At least once a week (usually twice), we eat some type of Italian meal for dinner. This has been the norm in our home for years, as there is something so comforting about Italian food, you know? I think it actually started around the time I got hooked on watching The Bachelor and The Bachelorette (Ashley’s and JP’s season was my first). I loved the ritual of having a big ‘ol glass of red wine and a bowl of pasta as I witnessed the inevitable drama unfold each week. While my diet and approach to health has evolved significantly since those days, my love for Italian food (and The Bachelor) remains steady.
In the fall of 2013, when I decided to transition to a more whole foods diet and lifestyle, one of the first things I made from scratch was pasta sauce. After more closely reading ingredient labels and becoming acutely aware of how much sugar and other junk is added to pre-made pasta sauce, I decided to make my own. Not only was it super simple to do, it rivaled my all-time favorite brand (Rao’s in case you are wondering) and was a whole lot less expensive.
When we started getting rid of processed foods, the packaged cheese tortellini obviously got the boot and we also bid farewell to all types of pasta—regardless of whether it was whole wheat or gluten free. We were both feeling sluggish and each carrying around more than a few extra lbs; we knew that eating less starchy carbohydrates would mean better blood sugar control and help with weight loss and management (totally true by the way).
We made most of our changes overnight—I literally purged our entire pantry and refrigerator of any and everything containing sugar, gluten, and dairy, but I acknowledge that’s not always feasible for everyone. Living a real foods lifestyle isn’t black and white; small changes can make a big difference. Start were you can, (like by making your own pasta sauce!), and slowly continue to clean up your diet. Along the way try to tune into how you feel and take note of inevitable positive shifts in your mood, energy, and digestion. Cliché or not, eating real whole foods really is life changing.
Another thing that’s life changing? The spiralizer. Do you all own one of these kitchen gadgets? If not, I am going to urge you to go to Williams Sonoma RIGHT NOW and buy one (that’s not an affiliate link by the way—I don’t know how to use those yet ha). They are super inexpensive—I think I paid $39 for mine—and are essential to making nutritious, grain-free vegetable noodle dishes. Spiralizers are also awesome for creating the prettiest salads and slaws, as well as a million other healthy recipes.
We mostly use ours for zucchini noodles (a.k.a. zoodles). If you want more ideas on what to do with zoodles or how to use a spiralizer, head over to Inspiralized, the genius website of Ali Maffuci on all things spiralized. She also has an awesome cookbook. I’ve been following Ali’s spiralizing pursuits since she started her blog and it’s been awesome to watch her success. She is the Queen of Spiralizing and I truly love how she champions people to include more vegetables in their diet. (Ali, you ROCK!)
Like I said, this recipe is super easy and really, really nutritious. Garlic and onions are two of the most healthful foods you can eat. They are members of the allium family and have been praised for hundreds and thousands of years for their wealth of medicinal properties. I actually shared a post all about onions and what makes them so amazing last Friday. You can check it out here. Suffice to say that regularly including yellow onions in your diet is a must for anyone trying to heal their gut and optimize their digestion. Onions are rich with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, antiviral, and anti-cancer compounds.
Garlic is hands down my favorite superfood. OK I admit, I have a lot of “favorite” superfoods so I probably shouldn’t claim that any one is my favorite. Still, I can’t help but get excited when I talk about this stuff because food truly is medicine—especially garlic. Anyway, GARLIC contains crazy high amounts of allicin, which is akin to the potent antibiotic penicillin. It’s true that eating garlic won’t fend off bacteria to the same degree that being injected with a shot of penicillin would, but it’s still a majorly effective antibacterial (in the old days people used to rub raw garlic on their wounds!).
Garlic is also considered one of the most potent tumor cell inhibitors. Studies have shown that compared to other anticancer foods like cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, kale, broccoli, etc.), garlic takes the cake. Some people believe that eating more garlic may be the single best thing you can do to protect against cancer (other than not smoking or eating lead paint obviously). The only caveat is that garlic’s medicinal properties are highly dependent on how it’s prepared and cooked.
Eating garlic raw is the quickest way to reap its vast health benefits but that’s not to say you can’t still obtain them when cooking it. However, to get the most out of cooked garlic, you need to ensure that allicin is created and this only occurs when two substances found in garlic come in contact with each other. Specifically, these two substances are a protein called alliin and a heat sensitive enzyme called alliinase. Because these two substances are not contained within the same part of garlic, you must force them to come into contact with each other by breaking the barrier that holds them apart.
This can easily be accomplished by chewing, chopping, or pressing garlic cloves. Now that you’ve got the alliin and alliinase together, it’s key to give the enzyme alliinase enough time to work its magic before subjecting it to high heat or else you’ll render it dysfunctional. It takes about 10 minutes for all the allicin to be produced. When cooking garlic (as you’ll do in this recipe), make sure to press it or chop it and then let it rest away from the heat for 10 minutes minimum. I’ll be talking about garlic in more depth in The Curated Kitchen weekly series, which I share on the blog every Friday. Don’t miss it!
Tomatoes also deserve a bit of love seeing how they, too, are full of antioxidants and medicinal properties, all which actually increase when cooked. Cooking breaks down the tomato’s cell walls, which allows the nutrients contained within it to be more bioavailable and it also makes its lycopene easier to absorb. After about 30 minutes of cooking, a tomato’s lycopene content is nearly doubled. What! It’s true. This characteristic also gives canned tomato products—which are subjected to high heat during the canning process—a leg up on those found in the produce section.
