A delicious and healthy new recipe that aligns with your resolution to lead a healthier lifestyle might be needed now that we are nearly a month and a half into the New Year. If you’re working to incorporate lifestyle changes like the Mediterranean Diet or the DASH Diet more fully into your day-to-day, our February Pasta Spotlight has got you covered. Meet Abbie Gellman, MS, RD, CDN, a chef and cookbook author who sat down with us to answer the questions we had about her favorite cooking tips, the difference in these lifestyle diets, and how pasta fits into it all.
- How does pasta fit into your healthy lifestyle?
I love pasta! As a single mom with my own business, pasta plays a very important role. It allows me to serve a delicious and nutritious meal that involves minimal prep and cook time. Pasta is so versatile – I can make a quick Bolognese with tomato sauce and ground meat, or sauté up a bunch of vegetables as my pasta topper while the pasta cooks. Any way I prepare it, I’m able to make pasta an integral part of a well-balanced meal for me and my daughter.
- As an RD, can you explain the benefits of both the Mediterranean Diet and DASH Diet and the reasons why pasta makes such a great staple in both? What are your favorite ingredients and foods to pair pasta with?
The DASH diet is a flexible, balanced way of eating that helps create a healthy routine in your daily life. It is an acronym for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension and was created as a method to help lower blood pressure, although you can most certainly benefit from this style of eating even if high blood pressure is not a concern. The overall goal of decreased blood pressure is achieved by consuming whole foods and focusing on an eating pattern that is rich in potassium, magnesium, and calcium with moderate levels of sodium.
I view the Mediterranean Diet approach as a lifestyle, focusing on flavor, texture, and the simple joy of eating. The focus is on whole foods – mostly plants – prepared in a manner designed to maintain a food’s nutritional integrity, so health and wellness benefits naturally follow. Similar to DASH, the Mediterranean diet is a plant-forward approach to eating, but also incorporates ideas around exercise and social activities.
Pasta is a great staple in both diets because it is a nutritious, plant-based carbohydrate that is fairly neutral. This means that we can take a variety of pastas and dress them up any way we like! My favorite pasta meals are pretty straight forward, but still taste great! I often sauté a bunch of vegetables and mix it with spaghetti or angel hair pasta, olive oil, salt, pepper, and cheese. Another typical dinner around my house is homemade marinara sauce, often with some vegetables and ground meat or poultry mixed in and paired with penne or rigatoni. Over the summer, I regularly pair pasta with whatever I find fresh at the farmer’s market that day, such as cherry tomatoes, fresh zucchini, or a bunch of greens.
- What do you see as the biggest negative misconception related to pasta and how do you respond to it?
I often get asked if pasta is “bad” or if it has “too many carbs.” These are usually the misperceptions around pasta and carbohydrates in general, so to dispel them, I often start by asking questions. For example, “why do you think pasta is “bad?” or “what do you think too many carbs is and why do you relate that to pasta?” I find that opening that door first helps in my response.
Once I have a better idea of why someone has a specific thought about pasta, I typically start by explaining carbohydrates and why they are not bad, why we need them, and examples of other foods that also contain carbohydrates. In some cases, it may lead to a discussion about portion sizes and how to add other items to the meal to compliment pasta. And in others, perhaps we end up discussing the difference between junk food and processed hyperpalatables versus pasta, why it is different, and its benefits.
- Tell us more about your cookbook. What kind of recipes/diets are included and how is pasta incorporated?
My cookbook, The Mediterranean DASH Diet, was published in November 2019. Combining my two favorite diets into one, is my favorite approach to an overall healthy lifestyle, and, in my opinion, the very best “forever diet.” I take a generally whole foods approach and try to make recipes that are nutritious, delicious, and simple. The majority of recipes in my book take 30 minutes or less to make, which I think is really helpful for many of us!
My pasta recipes in the book focus on flavorful combinations that are easy to execute. For example, I created a twist on traditional pesto with my Pistachio Mint Pesto Penne. It is vegan, family friendly, and takes less than 30 minutes to prepare. There are also a few vegetarian options that focus on a variety of vegetables, and one that I love is a variation of a classic Sicilian fish pasta dish.
- What’s a pasta cooking tip that you use in your recipes that makes the dish easier to cook and taste better overall?
Always save some pasta water! Once the pasta is done cooking, save about 1 cup of the pasta water. It has some salt and starch, which are very helpful if you are trying to thicken a sauce or add some extra flavor.
6. Finally, can you share one of your pasta recipes with us?
I love salmon pasta! For this recipe, I used smoked salmon, penne pasta, and a cream cheese based sauce with everything bagel spice. I give you NYC Smoked Salmon “Everything Bagel” Penne Pasta!
About Abbie Gellman
Chef Abbie Gellman, MS RD CDN is a spokesperson, recipe and product developer, and educator. She creates, produces, and hosts cooking and nutrition videos and works with a wide variety of food companies/brands/commodity boards, foodservice operators, health professionals, and private clients. She also contributes to many publications; her first cookbook, The Mediterranean DASH Diet, was published November 2019. She is the consulting “Better for You” R&D Chef/Dietitian for the private company Happi Foodi and has created two lines of healthy frozen meals for them under the WalMart Better For You Great Value brand and the Happi Foodi brand; both can currently be found at WalMart. Abbie lives in NYC with her daughter, Olivia, and many shelves of cookbooks. Learn more about her at www.culinarynutritioncuisine.com and connect with her on Instagram (@CNC_Abbie), YouTube (@CulinaryNutritionCuisine), and Facebook (@CulinaryNutritionCuisine).