A few weeks ago, the Times did a story about dialing back on meat and there was lots of great stuff in there — not the least of which: that mushroom bourguignon that everyone including us seemed to be making over the long weekend — but the part I keep turning over in my dinner brain was this quote:
According to Marion Nestle, an author and professor emeritus of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, if you are getting enough calories, then you are getting enough protein.” (Elite athletes are the exceptions) “People are very concerned about protein, but it’s a nonissue,” she said. “It’s in grains, it’s in vegetables, it’s everywhere. It will find you.”
I have to believe that’s true, but even still, I’m skeptical! It remains the number one question people ask me when I tell them we’re mostly eating vegetarian these days: But how do you know your kids are getting enough protein? Not for nothing, the second question is: How do you make sure you’re not only eating cheese and pasta?
Yikes. I’ve been making a lot of Mac & Cheese in the past year — it’s the kind of dish that can serve as the main for a vegetarian or a side for the meat-eaters but mostly I’m making it a lot because, uh, my 16-year-old loves it and I am 100% guilty of conflating food and happiness. Plus, after a parade of beigey browny bean dinners (it’s been bean chapter recipe development season over here) I feel like I owe her a high-five kinda dish every now and then, “high-five” defined as I get a literal high-five when I tell her it’s what’s for dinner.
Still, there’s a lot of it. To make everyone feel a little better about things, last week I swapped out the regular pasta with Banza shells — made from chickpeas, so: protein! fiber! — which my friend Lia told me was the best of the alternate pasta lot. I’ve tried many kinds over the years — rice pasta, quinoa pasta, etc. — but this was the first one that came close to regular pasta. It’s definitely pricier than normal pasta, and the texture is slightly chewy, but I’ll take chewy over mushy any day. And though there’s a distinct garbanzo-bean flavor, you don’t really notice when it’s paired with a bold sauce…or when baked with milk, cream, and three kinds of cheese. I made the mistake of telling my family about the swap-out before they had a bite, so their antennae were up for something unusual. They claimed they did notice the chewiness, but it didn’t stop them from eating everything on the plate.
I’m hard at work tweaking and perfecting a recipe for weeknight Mac & Cheese for my book, but until then, I’ve had a lot of success with this recipe in the past. Try it at home! Replace the elbow pasta for chickpea pasta and see if anyone notices.