Why I Think of Pasta as a Crouton, Not a Main Dish

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Faith Durand)

Poor pasta. That most comforting of comfort foods has really had some bad press in recent years. If you’re going gluten free, or paleo, or just following the common sense advice to eat less refined flour, pasta is not on the menu as much anymore.

When I first cut back on it, I missed its ease. Pasta night is a delicious breeze of a weeknight meal. But then I discovered a use for pasta that can be summed up in one word: croutons.

Look, I love pasta in all of its various forms. As I kid, I lived on the stuff and as an adult I still could eat it every day. But I realize that pasta as I’ve always eaten it isn’t good for my personal weight loss.

The trouble with pasta as a main course is that the portion size gets out of hand so easily. On a box of pasta, the stated portion size is 2 ounces, which clocks in around 200 calories. But when you cook up 2 ounces of pasta, it’s obviously not dinner—not even close. You need a lot more than a bit of sauce to make an appropriately portioned pasta meal work.

I’m really not inclined to give up something I like altogether, so I’ve been trying to rethink the very concept of pasta night so that I can eat some pasta and lose weight at the same time.

And one day, I had a kind of revelation that changed the game for me. Instead of thinking of pasta as the main event in the meal, I needed to start thinking about it for what it should be—a sidekick.

I realized that pasta isn’t like chicken. Pasta is like croutons. A scattering of texture-enhancing croutons can bring a salad to life and make it feel special, and the same is true of pasta when it comes to meals that are mostly vegetables and lean protein.

Now, instead of pasta night, I like to have skillet night. I combine turkey sausage with tons of broccoli rabe, a little tomato sauce or diced tomatoes, a small portion of pasta and top off the dish with some Romano cheese. I also enjoy combining zucchini noodles with spaghetti or linguini. Soup is another great way to make a little pasta feel like more.

If you take a look at your favorite pasta recipes, you’ll probably see it’s pretty easy to shift the pasta into a crouton role.

Loving Food While Losing Weight

Is it possible to talk about the fraught space of food, body, and weight in a healthy, thoughtful way? We think so, and we’re presenting a monthlong column exploring one food-lover and food writer’s journey towards finding her own personal balance. Joy Manning is joining us this month with her own stories, practical tips, recipes, and perspective on the real-life struggle between loving food and loving your body.