19 Classic Pasta Dishes Made Healthier
Pasta gets a bad rap in the health community. Bowlfuls of gooey macaroni and ziti noodles layered with cheese and cream generally aren’t promoted as ideal routes to weight management, or good health. But pasta, in all its noodly glory, continues to play a key role in the international diet and economy. Such a big role that today marks the 17th annual World Pasta Day, which kicks off the official World Pasta Week. This year, politicians and culinary experts will gather in Istanbul to discuss the role of pasta in the Turkish economy and in a healthy, sustainable diet.
Here at Greatist, we’re big proponents of the idea that spaghetti doesn’t have to be a bad word — with the right tweaks. And we’re proving it with a list of 19 traditional pasta dishes, revamped to be healthier, but still delicious. Think cauliflower Alfredo, broccoli pesto, and homemade ramen. Pretty much all these healthier recipes are easy enough to try at home, whether preparing dinner for one or for a whole hungry family. Test them out, share them with friends, and let us know what you think. Afiyet olsun! (That’s “bon appetit” in Turkish.)
Healthier Pasta Recipes
1. Original: Lasagna
Healthy: Roasted Garlic Spaghetti Squash Lasagna Boats
This recipe won’t make you seasick, but it might motivate you to leave traditional lasagna behind forever. The “boats” here are actually halves of spaghetti squash, filled with all the good stuff in regular old lasagna: cheese, tomatoes, and chicken sausage (skip the sausage to make a vegetarian version). Serve ’em up at a party and impress guests with your culinary creativity.
2. Original: Spaghetti and Marinara Sauce
Healthy: Quinoa Spaghetti with Homemade Tomato Basil Sauce
Reconsider those attachments to Barilla and Ragu. Quinoa spaghetti is just like pasta made out of wheat, except it’s protein-packed and gluten-free. The homemade sauce in this recipe is relatively easy to prepare using tomatoes, white wine, herbs, and veggies. Meat-lovers can add some lean ground meat to the meal to make it a bit heartier.
3. Original: Macaroni and Cheese
Healthy: Spicy Roasted Vegetable Macaroni and Cheese
Filled with vibrant veggies such as broccoli, red pepper, squash, and carrots, this dish adds takes the classic bowl o’ mac to a whole new level of sophistication (and nutrition). And you better believe it’s not butter — at least not in this recipe, where olive oil keeps everything rich and creamy.
4. Original: Pasta Puttanesca
Healthy: Pasta Puttanesca
Olive lovers, this recipe’s for you. In the time it takes to boil a pot of pasta, you can make this veggie-filled tomato sauce, which features onion, anchovies, peppers, capers, and (you guessed it) olives. Crumbled Parmesan cheese and torn basil leaves add the finishing touches to this restaurant-worthy meal.
5. Original: Pad Thai
Healthy: Zucchini Noodles in a Thai Peanut Sauce
When the Thai takeout place down the block beckons, stay strong. This vegan recipe proves it’s possible to whip up more nutritious and delicious fare in your own kitchen. For starters, skip the traditional pasta base and slice up some zucchini (using a Mandolin slicer or hand peeler) to make “noodles” you can sauté or eat raw. A generous serving of veggies (carrots, peppers, and onions) and plenty of protein (edamame and peanut butter) make this a filling yet well-balanced vegan meal.
6. Original: Ravioli
Healthy: Sweet Potato Ravioli With Kale Pesto
Ravioli without cheese: Gross, right? So wrong. This recipe actually calls for chia seeds in the dough, plus pine nuts and sweet potato in the filling. Kale stars in the pesto sauce, and together all these ingredients come together to form a magical, melt-in-your-mouth experience — not to mention a nutritional powerhouse (chia seeds).
7. Original: Penne With Cream Sauce
Healthy: Creamy Penne Pasta With Vegetables
This sneaky recipe adds tons of veggies into the meal without kids (or picky adults) noticing. The trick is to dissolve veggies like squash, zucchini, pepper, and kale into a sauce made of Greek yogurt and goat cheddar cheese. The resulting dish is a nutritious (not to mention beautiful) spin on a traditional penne dish that typically contains few, if any, vegetables.
8. Original: Fettuccini Alfredo
Healthy: Creamy Cauliflower “Alfredo” Sauce
This cauliflower “Alfredo” sauce is pretty versatile — it tastes great served over pasta, rice, or vegetables. Personally, we’re excited to slather it over some spaghetti when we’ve got a craving for something rich and creamy. Serve it to guests and see if anyone can detect the sauce’s mystery ingredient!
