Stretch your food dollars - serve pasta

August 19, 2009|By LYNN LITTLE / Special to The Herald-Mail

Boil. Drain. Serve. Not only is preparing pasta easy, but pasta also is an economical and versatile menu item. In these challenging economic times, stretch your food dollar by preparing and serving pasta-based casseroles.

Pasta is typically fortified with iron and B vitamins. The B vitamin folic acid can lower the risk for certain birth defects, so it's an especially important nutrient for women of childbearing age.

Pasta manufacturers also are adding "better for you" pasta varieties to their product lines. These include whole-grain pasta and pasta with added fiber or other nutrients. Sometimes other ingredients are added. Products labeled "egg noodles," for example, must contain 5.5 percent egg by weight.

Read the Nutrition Facts labels. One cup of cooked pasta is considered a typical serving size. At 200 calories, 1 cup of cooked pasta has the same number of calories as two slices of bread.


Consider your serving sizes, but also think about your preferred pasta sauce. White sauces, such as Alfredo sauce, are much higher in fat and calories than most red sauces. One-half cup of tomato-based marinara sauce has about 110 calories and 3 grams of fat. The same amount of Alfredo sauce has about 300 calories and 28 grams of fat.

The National Pasta Association provides the following recommendations when cooking pasta:

o For every pound of pasta to cook, allow at least 4 quarts of water.

o Bring water to a boil before adding the pasta. Adding salt is optional. From a nutrition standpoint, skipping the salt is advisable.

o Return water to a boil and time according to the package directions. If you are making a baked dish, such as lasagna, reduce the cooking time by one third so the pasta will be slightly undercooked.

o Remove a piece of pasta and taste test. The pasta should be somewhat firm when you bite, known as "al dente," which, in Italian, literally means "to the tooth." Remove a piece of pasta from the pot to check doneness.

o Drain the pasta. You do not need to rinse pasta unless you want to chill it prior to adding it to a salad.

Skillet spinach lasagna

1/2 pound lean ground beef
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced (or 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder)
3 cups spaghetti sauce (one 26- to 28-ounce jar)
1 cup water
8 ounces lasagna noodles
10-ounce package chopped, frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
12-ounce tub lowfat or fat-free cottage cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Fresh or canned drained, sliced mushrooms (optional)

Cook ground beef, onions and garlic together in a large skillet or electric frying pan. Stir to prevent sticking. Drain the fat. Add spaghetti sauce and water to skillet and bring to a boil. Add uncooked lasagna noodles, stir, cover with lid, reduce the heat and cook 5 minutes.

Stir the thawed, dry chopped spinach into the skillet. Add mushrooms, if desired. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes.

Spoon cottage cheese over the top, sprinkle with mozzarella cheese, cover and heat another five to 10 minutes or until all the ingredients are thoroughly heated and the noodles are tender.

Makes eight servings. Each serving has 270 calories, 36g carbohydrates, 5g fat and 2g fiber.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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