It’s a good idea to take a break from the holiday overload of cinnamon buns and sugar cookies, and cutting back on white bread and added sugars is sound resolution material.
But it’s important not to lump all carbohydrates together. Vegetables, whole fruits, beans and whole grains are carbohydrate-rich foods most of us should resolve to eat more of. They are not only delicious and satisfying, they are also packed with essential nutrients, health-protective antioxidants and fiber. Carbs can be part of an overall eating pattern that is clearly linked to better health.
This recipe is a perfect example of how balance and satisfaction can come together in a comforting bowl. It is packed with vegetables (sun-dried tomatoes and escarole, but you could substitute any hearty green such as kale, spinach or arugula); lean protein (cannellini beans); healthful fat (olive oil); garlic that is cooked low and slow until it is toasted and mellowed; and a hint of fresh sage. The pasta is whole-grain, which stands up beautifully to the dish’s deep flavors and is full of fiber and antioxidants.
But here’s a news flash: This orecchiette dish would be good for you even if you made it with regular white/wheat pasta. I was surprised to learn recently that regular pasta, cooked al dente, has a moderate glycemic index (meaning it doesn’t cause a big spike in blood sugar), one that is actually lower than that of brown rice and oatmeal.
Orecchiette with Escarole, White Beans and Toasted Garlic
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the cooking water
12 ounces dried whole-grain orecchiette pasta (may substitute regular wheat orecchiette)
1/4 cup olive oil
4 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 medium head escarole, chopped (about 6 cups lightly packed; may substitute kale, spinach or arugula)
6 medium vacuum-packed sun-dried tomatoes, plumped in hot water if very dry, chopped (about 1/4 cup)
One 15-ounce can no-salt-added cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon fresh chopped sage
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for optional garnish
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add a generous pinch of salt, then the dried pasta; cook for 1 minute less than for al dente, according to the package directions. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta into a colander.
Meanwhile, combine the oil and garlic in a large skillet over medium heat. Once the oil begins to shimmer, reduce the heat to low; cook for about 8 minutes, stirring frequently, until the garlic is a light golden brown. Be careful not to let it burn.
Add the escarole; increase the heat to medium and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring once or twice, until it has wilted. Stir in the chopped sun-dried tomatoes, beans, sage, crushed red pepper flakes, the 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the black pepper; cook, stirring, just until warmed through.
If the pasta is not yet done, remove the skillet from the heat and cover it to keep it warm. If the pasta is done, add 1/2 cup of its reserved cooking water and the 1/4 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano to the skillet, stirring to create a sauce; increase the heat to medium-high, then add the cooked pasta, stirring for 1 to 2 minutes or until the pasta is al dente and has absorbed some of the sauce.
If the mixture seems dry, add some or all of the remaining pasta cooking water, as needed.
Serve right away, sprinkled with more cheese, if desired.
Nutrition per serving: 560 calories, 19 g protein, 81 g carbohydrates, 19 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 360 mg sodium, 17 g dietary fiber, 5 g sugar