Try as we may, none of us can completely and truly lie to ourselves. Every time our sweet tooth beckons (and I’m as guilty of this as anyone), we can’t help but think what that white chocolate and macadamia nut cookie or that slice of pecan pie is going to do to our spandex-enrobed waistline. Like it or not, the credo “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” rings true with all of us, at least to some degree.
Of course, with the fall we’ve been having, it’s been easy to justify that extra slice of pizza with more sun-bathed rides than any of us could hope for in November. But as every seasoned New Englander knows, these things were not made to last. With daylight hours already fleeting and the temperature finally dipping to near-normal levels, we would all do well to brace ourselves for what lies ahead. I won’t break out the “w” word, but I think you get where I’m going with this.
Just because we can’t ride as much, though, doesn’t necessarily mean we can’t indulge. Life is hard enough when icy roads deprive me of my beloved, long off-season rides. Being told I need to stick to salad if I want to make race-weight by April is just more than I can handle. That’s like telling me I can’t have my cake or eat it either, and that’s just too much for one skinny dude to take. And so, rather than torture myself with trainer rides and steamed broccoli for days on end, waiting for the weather to break, I turn to the fake-out.
There are countless dishes that, rich in both calories and flavor, can be imitated so closely that you barely notice how much you’ve cut back on the former without sacrificing the later. My favorite happens to be a play on penne alla vodka. Loaded with fruity olive oil and sweet roasted peppers, onion, and tomatoes instead of a hefty dose of heavy cream, this sauce has served to fool my housemates many a time as I brought it to the dinner table, draped over whole-wheat penne or rigatoni. Even you will probably be fooled as you bring dinner to the table, thinking cream sauce all the way there. Not until you dig in will you realize that it is anything but. But at that point, you won’t care. You’ll be too busy indulging.
Penne with Roasted Pepper and Tomato Sauce
Serves 4 (recipe easily doubled)
1 box whole-wheat penne or rigatoni
1 pint cherry tomatoes (or 5 tomatoes, quartered)
1 onion, sliced
4-5 red and yellow bell peppers, sliced
5 cloves garlic, whole
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp red pepper flakes
3 tbsp olive oil
1. Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees F.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the tomatoes, onion, peppers, garlic, salt, and olive oil. Mix well with a spoon or your hands to combine.
3. Turn out the veggies onto a foil-lined sheet pan and roast for about 30 minutes, or until the tomatoes begin to blister, stirring half way through.
4. When the vegetables have 10 minutes to go, bring a pot of water to a boil for the pasta. Once it reaches a boil, add a healthy pinch of salt and the pasta. Cook according to package directions.
5. When the vegetables are done, remove them from the oven and scrape everything, including any drippings, into a blender or food processor. Sprinkle in the black pepper and red pepper flakes.
6. Puree on high until smooth, drizzling in olive oil to get the consistency and flavor you want. Adjust seasoning to taste.
7. Pour the sauce out into a large sauté pan or medium-pot and set over low heat to keep warm.
8. When the pasta is nearly done but still al dente, drain into a colander, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the sauce and stir to coat. If the sauce needs thinning out, add some of the pasta water and stir. Let the pasta finish in the sauce for 2 minutes, then remove to a serving dish.