The Healthy Dish: Pesto Pasta

The next time you're longing for comfort food, try this healthier-than-most pasta dish. Created by 36-year-old Olympian and American marathon record holder Deena Kastor, this pesto pasta bowl serves big flavor in a simple recipe.

The creator: To prepare for competition, Kastor trains at her high-altitude home in Mammoth Lakes, California. She runs about 120 miles per week during training. "This is my favorite dish the night before a long run. I'll make a heaping bowl and add some crusty bread to soak up extra sauce, or add a piece of wild Atlantic salmon on top," says Kastor. "It's perfect to sustain me for the next morning's 20-miler."

To savor the wholesome goodness of this dish, Kastor recommends purchasing the freshest olive oil possible. Kastor's love for perfecting recipes inspired her to write her own cookbook, which she's currently working on. "I keep tweaking the ingredients. I need to realize that perfection is unlikely and should just wrap things up."

The nutritionist's take: This dish is full of healthy, fresh ingredients, but if a 20-mile run isn't your norm, consider adjusting the recipe to reduce the calories from fat, suggests Nancy Clark, M.S., R.D., and author of the Sports Nutrition Guidebook, Fourth Edition. Simply cutting the olive oil by one-fourth makes it more healthful for the average runner.  

Consider using whole-wheat pasta that is protein-fortified to boost the nutritional content. Clark notes that this dish can also work well as a post-workout meal: Enjoy with a piece of bread or fresh fruit, and you'll have a tasty way to refuel depleted muscles after a run.

PESTO PASTA

2 cups basil leaves, packed
2 large cloves garlic
1⁄4 cup pine nuts
3⁄4 cup olive oil (or less)
1⁄4 cup Parmesan cheese, shaved
1⁄2 tsp salt
1⁄2 lb pasta, cooked as directed on package  

In a food processor or blender, puree all ingredients except pasta until smooth. In a large saucepan over medium heat, add mixture to cooked pasta. Heat thoroughly; top with more freshly shaved parmesan cheese. Serve with crusty bread. Yields about five servings.

Nutritional info per serving: 550 calories, 40 g fat (1 g saturated), 37 g carbohydrates, 10.4 g protein

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