I adore pasta. I lived in Italy twice in my 20s, once as a student and once to teach. I ate pasta daily with a salad. Every evening, my friends and I would take turns to meet at someone’s house for dinner. It was always stress-free because that’s what we all served: pasta and salad (and wine). Simple meals and excellent company is really all one needs in life.
In my low-carb days (oh those dark, dark times), I felt terribly deprived. Carbohydrates make us happy. Restricting them is a recipe for misery (and heart attacks – as decreasing carbs by default means increasing protein and/or fat).
I eat potatoes – sweet or the regular kind – almost daily. A bowl of boiled or steamed mash (or simply chopped) can be had with mustard, fresh or dried herbs, Italian seasoning, salsa, chilli flakes, pesto, a few teaspoons of coconut milk (especially good for re-heating to keep the potatoes from sticking to the pan), or countless other toppings.
I learnt my favourite way to have steamed/boiled sweet potatoes from my beautiful friend Anusha: a teaspoon of chaat masala and the juice of one lime. Chaat masala (a dried mix of mango powder, cumin, cayenne and other spices) can be found in any Indian food store, though they tend to be rather salty. Recipes for making the spice mix at home can be found online.
Carbs are practically my dose of anti-depressants. I do still eat pasta, especially when dining out, but rarely have it at home now, as it’s highly refined. It is a far cry from eating at a family-run trattoria with the grandmother rolling out fresh pasta in the corner.
Likewise with bread. I love my Florence memories of walking home at 5am (we danced all night in those days) to the smell of freshly made bread seeping out from behind the shuttered bakeries we passed. As with a lot of European countries, Italians take their bread very seriously. It’s made with love. I don’t shun bread, but most commercial varieties don’t taste very good to me.
However, I was missing my pasta meals – so quick, so easy, so simple. My Italy years had taught me the pasta itself is largely a base, and it’s the sauces or toppings that add flavour, nutrients and variety. I had to stop myself from having it daily. I then discovered a healthier way of getting my fix.
Zoodles are zucchini (courgette) “noodles”. I prefer a dish to be itself and not a wannabe, but in this case, the substitute is a raw vegetable so, you know, it’s better. And faster, as there’s no cooking time.
I was using my regular peeler to slice the vegetables into thin strips but I eat this several times a week, so ended up buying a julienne peeler. This looks like and is used like a normal peeler, only it makes fine strands out of the vegetable, looking just like spaghetti, which is very satisfying for the eyes. And I’ve learnt to never underestimate the power of a visually pleasing meal. After all, we eat with all our senses.
Raw Zoodles Recipe
- 1 courgette/zucchini or 1 yellow squash, or a mix of both
- vegetable toppings or pasta sauce
• Peel the skin and chop the ends of the zucchini/courgette.
• Using a regular peeler or julienne peeler, continue peeling lengthwise until you hit seed.
• You can steam the strands for two minutes but I prefer eating mine raw.
Dress it like your favourite pasta dish: pesto, tomato sauce, or simply with vegetables:
- diced red and yellow bell peppers/capsicum (¼ of each)
- ½ diced cucumber
- sweet corn
- 1 diced tomato
- ½ avocado, cubed
- teaspoon of pine nuts
- squeeze half a lemon over for dressing
Okay, so it looks like pasta, but how does it taste? It doesn’t have that spreading sweet warmth that a bowl of pasta gives without much difficulty, but it works for me.
Remember: strands of raw vegetables are not as substantial as cooked pasta so, as with salads, this should contain some hefty ingredients to avoid feeling hungry an hour later. A pile of chunky tomato sauce works wonderfully, as does half an avocado or more root vegetables.
Try subbing zoodles in your favourite noodle recipes too: have them with steamed boy choy and white sesame seeds, for example, or green curry and vegetables.
I also like making a raw version of Thai green papaya salad (serves 2 as appetiser):
- 1 julienned raw green papaya
- 1 julienned carrot
- 1 thinly sliced small purple cabbage
- 1 tablespoon peanuts, roasted/dry fried and then lightly mashed
- 1 green chilli, finely chopped (optional)
- dressing: ½ lime, 2 teaspoons tamarind juice and ½ teaspoon honey.
Read The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy. Okay, so this isn’t about avocados at all – it’s a smart, pacey novel about a young American woman in Paris in the 1960s. Fab read; I’ve recommended it to many friends.
Watch Chef, another coming-of-age story, though this one is about a middle-aged man who finds his own groove again. I’m overlooking the irritating tendency of older/fat male writer-director-actors (in this case Jon Favreau) of giving himself two stunning svelte young girlfriends on screen.