diets, a well balanced diet and exercise is the key to living longer and being healthier.
A Mediterranean diet largely consists of good quality fruit, veg, fish, pulses, and of course a good dousing of olive oil and the occasional red wine (it’s proven it’s good for you)! All of these are often accompanied with bread, pasta or potatoes – these are known as starchy carbohydrates.
The NHS’ Eatwell Guide doesn’t even try to hide the similarities between a Mediterranean diet and their suggestions. Studies have proven a Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke by 30%, take a read of my Sea and Sardinia article to see why Sardinian cuisine and lifestyle could lead to the country being a ‘blue zone’.
When somebody says to you, “eat a balanced diet” what do you think of?
- 5 a day – fruit and veg
- Less sugar
- Less fat
- Less salt
Do you think more carbs? MORE pasta! MORE bread – I doubt it. There’s the belief that carbs = fat but it depends what carbohydrates we’re talking about.
People confuse the three types of carbohydrate and lump them together as one entity, but sugars are carbohydrates – so whilst it’s advisable to cut down on ‘free’ or added sugars in foods that doesn’t mean cut down on the good carbohydrate like starchy foods including pasta, rice, bread and potatoes.
My love of pasta
I can’t deny how much I love pasta. I could eat it every day and be happy, but I also just love how you can mix it up or make it up depending what you’ve got in the fridge and cupboard.
I’m a big believer in good quality food making a huge difference to your dish and your diet; although some ingredients can sometimes be a little more expensive, cooking from scratch doesn’t have to be.
One of my store cupboard staples is tins and tins of tomatoes, from chopped to plum, passata and puree! Tomatoes have lots of health benefits: they’re a great source of Vitamins, A, C and K as well as folate and potassium; and they’re naturally low in sodium, saturated fat, cholesterol and calories. They’re also cheaper and healthier than pre-made sauces, often with less sugar and less salt.
I know people think preserved tomatoes aren’t worth spending money on but the difference between supermarket value brands to branded ones is worth considering. Check the % of tomatoes in a standard 400g tin, the value brands tend to have less tomatoes and a far more watery tomato juice, where as brands like Cirio are packed full with 65% tomatoes and thicker tomato paste opposed to concentrated juice, meaning they are packed full of flavour and more of the ‘good stuff’!
I also like to know where my food has come from; and being a lover of all things Italian, in particular, how authentic it is. Cirio tomatoes use 100% raw Italian products, and are produced by over 14,500 farmers who form 51 co-operatives. They track everything from the field to the table as part of their ‘seed to fork’ commitment. All tomato seeds are GMO free and they’re grown according to the seasons to bring the best taste and freshness – tomatoes are harvested and preserved within 24 hours.
Francesco Cirio founded the company in 1856 and was amongst the first in the world to be credited with developing the technique of appertization (preserving). Today, Cirio is one of the best known brands in the Italian food industry.
In true Italian style I want to share with you one of my favourite ways to make a homemade pasta dish from a tin of tomatoes and some basic veg! It’s perfect for a midweek meal, cooking for friends or just to get your pasta fix.
Kate’s go-to weeknight pasta dish
I always make enough of this dish so I have leftovers for lunch so tweak your measures accordingly. I’ve based this on 2-3 servings.
- 150g – 200g pasta – I usually use rigatoni, penne or spirali but it’s up to you
- 400g Cirio chopped tomatoes
- ½ red onion, finely chopped
- 30g – 65g pancetta, diced/cubes
- ½ courgette, sliced and quartered (you can replace this with anything you have really, aubergine, peppers etc)
- 125g mushrooms, sliced and/or quartered (I like to mix it up to give more texture)
- Dried Italian herbs or fresh basil
- Chilli flakes, optional
- Parmesan or pecorino, to serve
- Bring a large pan of water to the boil and add a pinch of salt.
- Cook the pancetta in a pan over a medium heat.
- Once the pancetta starts to brown, add the onion, courgette and mushroom (there should be enough fat from the pancetta to cook these in) for about 5 minutes. If using dried herbs, add these as you cook the vegetables.
- Add the chopped tomatoes, season and turn the heat down, allow to simmer – the tomatoes will begin to break down. If you want to add a kick, add a pinch of dried chilli flakes. If you’re using fresh basil tear this in.
- Whilst the sauce simmers and flavours infuse, cook your pasta so it’s al dente.
- Add the pasta, with a splash of pasta water to the sauce and stir together – turn the heat off and continue to stir until the sauce thickens a little and sticks to the pasta.
- Serve with grated parmesan or pecorino, black pepper and fresh basil and drizzle with a little olive oil.