So while ordinarily canned/jarred foods fall under the umbrella of processed foods and ideally are minimized, this is one clear instance where a bit of processing isn’t necessarily a bad thing. My suggestion is to buy BPA-free cans if you are able. When I photographed this recipe, I used what I had on hand from Trader Joe’s, but there are lots of BPA-free options with my fave probably being Muir Glen. One more bit of advice, try to purchase organic tomatoes (especially cherry tomatoes) when possible, as they are one of the foods on the Dirty Dozen list.
Of course, you actually don’t even have to make the sauce if you want to keep it really simple, but I personally always need sauce. Seriously need it. After all, I’m the girl who used to order pizza with four sides of red sauce (yes, four) and eat marinara and salsa like it’s tomato soup (it’s not that different, OK?). The reason you could probably live without making the sauce is because the roasted cherry tomatoes get perfectly blistered (some even burst open) creating a magical sauce on their own that nicely compliments the charred yellow onion and roasted mushrooms. Add an extra bit of fresh pressed garlic, basil, pine nuts, and nutritional yeast and boom—instant deliciousness!
// RECIPE //
ZUCCHINI NOODLES WITH ROASTED VEGETABLES & SPICY MARINARA
Serves: 2 | Prep time: 15 minutes | Cook time: 30 minutes
4–5 medium zucchini, peeled and spiralized
1 pint organic crimini mushrooms, washed and halved
1–2 small yellow onions, sliced
4 cups organic baby spinach
2 pints organic cherry tomatoes
3–4 medium organic tomatoes
1 16-ounce can organic tomatoes, diced no added salt
1 can organic tomato paste
2 garlic cloves, pressed
red chili pepper flakes
sea salt and pepper
avocado oil for roasting vegetables
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
2 tbs pine nuts
nutritional yeast (for topping if desired; adds a boost of B vitamins and protein!)
- Pre-heat oven to 400-degrees Fahrenheit. Line a large baking sheet with foil or parchment paper and brush with avocado oil (can also use coconut oil if you don’t mind a bit of coconut flavor).
- Press garlic and set aside in a small dish. This is critical to ensure that there is enough time for allicin to be created before destroying the heat sensitive enzyme with heat!
- Wash and chop mushrooms, slice onions, and quarter larger tomatoes. Spread vegetables, including cherry tomatoes (they can go on uncut) on baking sheet. Season liberally with sea salt, pepper, and oregano and roast for 25-30 minutes, or until tomatoes are blistered.
- Start the tomato basil marinara sauce. Empty the can of organic diced tomatoes into a small saucepan along with the can of tomato paste. If you prefer a thinner sauce, you can only use half of the can or add water as needed while it cooks.
- Add fresh chopped basil (about 8-10 leaves), pressed garlic cloves, and red chili pepper flakes (about 1-2 tsp depending on how much heat you like!) to saucepan, season with salt, pepper, and oregano (~1 tbs) and stir to combine. Bring sauce to a boil and then reduce to a simmer and cover, allowing it to cook for about 20 minutes. Add water as needed during the cooking process if it gets too thick.
- While vegetables are roasting prepare zoodles. Using a vegetable peeler, skin zucchini and chop off the ends. Spiralize zucchini into noodles using the smaller noodle blade. If you don’t have a spiralizer, you can buy one here. Set zoodles aside.
- Prepare sautéed spinach. Add spinach and a splash of water to a nonstick pan and heat on medium high until the spinach leaves are wilted. Drain excess water, place in a bowl, and set aside.
- Using the same pan, lightly cook the zoodles. Simply add zoodles to the pan and saute for about 2-3 minutes, until zoodles have softened slightly. Do not overcook or they will be really soggy!
- Assemble “pasta bowls” with zucchini noodles on the bottom topped with sauteed spinach, roasted vegetables, pine nut, and drizzle about 1 tbs extra virgin olive oil on each bowl. Enjoy!
Cooking the zoodles is completely optional. In fact, I skip this step altogether—the heat from the roasted tomatoes and vegetables is enough to wilt the zucchini noodles on its own (in my opinion). And while I know microwaves are frowned upon, they are pretty helpful! I prefer to pop my zoodles in the microwave for about 2 minutes to warm them up and then add the roasted vegetables. I find it lends a much more al dente “noodle” compared to cooking them in a pan. Just keeping it real, you know?!
Feel free to add protein per preference. We often bake organic chicken sausage (this is my favorite brand if you can find it!) or organic chicken breasts with rosemary—both are equally amazing with this meal. Alternatively, you can serve with garbanzo beans or another vegetarian protein source.
OK so I have to admit that I timed this recipe post pretty darn perfectly given that ABC announced the next bachelor last night. I’m STOKED it’s Ben H (and glad it’s not Nick!). Seriously. Cannot. Wait. What do you guys think about Ben H.? Who was your favorite cast off from Kaitlyn’s season? Will Ben H. find true love in 2016?! AH! The drama!
While you (and I) wait patiently for 2016 to arrive, I hope you’ll give this simple zucchini recipe a try. It is the perfect starting point for anyone looking to up their clean eating game and practice their cooking skillz. That’s right, skillz with z because I’m super hip. (Yeah, I’m really not.) Tag your creations @honestlynourished and using #honestlynourished! I love seeing how you’re putting your own spin on the recipes. See you back here on Friday friends!