The countdown is on: Adam and I leave for Italy in 3 days, and I can think of little else besides views of the Amalfi coast and exploring the charming pockets of Rome. And most of all, I’m dreaming of pasta.
I’ve been to Italy several times now, and I’ve pretty much decided that it’s my favorite place on earth. For one thing, there are so many different destinations within that one country that you could probably take 20 trips to various areas of Italy and none of them would feel like the others. The rolling hills of Tuscany, rich history of Venice, glamorous Capri, and bustling Rome – they each have their unique aesthetic and culture, and I’m endlessly inspired by them all. The other reason I’ve officially declared Italy as my favorite destination is that you really cannot beat the food.
When I’m there, I eat “Italian food” for every single meal and never get tired of it. And you know what’s funny? Even though I feel like I eat my way through Italy, freely enjoying pasta, fresh mozzarella, gelato, and wine — I come home feeling just as light as when I left Austin. I’ve thought a lot about the reason for this secret of the Italians, and I have a couple theories. For one thing, I believe that when we’re fully present at our meals, enjoying the flavors of every bite the way they do in Italy, our bodies can metabolize and digest our food properly. When we slow down and truly savor, those fullness signals can reach our brains to let us know we’ve had enough and it’s time to put down our fork. We’ve taken such pleasure in the experience that we feel satisfied.
Their other secret? In general, Italians follow the principles of the Mediterranean Diet.
The 2019 U.S. News and World Report once again ranked the Mediterranean Diet as the healthiest diet in the world, citing benefits like weight loss, heart and brain health, cancer prevention, and warding off chronic disease. It includes healthy fats like extra virgin olive oil, legumes, lean proteins, vegetables, and (hallelujah!!) pasta. It’s really less of a diet than it is a lifestyle, since staying physically active and gathering together with people you care about are key components of the plan.
One of my favorite aspects of the Mediterranean diet is that it doesn’t ban entire food groups which, for a food lover like me, is a balanced way to stay healthy without sacrificing a single ounce of my enjoyment in life. Pasta is meant to be enjoyed, in reasonable quantities, and it’s the perfect blank slate to get creative in the kitchen and incorporate all kinds of colorful, healthy, and seasonal ingredients. I’m loving teaming up with Barilla, our sponsor for this post, since the brand is built on the tenets of the Mediterranean diet. Their pasta is made with just a few wholesome ingredients, and it’s all about the joy of cooking and eating nutritious meals with the people we love most. After all, can you imagine anything better than a table filled with pasta dishes, wine, and surrounded by friends and family? Me either, and really, this is what I think of when I look back on my favorite moments from my travels in Italy.
In honor of May being Mediterranean Diet Month, I created this Spaghetti with Garlicky Shrimp, Asparagus, & Tomatoes featuring exactly those delicious and wholesome ingredients that the diet is built on. It was actually a cinch to come up with it using Barilla’s genius Italian Pasta Recipe Builder – hop on over and choose your favorite ingredients from the chart, and you’ve got yourself a Mediterranean-style recipe for 500 calories or less per serving. And the flavor combinations are nearly endless. This particular recipe is perfect for summer entertaining — it’s light but so satisfying, and feels a little bit elevated even though it comes together 20 minutes. It’s one of those “set it in the middle of the table and watch your friends dive in” kind of dinners, served family-style with a good bottle of crisp white wine.
Scroll on for the recipe, and I’d love to hear in the comments if y’all have hopped on the Mediterranean diet train. For me, it’s a lifestyle that’s feeling (and tasting) really good for my body and soul these days.
- 1 box Barilla Whole Grain Spaghetti
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 4 cloves chopped garlic
- 12 ounces medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
- 1 cup asparagus, sliced on the diagonal
- 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
- 4 green onions, sliced lengthwise into long ribbons
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- 1/4 cup fresh basil
- Cook spaghetti one minute less than package directions. Drain; reserve 1/2 cup pasta water.
- Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add chopped garlic, cook until softened.
- Increase heat to medium-high. Add shrimp, asparagus, tomatoes, and reserved pasta water; cook, stirring frequently until shrimp is cooked through and veggies are softened.
- Add cooked spaghetti and green onions; cook 2 - 3 minutes until heated through. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
- Remove skillet from heat. Add grated Parmigiano Reggiano, then drizzle with the remaining olive oil and garnish with whole basil leaves.