22 December 2009

Confessions of a Complex Carboholic

I love pasta. I am Italian, so I guess I am suppose to love it. I own it. Alaina thinks I the amount of pasta I consume on a weekly basis is crazy. I mean, honestly, I could eat pasta for lunch and dinner nearly every day. Do I get tired of it? Nope. Growing up in an Italian family with two brothers who had the appetites of large barnyard animals and could consume as much food as an emerging third-world nation, my mother made sure to provide us with as many low cost, high volume food choices as possible. Pasta was the inheritance of a bloodline that assuredly, went back countless generations. I never complained. I loved it then, and probably love it more now. If I could eat one thing for the rest of my life, this high complex carbohydrate masterpiece would be just the thing. Alaina said she could eat salad forever. Not sure I could do that, but I digress.

I learned recently that I must look very Italian as well. When I walked into Luca's lunchroom to meet him one day a couple of weeks ago, a kid in another second grade class came up to me and said, "You look Italian." I felt like Arnold Schwarzeneger in Kindergarten Cop when a child out of the blue says "boys have a penis... girls have a vagina." I just kind of looked at him with a gaping mouth and nodded stupidly. Finally, I said, "yes, I am Italian." Good thing too, I am sure he would have not been able to sleep that night. Back to my  love of pasta. I could not have chosen a better combination of fuel and tastiness. Pasta is a complex carbohydratechains of three or more single sugar molecules linked together. Long chains of sugar molecules are called starches and they serve as the storage form of energy in plants. Branched complex carbohydrates called cellulose form the structural components that give plants their shape. Nutritionists say that at least have of our daily caloric intake should come from complex carbohydrates found in  plant foods--which include fruits, vegetables, bread, pasta, and legumes. Lately, we have been eating more whole wheat pasta. I like it. It is a little nuttier than it's bleached counterpart, but much better for you in terms of nutritional value and carbohydrate efficiency. 

Endurance athletes in particular benefit from fuel-efficient complex carbohydrates because of the extra calories burned each day. You need to aim for even more total carbohydrates than the suggested 50 percent. You can eat (in fact, may need to eat) more total calories without worrying about weight gain. The average runner training for a half marathon and running 20 to 25 miles a week probably needs a daily caloric intake near 2,500 to maintain muscle glycogen stores. As your mileage climbs beyond that, you need to eat more and more food, not less. In all honesty, this is why a lot of runners run, and why they train for marathons. Their common motto is, "I love to eat."

 Below, I've listed ----- of my favorite ways to enjoy this culinary gem in no particular order:

1) Pesto: Made from fresh basil, olive oil, and the undisputed king of all cheeses, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and sometimes (although my wife does not use it in hers, pinenuts.)  Penne with homemade pesto (pronounced 'pay-sto')—do not even approach me with that weak Americanized pronunciation of one of my favorite pasta sauces. Even the Merriam-Webster online dictionary hacks the pronunciation if this wonderfully fresh sauce. pes-(ˌ)tō. How dare they refer to it as 'pest-o!'  I am not sure if it annoys me nearly as much as the "shh" sound everyone makes when referring to bruschetta. \brü-ˈshe-tə, -ˈske-\. Ugh, it's the latter,m 'ske! Moving on, but more about bruschetta later. 

2) Cavatelli with Brocolli: What I am currently eating for lunch as I write this post. People who say they do not have enough time to make meals for lunch or dinner need to get their heads examined. Start to finish: 20 minutes. Boil water. Prepare broccoli in pan with olive oil, garlic, and crushed red pepper. Cook the cavatelli for 4-6 minutes (it's fresh pasta, so it does not need as long to cook. You'll know it's done when the pasta starts to float to the top.) Drain, and put it in the pan with the broccoli and turn up the heat to medium high. I like getting the pasta a bit crispy on the outside. Salt and pepper to taste. Violà! A finished meal in under 20 minutes.

3) Penne Vodka: Excuse my crassness. This might as well just called 'crack.' If you are looking for a great pre-race, high carb, low-fat meal, then look somewhere else. This uses pork fat in the form of proscuitto, a type of cured ham that is both high in salt and fat. The sauce uses a combination of tomato sauce and cream, giving it a rosy or pink color. Finish it off with some fresh parsly right out of the garden. This is a great post-race "job well-done!" kind of meal. It should be treated like Superman's treatment of the crystals on Krypton: there if you need it, but use sparingly. 

4) Cavatelli Salad: Ah, cavatelli again! This is one of my favorite summer dishes. I love this meal because I can prepare it quickly after a workout. Start to finish: 20 minutes. Bring water to boil. Dice tomato's, mince garlic, cut part skim mozzarella up into little squares, and chop some fresh basil—I like a lot of basil and garlic—I'm Italian, remember. Pour olive oil and minced garlic into the bottom of a large pasta bowl (the amount of both will vary according to the amount of pasta you are cooking.) When the pasta is done, drain it and set it aside. I like to let the pasta cool down a little, but I like to put it in the bowl with the garlic while it is still warm to bring out more of the flavor in the garlic. If you are not worried about keeping vampires away, or would like to get close to your significant other at the end of the night, you may want to use some discretion here. I put in the basil and cheese in at the end so that it does not melt. I do not like it all melty. I am not making Rueben's here. When you are done, sprinkle a little balsamic vinegar over the top of it and share with someone you love. I love the freshness of this dish, especially outside during the summer. I will often refrigerate this right after making it and eat it for lunch the following day. 

Back to bruschetta \brü-ˈske-tə, -ˈske-\. I have such fond memories of this food. When I was a child, my father use to make this for me almost every weekend. He would cut pieces of bread up, cook them in the fireplace on a small grill rack. When both sides got toasty, he would rub garlic on the bread, then finish it off with some virgin olive oil and salt. I loved it. I didn't know why exactly. It seems pretty simple. But it is so delicious. Real, simple food. None of the '"frills:" tomato's, basil, sardines, etc.— albeit yummy—that I witness when I go out to a restaurant. Perhaps that is what I love so much about it. Now, I make it for my kids every so often, and it has become this exotic culinary staple that daddy only makes on special nights. Hysterical! 

One of my all-time favorite meals is pairing bruschetta with a nice glass of chianti accompanied by some olives, and pieces of parmigiano. It should be illegal in several states.


Kelly said...

yum...you should have a warning at the top of posts like these "Read at your own risk, whether or not you just ate dinner."

Mary Eggers said...

Um...... I second that Kelly!

Julie said...


You're hillarious! I never realized your obsession with pasta. As a fello Italian, I couldn't agree more. I feel that strongly about pizza. I could literally eat it every day of my life:) So...the moral of the story is, being a triathlete means you can eat all the pasta you want! Right?