"Everybody was eating steamed food or you had to be on a no-carb diet or you had to eat everything raw or it had to be juiced," lamented Manuali, co-author of the new cookbook "Healthy Pasta" with her restaurateur brother, who also judged "MasterChef" and "MasterChef Junior" in the U.S.
"People eat pasta every day in Italy and they're not obese and they don't have a problem. If you're sensible about it you can eat healthy pasta."
In fact, Manuali said her brother "actually went through a transformative change and he started running and then he ended up doing the Ironman in Kona (Hawaii) and he's super-thin and super-healthy and he uses pasta cooked in a very healthy way to fuel his running."
Food has been central in the lives of the brother and sister. Their mother — TV host, author and restaurateur Lidia Bastianich — taught them to enjoy authentic Italian food. Joe Bastianich studied finance and Manuali became a professor after earning a PhD in Renaissance art history from Oxford University.
But they both returned to the culinary fold, where they've established extensive resumes. He co-owns Batali and Bastianich Hospitality Group, has co-authored two books on Italian wine, is on Sky's "MasterChef Italia" and stars on and produces CNBC's "Restaurant Startup."
Manuali co-owns and is executive producer of Tavola Productions, owns restaurants and oversees Lidia's food line. She has co-authored five books with her mother and co-wrote a book on breast cancer in art.
But they couldn't rest until they dispelled the bad rap pasta has earned. Their new book, subtitled "The Sexy, Skinny and Smart Way to Eat Your Favorite Food," has 100 recipes, all under 500 calories per serving.
It's not a diet book, the New York native hastened to add during a visit to Toronto. It's about eating healthy — with the right size portion, adding lean protein and fresh vegetables, and dressing the pasta so it's not swimming in a heavy sauce.
Recipes call for dividing a package of pasta into six servings — 75 grams per portion is about 250 calories of pasta. They recommend high-quality durum wheat pasta with a protein count of at least seven grams per serving. The better the quality, the higher the protein count.
Cook pasta until al dente, or firm to the bite.
"You chew it slower. It signals to your brain that you're full and satiated," she explained.
"When it hits your stomach it actually has more potential to absorb gastric juices, which lowers your insulin spike when you're eating carbs."
You can make almost any of the recipes with fresh pasta, but it includes eggs, which pushes up the calorie count. Manuali says there's a misconception fresh pasta is better than dry, which she thinks is tied to its higher price.
"It's odd because in Italian culture one is not better than the other. They're just different."
There are many ways to enhance pasta's flavour with little added fat, such as with capers, anchovies and olives.
Some other tips from the authors:
— Reconstitute sun-dried tomatoes (dry, not packed in oil) in water, then use that liquid in sauce.
— Whole canned San Marzano tomatoes are sweeter and have less sodium than crushed canned tomatoes.
— Roast cherry tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms and butternut squash on parchment paper without oil to intensify their flavours.
— For skillet sauces, start with a little inexpensive oil. Save more expensive, better-quality and tasty olive oil to drizzle over pasta before serving.
— Reserve pasta cooking water for use in the sauce. The starch in the water adds body and helps sauce adhere to the pasta.
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