By Patrizia Cucca
I wasn’t aware that March was National Nutrition Month. Do we really need a designated month to be reminded about what we’re eating? I receive so many messages about nutrition or dieting every single day, all year long. There are advertisements about the latest magic weight loss aid, friends trying out trendy new diets and a slew of clean-eating posts I see on Social media every day. Diet culture finds endless ways to weave itself into our brains without us even realizing it is happening. Eating healthfully shouldn’t merely involve a smoothie bowl or a leafy salad; how boring is that? I would like to take the judgement out of food and rather than labeling certain foods “good” (those carrots) or “bad” (that carrot cake), you eat, choosing foods based on how they make you feel and what your body is craving at that moment. Healthy eating isn’t just about foods with high nutritional value, if that were true, our food intake would be rather boring. Our diets should include a wide variety of foods. I believe that the pleasure that comes from eating satisfying meals and tasty snacks is equally important. Our intentions to eat healthy can be challenging and knowing exactly what that means can be difficult. Staying healthy is important and a healthy diet for me is eating a balanced diet, which includes choosing plenty of lean meats, eggs, vegetables, fruit, whole grain and dairy products. Getting enough sleep and regular exercise is also very important.
All this talk on healthy eating has me craving Pasta e Piselli (Peas), one of my all-time favorite This is a one-pot wonder from Naples that can be on your table in under 30 minutes. Like pasta e fagioli, this dish is a cross between a soup and a pasta dish. Pasta e Piselli features onions, no garlic, baby peas, small pasta, and equal parts Parmesan and Romano cheeses. It’s definitely the cheese that takes it over the top for me…yumm.
Mom used to make this dish with pancetta but she has kept it meatless for several years and we don’t miss it a bit. I love all of these one-pot pasta dishes that I grew up eating and now make for my family today. But if I had to choose my absolute favorite…it’s Pasta e Piselli for the win!
1 medium white onion, peeled & chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 (13-ounce) package frozen baby peas
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
4 1/2 cups hot water
1 pound ditalini or other small pasta
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
1/3 cup freshly grated Romano cheese
red pepper flakes for serving (optional)
1. Peel and chop your onion. Heat the oil in a large pot on medium-high. Add the onions to the pot and stir to coat them with oil. Cook the onions for five minutes or until they’re soft, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. While the onions are cooking, you can grate your cheeses if needed.
2. Add the frozen peas, salt and pepper to the pot and stir to combine. Let the peas cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally. They should be almost fully cooked.
3. Add your water to the pot and increase the heat to high. Cover the pot with a lid and let the water come to a boil. When the water is boiling, add your pasta and stir it to prevent sticking. Lower the heat slightly and cook the pasta until it’s al dente, stirring frequently to prevent sticking, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pot. When the pasta is cooked, do NOT drain the water.
4. Turn off the heat and stir in your Parmesan and Romano. Taste it to see if you need any extra salt. (You may not, since the Romano is salty.)
5. Serve with extra Parmesan and red pepper flakes at the table. Store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to five days.
Tips: I like to use a white onion here, since it’s more mild than the yellow or red ones. I always use baby peas, since they’re more sweet than regular peas. If you want to make this with meat, you can add chopped pancetta when the onions are soft.