Tuesday, September 18, 2012

zucchini fettuccine with raw & zesty parsley pesto

I've always been a lover of Italian food and although New Zealand is about as far away from Italy as you can get, my parents put their own spin on Italian cuisine and made it a staple in our kitchen while I was growing up. Lasagne was my birthday dinner of choice year after year. Not a week went by without one of my parents whipping up a pasta dish with a sauce that was always made from scratch. I've old memories of my Dad, Mike, setting aside a whole Saturday and devoting it to the kitchen - a ritual he practices to  this day. His full-day-cook-up saw him make amazing pizzas with dough that was nurtured and cared for like a baby (and if he wasn't jumping continents to Europe, he'd be whipping up some elaborate Indian style curry - Saturday night dinner was always a treat)!

So it goes without saying... I love pasta. I love bread. I love pizza. But in recent years my body hasn't been dealing with the massive amounts of refined wheat (think white pasta, pizza dough, most breads) that it used to so easily enjoy. 

Initially, even though my body was telling me it couldn't cope, my mind wasn't having a bar of it. The thought of life without bread and pasta was not worth a second of my time. I soon realised though, that the weight gain, exhaustion and the slow but dangerous decline of a healthy functioning body was not worth it. So, although  I couldn't really stomach the idea of getting rid of pasta and bread from my diet, I knew I could find some ways to shift my thinking and prepare food a little differently so that I felt better and ultimately my body would be happy and healthy.

When I first approached this issue, I was quick to blame carbohydrates in general as the source of the problem. I think many of us associate pasta and bread with weight gain. And when we think of pasta and bread - we think carbs. So if carbs are stopping us from doing up the top button on our jeans, just cut them out of our diet right? Wrong! In my venture into understanding the story behind carbohydrates, I learnt that they don't just come in the form of pizza, pasta and bread. Lentils, chickpeas, brown rice, barley, beans, buckwheat, quinoa, heck even fruit and vegetables are all great sources of carbohydrates. So are we supposed to cut them out of our diet too? I don't think so! 

Refined carbohydrates are foods that I like to keep an eye out for. A refined carbohydrate basically means that its natural nutrients - including fiber, minerals and vitamins - have been stripped. In other words, it is no longer a whole food. Let's take white flour for example. Many people consider white flour to be nutritionally 'dead' because of the intense degree to which the wheat berry has been striped of its nutrients during the milling process. So it makes sense as to why I was feeling so blocked up after eating refined wheat. It's lacking in real nutrients and clogging up my system, providing zero health gains. 

Then there's the marketing element to food that tricks us with skilfully constructed jargon to promote, what I consider to be, fake health. These days you'll find on your shelves 'enriched' white flour. Please don't be fooled. This just means the wheat berry has been milled and ground down, depleting it of its vitamins and minerals and then had a very small artificial handful thrown back in. What's the point? I guess after all this stripping and breaking down someone realised that food should be eaten to nourish us and that we actually need key nutrients to live. So by supplementing (a very small few of) the nutrients back in (making it 'whole' again) and whacking on a label that reads 'enriched', the problem's solved. I'll let you ponder that for a minute.

All that being said, I'm not telling you to never touch a loaf of bread again! But my thoughts on the matter are to keep things in moderation. Cutting down on refined foods in general and replacing them with nourishing whole and real foods has helped me become a healthier person and I just wanted to share some of my own insight!

Ok, now let's rewind a little here to my love affair with pasta. If life without bread, without pizza, without pasta was out of the equation, then I wanted to find a way to make it work for me. And I've been experimenting! - How can I replace refined carbohydrates with WHOLE foods? Let me tell you.

The first answer is simple and in the question itself....

Replace the refined carbohydrate with the unadulterated (whole) version! I try to avoid using so much white flour and sub in wholemeal flour or spelt flour. Or try out brown rice, black rice or quinoa instead of white rice - they fill you up for longer and have far more complex and interesting flavours. A simple start.

When it comes to bread and mastering a decent loaf - I'm still a novice and I've struggled to source some white flour alternatives in my little country town in Korea. It's a work in progress so let me get back to you! Don't let me stop you experimenting though - if you're new to it, start subbing in wholemeal flours in baking and work your way up to bread.

My second answer is right here in today's dish... I want to share with you two meals (this post and next) that each demonstrate recipes which replace refined foods with whole foods. First up is my Italian inspired zucchini fettuccine with raw green pesto. The purpose of this dish is to give you an idea of how you can put a mega twist on a pasta classic. 

Next we'll jump continents from Europe to Asia and I'll show you a classic rice stir-fry dish I like to whip up using brown rice instead of white (stay tuned for my next post). You can also check out last week's recipe - crunchy red vegetable, kumara and brown lentil salad, for more inspiration. Lentils are a great carbohydrate that are protein packed and 100% whole.

