When I was told that I’d have to go without gluten for nearly a year I was sure the rapture was coming. I would sit in my doctor’s office while he pored over my bloodwork, shocked about my insulin spikes. What are you eating? he wondered aloud. How did you insulin levels jump this high so fast? At the same time my dentist studied my x-ray, studied me, and asked how I’d developed seven cavities in one year. I was 38 years old, drinking kale smoothies like it was my job and I was on the road to diabetes and several root canals.
DIABETES? You’ve got to be kidding me.
We have an image of sickness. A series of photographs and warnings that leave their indelible mark. I’m a relatively educated woman but I thought (erroneously) that diabetes was reserved solely for the obese, those who consumed processed foods. Let go of this image. Immediately. Diabetes doesn’t discriminate. Genetics also play a role, and seemingly “healthy” people can suffer from the illness. And while I was blitzing up smoothies and shopping local and organic, I couldn’t ignore the pasta, bagels and paninis I ate every. single. day. I couldn’t ignore that sugar and carbs subsumed the measly amount of vegetables, whole grains and legumes I consumed in comparison.
Last year I was on the road to ruin and I had to change my diet. FAST. But holy shit, how was I going to live without pasta.
When I first saw my nutritionist, I completed an exhaustive seven-page questionnaire and logged a food diary. One of the questions invited me to list foods I couldn’t imagine living without. I wrote: bread and pasta. These were my non-negotiables. Shoot me up with broccoli rabe and beets all you like–you’d have to pry a box of pasta off my dead body before I’d let go.
That was kind of a problem.
Recently I read Sarah Hepola’s Blackout. There’s a scene where she recounts lost time to her therapist. Hepola says, Everyone has blackouts, to which her therapist, bristled, replies, No, they don’t. I nodded along to this because I assumed blackouts were par for the adult course. One drank until they saw black. They drank until their mind was literally no longer able to create memories–the alcohol set up shop and was ready to do serious business.
I say this because I have a predilection for liking something to its unhealthy excess. I’m used to creating my own ruin because at least I thought I could control every aspect of it simply because the form of addiction is familiar. We cleave to that which is known–we’re frightened otherwise. And although I joke about chickpea fatwas and avocado addictions, there isn’t a day that goes by that I have to be mindful, aware, of my behavior. Am I ordering that pizza because I want to cope with an impossible client? Do I sit in front of my laptop and eat mindlessly because although I love Los Angeles, although I don’t regret–even for a moment–moving here, I miss my friends so dearly. I miss Amber. I miss Persia. I miss Mauve Cat Alex and Alex Alex (I’ve a lot of friends named Alex).
Food is for fuel not for recompense. Food is for subsisting not for cowering, shielding and hiding.
It took me a year but I now live a life where I’m not tethered to a box of macaroni and a loaf of bread. My insulin levels are normal, and after an expensive summer of painful dental work, I’m healthy, balanced.
Portioning my food into storage bins helps. Patroning farmer’s markets and connecting with the people who grow + cultivate the food I eat helps. California has brought me the gift of incredible produce. Never have I tasted peaches so ripe, with fruit so blistering claret. Never have I seen the diversity in pesto and tomatoes. Yesterday, before I met a friend for lunch, I trolled my local market and picked up bags of tomatoes, basil, peaches, cheese, figs, and local pork.
When I was eating gluten-free (I still sort of do), I hated the pastas. While it’s true that gluten-free fare has come a long way, corn, soy and potato are just as nutrient empty and unfulfilling as it’s white flour counterparts. Some brands didn’t keep well in the fridge, others were gummy and quinoa, for some reason, makes me extremely ill when I eat it.
I discovered Explore Asian’s bean pastas on a lark. The woman in front of me in checkout piled a few bags on the conveyer belt and I asked her if the pastas were any good. She nodded, said some were better than others, and she liked that they had a hefty amount of protein and held up well for leftovers. I’ve tried nearly all of them and they’re pretty exceptional. I’ve made them with avocado basil pesto, with chicken and all sorts of vegetables, and while the flavor takes a little getting used to (think of it as when you switched from Danon yogurt to Greek), these pastas are a mainstay in my pantry.
So after baking a peach crumble (i.e. this morning’s breakfast), I made this exceptional pasta dish. Not only did I need less of it (since the protein pretty much filled me up making room for PIE), I loved the flavors of the roasted tomato and bean with the salty sausage. AMAZING.
For the pesto
1 cup of tomatoes quartered. You can use any tomatoes, but I used 3-4 small of these farmer’s market tomatoes
1 tbsp olive oil, salt pepper (all are for roasting)
2 cups of basil, packed
2 fat cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1 tbsp pecorino romano cheese
1/2 cup olive oil (dial this up or down depending on how smooth you like your pesto)
Salt/pepper to taste
For the sausage pasta
1 package of your favorite bean pasta (I used this one), but you can just use a pound of your favorite pasta
1/2 pound of Italian or breakfast sausage out of their casings and roughly chopped
1 tbsp of olive oil for frying the sausage
Start with the tomatoes. In a 400F oven, roast the tomatoes with the olive oil, salt + pepper for 35-40 minutes until charred. Set the tomatoes aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In a large skillet, fry up the sausage in olive oil until brown (7-10 minutes). While the sausage is cooking, add the pasta to the now boiling water and cook until al dente (per your package instructions). While both are cooking, add the tomatoes (and their juices), basil, garlic, cheese, olive oil, salt and pepper to a blender and blitz until smooth.
Drain the pasta (leaving 1/2 cup of pasta water aside), and add the pasta to the pan with the sausage. Toss to combine. Add the pesto, toss to combine, and let cook for an additional 1-2 minutes.
Serve hot with fresh basil and pecorino cheese. Enjoy!