Italian dinners can be hard to resist.
They can also be loaded with unnecessary calories and refined carbohydrates. Think: buttery breadsticks and fettuccini slathered in high-fat Alfredo sauce.
Although pasta — especially the whole-wheat variety — is fine in moderation, typical Italian meals tend to surpass appropriate serving sizes. However, a smaller portion might leave the diner craving for more.
There’s a way to almost trick your mind into thinking you’re enjoying a hefty portion of your all-time favorite pasta dish: Add veggies — a lot of them.
You can even swap out pasta altogether and substitute spaghetti squash, a veggie that’s trending in the healthy-foodie world. Although the texture is different, the squash has a crunchy, mildly nutty flavor that tastes great as a side or staple ingredient of a main dish.
If you don’t like the idea of completely removing the pasta from your meal, you can mix the strands of squash with one serving of pasta to keep your calories in check.
Here’s a spaghetti squash primavera recipe, adapted from Weight Watchers, that tastes almost like something you’d eat at your favorite Italian restaurant.
Spaghetti Squash Primavera
2½ pounds spaghetti squash (1 medium)
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 small onion
1 clove minced garlic
1 cup broccoli florets
¼ cup chopped green pepper
¼ cup chopped yellow pepper
¼ cup chopped red peppers
1 cup spinach
14.5 ounce canned diced tomatoes, drained (reserve juice)
6 ounces canned tomato paste
¾ cups water
2 tablespoons basil
4 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
Microwave spaghetti squash for 45 seconds to soften before cutting. Slice off top and bottom to create a sturdy base. Cut squash in half. Scoop out seeds. Cut halves in half.
Place two halves, flesh side down, in a microwave-safe dish filled with ¼ inch of water. Microwave for seven to 10 minutes. Repeat with the other half.
While squash is cooking, heat oil in a large skillet. Sauté onion and garlic for 1 minute. Add broccoli, peppers and spinach. Cook 3 to 4 minutes.
Stir in reserved tomato juice, tomato paste and water. Simmer until vegetables are tender, about 8 minutes. Stir in diced tomatoes and basil, and simmer for 1 more minute.
Using a fork, scrape the stringy squash pulp from shell. Top about 1½ cups of squash with 1½ cups of sauce and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.
Nutritional info: 182 calories, 4.9 grams of fat, 32.4 grams of carbohydrates, 7.7 grams of fiber, 14.7 grams of sugar, 7.7 grams of protein