“How are you taking care of yourself?”
This month, it’s the question I’m asking everyone, from my best buds to the grocery store clerks. You know why? Because December is equal parts laugh-till-you-cry and ugly-cry meltdowns. I’ve done both (after sending out 150 typo-bearing holiday cards), and we’re just a few weeks into the holiday crush.
Here’s how I’m fortifying my mind and body for the season: I’m walking more. Drinking extra water. And on the nights that I’m not fa-la-la-ing at a holiday happening, I make light, nutritious meals that are a culinary yin to the canape yang. My current 20-minute favorite? A virtuous, one-pot pasta that is so easy, you’ll enjoy it during all of the other months, too.
The basic recipe goes something like this: Put dry noodles in a big pot. Add only enough good-quality, low-sodium vegetable broth to cook the noodles. The just-right amount means you don’t have to drain the noodles at the end. It’s a small trick that feels like a big deal when you realize you’re off the hook for locating that pesky colander.
I suggest throwing some veggies into the mix. Plain noodles are for toddlers; we are embracing this month like bona-fide adults. I used cherry tomatoes because their bursts of simmered tomato goodness take the place of added sauce. Peeled garlic cloves infuse the pasta with savory notes. Fresh baby spinach, which wilts during the 5-minute rest period at the end, is an easy boost of color and vitamins. For extra protein and fiber, I also add a can of drained chickpeas, which are sometimes sold under their secret identity name, garbanzo beans.
Stir it all together, and you’ve got a low-fat version of the classic Italian dish, pasta e ceci (pasta with, you guessed it, chickpeas).
The only real challenge to one-pot pasta is determining how much liquid you need, and hooray! I did that for you. If you use a pound of whole-grain pasta, which you should because it’s delicious and full of filling fiber and protein, you’ll want 5 1/4 cups of broth. Standard white pasta gets a little mushy with this cooking method, but if it’s what you have in your pantry, reduce the liquid to 5 cups and check it for al dente doneness a minute or two after it starts to boil. With both types of pasta, there will be a little broth left in the pot after it cooks. Don’t despair, and don’t drain! The pasta will absorb most of the remaining broth during the aforementioned rest period. Any lingering drops double as sauce.
This recipe is a cholesterol-free, vegan antidote to rich, festive fare. Some of my people love the lightness; others crave a flurry of shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano on top. If you’re the same, don’t let it be a stressor. A sprinkle of quality, aged Parm (not the oily stuff in the green can) boosts the flavor for the cost of 20-ish calories and less than 2 grams of fat. Which, in the big scheme of holiday food options, is a delicious and healthy way to take what you need.