9. Original: Stuffed Shells
Healthy: Mushroom-Spinach Stuffed Shells
Stuffed shells often result in stuffed bellies, but this recipe helps reduce the post-dinner bulge. The recipe calls for cottage cheese instead of ricotta (points for creativity!) and features a veggie medley of mushrooms and spinach. The best part is it’s easy to whip up a whole batch, leaving plenty of leftovers for lunch the next day.
10. Original: Sesame Noodles
Healthy: Sesame Noodles With Fresh Vegetables
Noodles slathered in thick, creamy peanut sauce might sound tasty, but they don’t exactly scream “healthy.” Luckily, this recipe preserves the deliciousness of the original meal while adding some necessary nutrients. Rice noodles make up the base of the recipe, topped with cucumbers, peppers, carrots, and onions. The peanut butter sauce adds a real punch to the whole meal, which is so easy to prepare and so filling that you might never order this dish from the takeout menu again.
11. Original: Baked Ziti
Healthy: Vegetable Baked Ziti
A tray of noodles nestled in sauce and layers of melt-y cheese might sound like an automatic nutrition no-no. Fortunately, this recipe puts a healthy spin on things, using lots of veggies (zucchinis and mushrooms, specifically) to make up for the reduced amounts of pasta and cheese. Just 20 minutes in the kitchen (and some time for baking) and you’ve got a hearty, healthy dinner for six.
12. Original: Pasta e Fagioli
Healthy: Pasta e Fagioli
This classic Italian dish translates to “pasta and beans,” and comes in the form of slurp-able soup. The classic recipe is pretty flexible (the idea is to use whatever you’ve got lying around in the fridge), but this version featuring fresh beans and lots of veggies provides some guidelines. It’s a meal that delivers a ton of nutritional benefits in a single bowl, from protein and iron to magnesium and calcium.
13. Original: Pasta Salad
Healthy: Kale Pasta Salad
Kale is all the rage these days, so it’s no surprise that this versatile vegetable made its way into several recipes on our list. This dish skips the mountains of mayo in most pasta salads, instead using olive oil as the dressing. The rest of the ingredient list is simple — just feta cheese, olives, and tomatoes, leaving plenty of room for the nutrient-rich kale to shine.
14. Original: Ramen
Healthy: Vegan Homemade Ramen Noodles
The word “ramen” might conjure up images of lonely dinners for one, purchased in a cup at the local drugstore. But this recipe proves that even solo diners looking to grab a quick bite can enjoy a sophisticated, nutritious meal. This homemade version is completely vegan and can be easily modified to eliminate gluten, as well. Coleslaw mix is a surprising star in this soup, meaning the meal gets all the benefits of heart-healthy, anti-inflammatory cabbage.
15. Original: Noodle Stir Fry
Healthy: Spicy Noodle Stir-Fry With Vegetables
The best part about stir-fries is that the chef gets to decide which combination of veggies to use. This particular recipe combines the nutritional power of carrots, broccoli, corn, peas, and peppers. After cooking the vegetables, it’s pretty easy to combine all the ingredients in one big wok, then top it all with crunchy sesame seeds.
16. Original: Tuna Noodle Casserole
Healthy: Tuna Rigatoni With Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Soggy noodles and stinky tuna: the most perfect (read: grossest) combination ever. That’s why we love this recipe, which makes tuna casserole look (and taste) like the most elegant, most nutritious meal ever. Light tuna, sun-dried tomatoes, and shredded Parmesan top whole-wheat rigatoni noodles in a protein-packed meal that makes for a light, yet filling lunch or dinner.
17. Original: Manicotti
Healthy: Eggplant Manicotti
This creative take on a classic Italian dish eliminates the need for pasta completely by replacing the noodles with thick slices of eggplant. And while the roll-ups are typically packed with cheese, adding some kale to the filling reduces the amount of ricotta (and calories) inside. Even gluten-free friends can dig in and feel like they’ve just satisfied some serious cravings for comfort food.
18. Original: Penne a la Vodka
Healthy: Penne a la Vodka
The key here is moderation. Spread the sauce over penne noodles, top with peas, and serve it up without feeling the least bit deprived.
19. Original: Pesto Pasta
Healthy: Broccoli Pesto Pasta
Turn those stereotypes of cream- and calorie-laden pesto dishes on their head with this recipe that stars broccoli and Greek yogurt. The whole recipe uses a minimal amount of butter and olive oil, making it a great option for a flavorful dinner that doesn’t ruin anyone’s commitment to good health.
What’s your favorite classic pasta dish and how do you revamp it to be just a little bit healthier? Share in the comments below or tweet the author at @ShanaDLebowitz.
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