Delicious Healthy Eating – Basil and Pine Nut Pasta

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If you’re anything like me, the holidays have left you with more gifts than you bargained for – as in, a few extra pounds. I admit it, the holidays are the one time of year when I allow myself to indulge in my favorite guilty pleasures like sugar cookies, cheese and crackers, etc. So, when the New Year rolls around, it’s always time to resurrect the workout routine and the healthy recipe regimen.

Living in an Italian American household, giving up pasta after the holidays is nearly an impossibility. Thankfully, I have a long-time tried and true recipe that my husband and I can go to when we’re really watching our fat and calories but still need the cozy comfort of pasta on a cold, winter’s night.

My husband first cooked this for me when we were still dating more than 15 years ago. Basil and pine nut pasta was one of his early culinary masterpieces that helped seal the deal and I knew he was the one!

Pine nuts are expensive, so toast yours with caution. They burn easily if taken too far so, as soon as you smell their toasty goodness and they begin turning a very light shade of brown, give them a toss and get them off the heat immediately.

Fresh basil is a must for this recipe. But living in the country, finding fresh basil during a long Michigan winter can be a bit of a challenge sometimes. So we decided to grow our own with our Click and Grow Smart Garden. Give it a try! It is lovely to have fresh homegrown herbs, fruits, and veggies in the dead of winter!

Cutting your basil into a “chiffonade” is definitely the way to go. With my small homegrown leaves, it was difficult to roll the leaves for the chiffonade, so I ended up with a dice instead of perfect threads. Oh well! It might not be as pretty, but it tastes just as good!

Cooking the basil too long can strip it of its flavor and result in bitterness, so go easy on the heat. Basil has a completely different flavor profile after it is cooked, so be sure to reserve half of your basil for garnishing at the end for real depth of basil flavor.

Whole wheat bucatini is a great healthy choice for this recipe as its straw-like shape is ideal for soaking up the wonderfully delicious sauce. It can be difficult to find in some stores, though, so whole wheat spaghetti works well too, as pictured here. Be sure not to overcook your pasta. It should be added removed from the cooking water just before it becomes al dente because it will continue to cook once added to the basil sauce. Adding a touch of reserved pasta water to the sauce will add flavor and a velvety texture to the dish. I also swear by the idea that lifting the pasta out of its cooking water is much better than draining it in a colander, which washes away much of its flavor. (And rinsing is a crime!) Instead, try using a spider to transfer the pasta from the cooking water into the sauce.

Since you’re adding a small amount of fat and calories with the cheese, think about splurging on something really special. I always pick up some high quality Parmesano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano when I’m in the city. There are some really wonderful domestic options out there if you’re on a budget!

Of course, this recipe is so light and so fresh that it makes a great summer supper, too. I give you basil and pine nut pasta. Enjoy!

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