You might be surprised that, as a cardiologist, I don’t vilify saturated fats and even think organic, grass-fed butter and cream in your diet is fine in moderation. But I far prefer my favorite superfood, olive oil, to lend healthy fats and delicious flavor to a meal. So when I was recently asked to make chicken broccoli ziti with Alfredo sauce for a family function, I didn’t cringe at the idea of it. I just knew I could make a healthier version with olive oil.
My chicken broccoli pasta is still as satiating and comforting as the original, but packed with nutrients, plant-based protein and antioxidants. I also think it tastes better. I’ve also included a vegan version so everyone can enjoy these healthy pasta recipes!
What’s Unhealthy About Pasta?
Coming from a Sicilian background, I get why pasta is such a popular comfort food – it’s hearty, steeped in cultural tradition and a delightfully chewy vehicle for savory sauces. But, as a doctor, I know that eating too much pasta can negatively impact our waistlines and our health…Regular white semolina pasta, that is.
Traditional pasta made with highly processed white flour is high-glycemic, which means that eating more than a cup or two of it can significantly raise your blood sugar and insulin levels. Unlike Italians, who eat appetizer-size portions of pasta with their meals, Americans love to eat entire dinner plates full of white pasta.
One way to make white pasta healthier – so that your blood sugar doesn’t skyrocket, is to pair it with foods that are high in protein, fiber and fats to slow the insulin response (see my 3 P’s of Healthy Pasta blog for more on this). Seen through this lens, traditional chicken broccoli ziti with saturated-fat-rich Alfredo sauce is actually a pretty good option. I’ve got some surefire ways to make it healthier, though.
How to Make Chicken Broccoli Pasta Healthier
Let’s talk about broccoli, which plays a starring role here. A great source of antioxidant Vitamins C and E, as well as calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium, broccoli is a powerful anti-inflammatory food! It’s also a cancer-combating powerhouse thanks to its abundant phytonutrients that promote healthy enzyme production and help detoxify the body. Be liberal with the broccoli!
What about the sauce? You might think, “Without butter and cream, how am I supposed to make it taste good”? I’ll tell you – with our silky, rich organic extra virgin olive oil made from fresh-picked California olives and our zesty Italian Seasoning & Dipping Spice Blend, you won’t even miss it. To layer even more flavors, try our garlic flavored olive oil for a savory, robust finish. Olive oil’s monounsaturated “good” fat helps your body absorb certain nutrients and supports many bodily functions, in addition to its antioxidant properties.
If you do choose to include chicken, you’re upping your lean protein intake and adding a complete set of amino acids to help build and repair cells. I like to choose organic meats whenever possible since animals store toxins in fat, which means we could be unknowingly consuming pesticides, antibiotics and artificial dyes – nothing that belongs in anyone’s diet.
By featuring high-fiber veggies and lean protein, chicken broccoli pasta actually wants to be a healthy dish at its core. The key to giving this dish a healthier Sinatra-spin is replacing saturated fats and highly refined, processed pasta with cold-pressed olive oil and lower-carb organic chickpea or red lentil pasta. The resulting healthy chicken pasta recipe keeps you feeling full longer, and promotes healthier blood sugar and insulin responses. And since the red lentil and chickpea pastas are so high in protein, those who don’t eat meat can create a vegan pasta that’s still filling and nutritious.
Before we get to making some delicious chicken broccoli pasta or vegan broccoli pasta – I have to say that I usually prepare broccoli and pasta with red sauce… this is because combining tomatoes and broccoli creates powerful synergistic health benefits. Sometimes, though, it’s good to have something different, especially if made with olive oil.
Chicken Broccoli Pasta Recipe with Olive Oil
- 1/4 cup organic extra virgin olive oil
- 2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced into bite-sized pieces (or leftover cooked chicken you have on hand)
- Optional: 2-3 garlic cloves, slivered
- 3-4 cups broccoli florets
- 1 bag gluten-free organic chickpea or red lentil pasta
- 2-3 tsp Italian Seasoning & Dipping Spice Blend
- A few grinds each of Savory Salt Blend and Pepper & Juniper Blend
- Additional EVOO or garlic flavored olive oil to finish
- Sprinkle Parmesan cheese (optional)
Heat 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Sauté the chicken with the dipping spices until lightly browned, and with slivered garlic, if you crave that flavor. Add the broccoli florets and toss with the chicken. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 minutes or until broccoli is al denté. Remove from heat and set pan aside.
While the chicken is cooking, make the red lentil pasta according to package directions. Drain, then toss pasta with 2 tbsp EVOO or garlic flavored olive oil. Add pasta to the chicken and broccoli and toss gently to combine. Season with salt blend and pepper juniper blend, to taste. Finish each serving with a drizzle of EVOO or garlic flavored olive oil and sprinkle with parmesan cheese, if desired. Serves 4.
Vegan Broccoli Pasta Recipe with Garlic Flavored Olive Oil
- 1/4 cup garlic flavored olive oil
- 4-5 cups broccoli florets
- 1 bag gluten-free organic chickpea or red lentil pasta
- 2 tsp Italian Seasoning & Dipping Spice Blend
- A few grinds each of Salt Blend and Pepper & Juniper Blend
Heat 1/4 cup of garlic cold pressed olive oil in a large skillet over medium. Sauté the broccoli with the garlic and dipping spice blend, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 minutes or until broccoli is al denté.
Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain, then toss pasta with 2 tbsp garlic flavored olive oil. Add pasta to the broccoli and toss gently to combine. Season with salt blend and pepper juniper blend, to taste and finish each plate with another drizzle of garlic olive oil, if desired. Serves 4.
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