Right. Zucchini Fettuccine time. So, maybe I've potentially drawn you into this recipe under false pretences. There isn't actually any pasta in this dish as the title suggests. But don't run away - I've enticed you this far and we're hitting the home straight. As it turns out, zucchinis are amazing and my new best friend. When you peel them and give them a light steam they have a similar texture to pasta, with a fresh and lighter taste - a true lifesaver in my recent journey. I could go on about how good it is or how much it really tastes like pasta, but I'm not sure you'll believe me until you try it out for yourself! 

Give this recipe a go, and if it doesn't satisfy, make sure I'm the first to know about it!

zucchini fettuccine with raw-green pesto 

raw & zesty parsley pesto
1 cup raw walnuts - soaked for 5-7 hours*
3 cloves of garlic* - roughly chopped
2 packed cups of parsley
juice of a lemon
1/2 cup cold pressed olive oil
1/4 cup water
tsp of flaky sea salt or rock salt
decent grind of cracked pepper

Add walnuts, garlic and parsley to a food processor and blend until the ingredients have broken up and started to mix together. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper and give it a few pulses. Next, with the blender on, slowly pour in the olive oil. Everything at this stage should be combined but still a little dry. Next add water, as you did the olive oil, so that the pesto reaches a creamy yet chunky paste and holds nicely together. I like my pesto to have texture but also easily spreadable. You can tweak the water or add more olive oil at the end to reach your desired consistency. Have a taste and season more if you fancy. To store, keep in the fridge for up to five days and top with a little olive oil if it starts to dry out.

I've kept this pesto raw so that it's user friendly for everyone. I've talked about the goodness of a diet rich in raw foods here, check it out if you'd like. This pesto is a great addition to your fridge whether you're a 100% raw foodie, or just love the taste of a good quality pesto. If you do swing in the complete-raw direction you can enjoy this dish by preparing the vegetables as I've outlined below and skipping the steaming and cooking steps.

zucchini fettuccine
serving for two

3 large zucchinis (stock up if there are only small ones available at your market)
12-14 cherry tomatoes - halved
approx 8 button mushrooms - quartered (or chopped into 6 if they are big)
2 Tbls of olive oil
juice of half a lemon 
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 lightly packed cup spinach - roughly chopped 
salt and pepper
water for steaming
3 Tbls raw & zesty parsley pesto
parsley - finely chopped (optional for a garnish)

Bring a pot of water to boil that fits a steamer inside. Peel the zucchinis to remove and discard the skin. Continue this same peeling motion but keeping the shavings in a bowl (see picture below). Continue to peel till you reach the seedy centre. Set aside and prepare the tomatoes and mushrooms as described above. Add the olive oil to a hot pan. When the oil is hot, sprinkle the oregano around the edge of the pan and arrange the tomatoes on top, flat-face down - reserving space in the centre of the pan. Place the mushrooms in the middle. After a minute add lemon juice to the mushrooms and give them a stir. Wait another minute or so and then flip the tomatoes (once they are starting to brown up). At this point you can mix them all together, season with salt and pepper to taste and add a dash of water or extra lemon juice if the pan dries out. Continue to cook till the mushrooms are soft and the tomatoes skins start to wrinkle. Turn to a low heat and cover. 

Add the zucchinis to the steamer for two minutes (no longer). If they start to turn translucent remove them. All you really want to do is heat them through. While they are doing their thing (this is where timing gets a little tricky), add 3 healthy sized tablespoons of pesto to the tomato/mushroom pan and mix through. When the zucchini is ready, add this to the pan and bring everything together (I find tongs handy for this step). If necessary add an extra drizzle of olive oil for lubrication, or even an extra dollop of pesto.

Garnish with parsley, cracked pepper, and a sprinkling of salt if that takes you fancy.

* Completely immerse 1 cup of walnuts in clean filtered water and leave to soak for 5-7 nights - overnight is fine, or during the day while you're at work. Soaking your seeds and nuts breaks down their enzymes which inhibits our bodies from efficiently absorbing their nutrients. Plus they swell up and change in texture ideal for this recipe.

** The garlic I was using in Korea was really powerful. If I used three cloves this pesto would blow my head off. I don't remember garlic being that strong at home. I got my lovely mother to test out the recipe and she used 4 cloves and said it was punchy but great. So I've rolled with three in this recipe assuming you're using a relatively mild-average bulb. But feel free to judge this yourself. Definitely throw in at least one clove! It cuts into the strength of the olive oil and works well with the lemon juice to brighten the flavours.

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