One thing I love about the 5:2 diet is that there are no restrictions on the type of food you can have on diet days, only on the calorie content. That means if you’ve got a craving for pasta on diet day, you can have it as long as it’s low calorie.
Believe it or not, this delicious pasta dish is under 250 calories for a good-sized portion. It doesn’t use any expensive ingredients such as zero-calorie pasta, nor any fool-the-eye-but-not-the-palate tricks like using courgette ribbons or spaghetti squash instead of regular pasta.
Instead, it balances calorie-heavy pasta with lots of vegetables, plus just enough sauce to coat everything nicely.
It took me a few tries to get both the technique and the sauce right. I first tried modifying my pasta bake recipe, using less oil to saute the vegetables and omitting the crispy breadcrumb topping. The problem was, after the dish had been in the oven for 20 minutes, the pasta sucked up all the sauce and the dish was really dry. Plus, without the breadcrumb topping, the pasta started to dry out, even though it was covered with foil. I ended up adding some tomato juice to moisten it.
This led to my second experiment, which involved making the dish on the stovetop instead. I decided to use macaroni rather than bow tie pasta because I figured the hollow tubes would look like more on the plate than flat pasta does (it worked). I sauteed the vegetables, cooked the macaroni, then added everything together with tomato juice and let it sit in the saucepan for 20 minutes, the idea being that the pasta would soak up some of the extra moisture from the juice and become infused with flavour. While it an improvement on the first try, the tomato juice didn’t really work, as it wasn’t the right texture for pasta sauce and reminded me somewhat of tomato soup.
And then, third time was the charm. Instead of using tomato juice, I used passata thinned with water. I sauteed the vegetables, added passata and seasonings, then combined it with with the cooked macaroni and let it sit in the pot, covered, for 20 minutes or so. I then reheated and served it.
Perfection! The pasta and vegetables were perfectly coated in sauce, and it looked and tasted like a much more calorific dish. Letting it sit after cooking not only allowed the macaroni to swell a bit and look like a bigger portion than it actually was, it infused the macaroni with the flavour of the sauce.
Because the dish is just 250 calories, it leaves room for having low-calorie soup or salad as a starter.
I used onion, bell pepper, mushrooms, plum tomatoes and char-grilled artichoke hearts, the latter of which I purchased from the Waitrose deli. I love the texture and flavour of these artichokes, but of course you can substitute other vegetables with a similar calorie count.
SKILLET MAC WITH SAUTEED VEG
- 1/4 cup (35g) dry elbow macaroni
- 1/2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
- 3 Tablespoons (35g) diced onion
- 1/3 cup (50g) diced sweet peppers
- 3/4 cup (50g) white button mushrooms
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1/4 cup (40g) chargrilled artichoke hearts, chopped
- 1/2 cup (75g) cherry tomatoes, halved
- 2 Tablespoons (30g) tomato sauce (passata)
- 2 Tablespoons (30g) water
- 1/4 teaspoon dried basil
Heat olive oil in a heavy skillet and saute onion for two minutes. Add peppers and continue to saute for an additional 10 minutes, until onion & peppers are soft.
Add mushrooms and saute until mushrooms have released their liquid, about five more minutes. Add garlic and cook an additional minute, then add artichoke hearts and continue to cook another minute.
Push vegetables to the side of the pan and add in the tomatoes. Cook until they are soft, at which point you can carefully slip off the tomato skins if desired.
Add passata, water & basil, and mix everything together. Cook the sauce for about 10 more minutes to meld the flavours.
While vegetables are cooking, bring a pot of water to the boil, salt the water and cook macaroni according to package directions.
Drain macaroni, add it back to the pot and then add the hot vegetables/sauce and mix well. Put the lid on the pot and set aside (off the heat) for 20 minutes.
Reheat gently and serve.