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what is on your dinner plate?

Like many today, my mind is on my wallet. With the holidays fast approaching, I can feel my unease continue to grow. How can I afford this, what will I do if I can’t buy that? A spending-diet is imminent, and while it pains me to say it, I won’t be visiting my beloved J. Crew for quite some time. 

Also, my going-out habits have been shelved as well. Instead of buying two drinks at a bar for $5 per drink + tip, I nurse my homemade cocktails in the comfort of my own home. Gone are teh days of enjoying yummy Moroccan food because I can’t afford the $12 + tip entree. Basically, my social life has been cut in half, and while it has taken some getting used to, I think I’m starting to see the positive side. 

For one thing, my kitchen has been very busy. Besides my needed trips to Starbucks (sorry, I need something to ease the pain), I spend most of my time either reading books at the kitchen table or baking up treats from those books. The added bonus to this new habit of mine is that my consumption of artificial ingredients and processed foods has dropped from sporadic to nil. It’s all about living and eating naturally. 

I picked up a few great reads at the library on Saturday, both of which have inspired me immensely. Super Natural Cooking, written by Heidi Swanson, makes me even more dedicated and resilient in weaning myself off the artificial diet so many of us have been on for years. The other, Jamie’s Italy, shows me that food can be dynamic, passionate, and saitisfying. Why pay the extra 10 bucks + tip at a restaurant when Mr. Oliver will show you how to do it? 

Another reason for my newfound interest in to natural eating is my senior seminar research paper on the corn syrup industry. I’ve been studying and researching the use of HFCS and it’s not a simple subject. From farm subsidies to new legislation, it’s a tough subject but after seeing the new ridiculous HFCS ads, I’ve been on a mission. Goodbye processed food, hello mother nature. 

Michael Pollan, a long-time advocate for fresh food and writer of In Defense of Food and Omnivore’s Dilemma, said it best. “We need to wean the American food system off its heavy 20th-century diet of fossil fuel and put it back on a diet of contemporary sunshine.” Leave the government-supported corn crops that rely on cheap fuel and add to our greenhouse gas pollution. How about adding more farms, real farms without the manufacturing or processing plants? Because, frankly, our waistlines, wallets, and dinner plates can’t take it any more. Without new, thoroughly developed food policy, the future generations will be plagued with sky-high obesity rates, severe malnutrition, and diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, etc. Parents out there, I know you care about your kids. I know that you’d gladly die for your children. But why do you coninute to purchase products that have little to no nutritional value. Those Oreo cookies and Cheez-its? RIDDLED WITH ARTIFICAL INGREDIENTS.

I could continue this diatribe until my dying day. We can’t ignore our food industry any longer. Did you all see what happened to Wall Street?! Now imagine that possibly happening to our food system. It’s already progressing to a point of caution with the food recalls from China. What we need is stricter regulation, and to move away from the cheap and processed crops found in our heartland. 

Anyways, this pasta dish has been a favorite of mine for years, before I knew about whole wheat pasta’s healthy benefits and can be made in to a salad or into serve it straight out of the pan for a warm meal. I enjoy the nutty flavor of whole wheat pasta, plus it keeps me full for longer periods of time. Since I don’t normally eat pork, I tossed in some already cooked natural turkey sausage at the very end for protein but you could use any kind of sausage you prefer. Zucchini is almost gone from my farmer’s market, but try another vegetable you like. Butternut squash would be delightful here or even some simple carrots could work. I used some fresh peas and mini green beans, but really, adapt the veggies to your personal preference. I used mozzarella cheese in place of the ricotta because I prefer the salty mozzarella cheese with sausage but work with what you got. If anything, this recipe is a simple outline. It is meant for you to play with.

Cost-wise, the most expensive thing about this dish was the sausage which was around $5. But save some of that sausage for omelets or chili because you won’t use the entire package here. Whole wheat pasta nowadays is cheap and can be found anywhere. Grab your vegetables from your farmers market for less than $2. The mozzarella might be pricey so you can omit if you like. I personally prefer to keep mozzarella cheese in my fridge since it works well in most dishes. 

If you haven’t already thought about adopting a natural, processed-free diet, I urge to do your homework and see if it’s right for you. I can’t stress the importance of this issue enough. Your body relies on fuel, so why give it cheap, crappy fuel? Your body is your temple, right? Start looking at your dinner plate today and make sustainable changes that will benefit you and your family.

Whole Wheat Pasta with Turkey Sausage and Mixed Veggies
Origin: Epicurious
Yields: 6 to 8 servings

● 1 cup mixed vegetables, like corn, peas, or carrots
● 1/2 cup onion, chopped fine
● 2 garlic cloves, minced and mashed to a paste with 1 teaspoon salt
● 2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
● 1/4 cup olive oil (preferably extra-virgin) plus 2 tablespoons
● 1 1/2 lb. zucchini, cut diagonally into 1/3-inch-thick slices
● 1 lb. whole-wheat penne or other tubular pasta
● 3 oz. diced, part-skim mozzarella cheese
● 14 ounces of turkey sausage, already cooked and sliced diagonally

In a kettle of salted boiling water cook pasta until just tender and drain well.

In a large bowl gently stir together garlic paste, vinegar, and 1/4 cup oil. Set aside.


In a medium-sized saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion first, then the sausage, and saute a few minutes. Add the mixed vegetables and cook a few minutes more. Add a few glugs of the reserved pasta water to pan.  Add salt and pepper to your preference. Cover and let cook a few minutes.

In a bowl, toss the cooked pasta with the oil mixture. Add pasta mixture to vegetable mixture in the pan and add a little more salt and pepper to taste. Finally toss in the mozzarella cheese. Serve warm.

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October 12, 2008 - 2:38 pm

Robin - Have you read Pollen’s piece in today’s NYTimes Magazine? He’s so great.

This pasta dish looks lovely. I’ve been buying things like sausage and then using one package for meals throughout the week, very economical.

Once the zucchini’s gone, maybe some squash with smoked mozzarella? :)

October 12, 2008 - 6:12 pm

Amanda - That quote from Pollan is from the article today actually. I thought his talking points were dead on. And yes, smoked mozzarella and squash sounds perfect together!

October 13, 2008 - 5:27 am

snookydoodle - wow this looks tasty :)

October 13, 2008 - 9:48 am

Tiffany - ever since we had our daughter a little over a year ago (and she started eating ‘big girl’ food) i have been cooking from scratch more and more. things as simple as pancakes for breakfast- my daughter eats that with us and i don’t want her eating that chemically processed crap from a box. even with dinner/lunch, we buy whole wheat products and eat as much organic food as we can afford. it’s just so much better for you. the pasta dish looks great–i’m always looking for something different to do with pasta.

October 13, 2008 - 11:22 am

Joanna - you have really nice pictures! the image is so clear. and i think pasta is a no fail dish. soo good!

October 14, 2008 - 6:20 am

Dana - I still need to finish Omnivore’s Dilemma. I started it a few months ago, but I work in financial and business news, so you can imagine how busy I’ve been! But I very much appreciate the sentiment of this post :). Plus, the pasta looks great!

October 15, 2008 - 2:56 pm

eliza - i feel the crunch too, we can’t afford to go out eat dinner at fancy restaurants again :( the upside is that i get to cook/bake more since i have time on the weekends (because of not going anywhere)

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