I just got a new cookbook, Cook Yourself Thin, and I was eager to try a new recipe. The first recipe in the book for which I had all the ingredients already was penne alla "not-ka" - a low-calorie take on penne with vodka sauce. (As far as I can tell, this is the only recipe in the book with this stupid of a name.)
The dish was surprisingly easy and incredibly fast. Basically in the time it takes you to boil water and cook the pasta to al dente, you sautee garlic and onions, and then pour in the tomatoes. The recipe called for canned diced tomatoes in a blender, but I cut out the middle man and just used crushed. Then you add some light cream and the pasta and it's just about done. No vodka, but it tastes just like vodka sauce.
The pasta was also incredibly tasty, even more so because the portions allowed me to enjoy in a guilt-free way. When I first read the recipe, I saw that you cook 8 oz. of pasta (half a box) and then divide that into four servings. I thought that I'd never be satisfied with that size of a serving, but I really was.
And then I had an epiphany: when I cook pasta, I eat way too much of it. I have known that in theory for years, but it's difficult because I love it so much - I can eat a pound of pasta in a single sitting if I want to, and I usually don't bother making portions for myself. (Ask my study abroad roommate Helen about the great mostaccioli incident of 2003.)
This time I ate only my portion of the pasta, and I supplemented (as suggested in the book) with a nice dinner salad on the side. And you know what? I'm still full and satisfied. I guess even when the pasta is delicious, I don't have to suck down a half a pound of it in a single serving.
If this is what I can expect from the rest of this book, I'm really excited. It seems like a great way to slim down, which I have been trying to do for years. It also seems like a great way to learn useful tips that I can apply to other cooking, especially to portion size. If I'm going to keep loving Ina Garten's cooking for the rest of my life, it's time to start learning about portions and self-restraint.