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Turning Plain Pasta Into a Satisfying and Low-Calorie Alternative

Eating plain, unadulterated pasta may be one of the best ways to meet the body’s daily requirement for carbohydrates, but it is sure to be one of the dullest.

It’s true that carbohydrates, such as pasta, potatoes and breads and cereals, are the most efficiently used sources of energy for the body--providing about 4 calories for each gram taken in. But they have received a bad rap over the years as major contributors of fat to the diet, when in reality it is the rich cream sauces and toppings of mounds of butter and cheese that typically accompany them that add so many pounds.

The truth is, one cup of cooked macaroni or spaghetti contains only about a gram of fat, 155 to 190 calories depending upon the cooked stage (firm is higher in calories than tender), and almost 40 grams of carbohydrate, according to USDA’s Home and Garden Bulletin No. 72, Nutritive Value of Foods. (Fifty-five grams is the suggested daily allowance. There is no Recommended Dietary Allowance.)

When accented with fresh, aromatic herbs and spices and served in the above proportion with skinless poultry or lean beef and fish, pasta dishes can be satisfying and low-calorie at the same time, meeting the recommendation quite nicely.

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Canned salmon, which also is an excellent source of quality protein, is another way to experiment with pasta dishes--whether served warm, in a mushroom soup-yogurt sauce over fettuccine or tossed with spaghetti, tomatoes, celery and cucumber and chilled, as suggested in the recipes that follow.

Substitute rich cream-based sauces with nonfat milk-based ones or top with unusual vegetable mixtures. To further slash fat calories, sprinkle Parmesan cheese over just before serving, rather than stirring in high-fat cheeses during cooking time.

SESAME-PINEAPPLE-CHICKEN PASTA SALAD

1 (8-ounce) can pineapple chunks, in juice

2 tablespoons sesame oil

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon minced crystallized ginger

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1 clove garlic, pressed

2 cups cooked spiral pasta

1 cup cooked diced chicken

2 tablespoons sliced green onions

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2 cups cooked broccoli flowerets

1/3 cup sweet red pepper strips

1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted

Drain pineapple, reserving 1/3 cup juice. Combine juice, oil, honey, soy sauce, ginger and garlic in jar with tight-fitting lid. Shake to mix well.

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Combine pineapple, pasta, chicken and onions. Toss with dressing. Cover and refrigerate 2 hours. Add broccoli and red pepper and toss well. Sprinkle with seeds. Makes 4 servings.

FETTUCCINE AL SALMON

1 (10 3/4-ounce) can cream of mushroom soup

1/2 cup plain yogurt

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2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

2 tablespoons chopped chives

2 tablespoons finely chopped green onions

1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon leaves, crushed

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1/4 teaspoon cracked pepper

1 clove garlic, minced

1 (15-ounce) can salmon, drained, skin and bones removed

4 cups hot cooked fettuccine

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Combine soup, yogurt, parsley, chives, green onions, tarragon, pepper and garlic in 1-quart saucepan. Heat over medium heat to simmer, stirring occasionally. Add salmon and heat through. Toss together soup mixture and fettuccine before serving. Makes 4 servings.

CHILLED SALMON PASTA

6 ounces thin or regular spaghetti

1 (7 3/4-ounce) can salmon

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1/3 cup oil

1/4 cup vinegar

1/2 teaspoon dried basil leaves, crumbled

1/4 teaspoon salt

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1/4 teaspoon black pepper

3/4 cup chopped tomato

1/2 cup chopped celery

1/2 cup chopped cucumber

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1/4 cup chopped green onions

1/4 cup minced parsley

Tomato wedges

Grated Parmesan cheese

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Cook spaghetti according to package directions. Drain. Drain salmon, reserving 1 teaspoon liquid. Break into small chunks. Combine reserved liquid with oil, vinegar, basil, salt and pepper. Pour over warm spaghetti. Cool.

Toss with salmon, tomato, celery, cucumber, green onions and parsley, then chill thoroughly. Garnish with tomato wedges and sprinkle with cheese before serving. Makes 6 servings.

MACARONI AND BEAN SALAD

1 (16-ounce) can pork and beans in tomato sauce

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2 cups cooked elbow macaroni

1 cup diagonally sliced celery

1/2 cup sliced radishes

3 tablespoons oil

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2 tablespoons finely chopped onion

2 tablespoons vinegar

1 medium clove garlic, minced

Dash black pepper

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Combine beans, macaroni, celery, radishes, oil, onion, vinegar, garlic and pepper. Refrigerate 4 hours to blend flavors. Stir before serving. Makes 5 servings.

NORDIC PASTA SALAD

1/3 cup oil

1/4 cup lemon juice

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1 teaspoon dry mustard

1 teaspoon dill weed

Salt, pepper

8 ounces fusilli, or small-shell pasta, cooked, drained and cooled

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1 cup shredded zucchini

1/2 cup halved cherry tomatoes

1/4 cup sliced green onions

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

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2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

2 (3 3/4-ounce) cans sardines in oil, drained

Lettuce leaves

Combine oil, lemon juice, mustard, dill and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

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Combine pasta, zucchini, tomatoes, green onions, cheese and sesame seeds in large bowl. Pour dressing over mixture, tossing to coat. Add sardines, toss gently, then chill. Serve on bed of lettuce. Makes 4 servings.


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