Cheese, bread, pizza (essentially cheese + bread), French fries, potato chips and, yup, pasta, together make up my list of can’t-live-without foods. I could easily give up chocolate for the rest of my life, but come between me and my barbecue chips and you’re asking for trouble! Seriously. Watch your back.
While I don’t like to label any one food as “bad,” there’s no question that my favourite eats fall into the “best enjoyed in moderation” category. But this is ok, because it’s all about quality over quantity, as well as being creative and open-minded in the kitchen.
Here’s my take on the quality over quantity angle: I’d much rather have a thumb-sized chunk of the most pungent, flavourful, stinkiest cheese you can imagine (what? I happen to love a good stinky cheese!) than have an unlimited supply of the fake or low-fat stuff. A brief moment of enjoyment and appreciation for quality easily trumps a prolonged period of stuffing one’s face.
Now for the creativity and open-mindedness part. Sometimes it helps to be flexible with your favourite not-so-healthy foods. Thinking outside the box even just a little bit lets you enjoy the things you like about them (creamy, warm, filling) while keeping a balanced diet as the goal (vegetables, fibre, nutrients).
This is a good strategy for foods that you could easily feast on every day in large quantities, like bread or pasta. The solution is to either enjoy these foods as they are only once in a while, or tweak them so that they more closely resemble a balanced meal that you can eat more often. This was my line of thinking behind this creamy pasta recipe.
I used Bon Appetit’s squash sauce recipe as a general guide to get the texture right and paired it with whole wheat orecchiette, one of my favourite pasta shapes of late. Cauliflower makes a great addition to pasta because of its chunky, sauce-clinging texture and bulk (it takes up lots of space, meaning you need less pasta in general).
This dish also happens to highlight naturally colourful foods which are rich in health-boosting nutrients. The combination of bright green peas, purple cauliflower and vibrant yellow butternut squash is both beautiful and nutritious.
And finally, for those foods that don’t really come in “high quality” versions and can’t be manipulated to have a healthier profile–like my beloved store-bought potato chips–these strategies obviously don’t apply. In those cases, I make a point of enjoying a small bowlful every once in a while. It satisfies my salty tooth (if that’s even a thing!) and prevents me from feeling deprived.
What’s on your list of can’t-live-without foods? How do you incorporate them into your diet? Leave a comment and let me know :)
- 1 head cauliflower, trimmed, cut into bite-sized florets
- Canola oil spray
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1-inch chunks
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 2 cups whole wheat orecchiette pasta (or any other short pasta such as penne, macaroni, etc.)
- 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
- 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
- Pre-heat oven to 400°F. Arrange cauliflower florets in a single layer on a large parchment-lined baking sheet; spray with canola oil, toss and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to oven and roast until slightly browned and fork-tender, about 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add squash, onion, and garlic to skillet; season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, 8–10 minutes. Add broth and bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until squash is soft and liquid is reduced by half, 15–20 minutes. Let cool slightly, then purée in a blender until smooth; season with salt and pepper. Reserve pan.
- Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking water.
- Combine pasta, squash sauce, cauliflower, peas and ¼ cup pasta cooking liquid in reserved skillet and cook over medium heat, tossing and adding more pasta water if needed, until sauce coats pasta, about 2 minutes. Top with the grated cheese and season with salt and pepper.
- Serve immediately, topping with more cheese if desired.
- Timing tip: Prep the butternut squash, onion and cauliflower at the same time so that you can make the squash sauce while the cauliflower is roasting. While the squash and cauliflower are cooking, about halfway through, boil the water for the pasta. Everything will then be ready to assemble at roughly the same time.
- Or, make the squash sauce ahead, let cool, cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.