There are about 350 different types of pasta around the world and about four times that many names for them! As a culinary ingredient, the versatility of pasta surpasses all others. The variety of textures offers a vehicle to carry flavors with different mouthfeel. Mouthfeel in pasta refers to how different shapes change the effect in the mouth of various sauces.

Pasta pairs very well with vegetables and essentially provides an unlimited opportunity to increase vegetable intake.

A CDC study reports that less than 14% of American adults meet the standard recommendation for vegetable intake which is 2-3 cups of vegetables a day. Being a low-cost food just pennies per serving, pasta is a healthy way to stretch a meal to feed more and it’s a flavorful way to increase our vegetable intake.

People who eat more vegetables reduce their risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Of all the food groups; meat, dairy, grains, vegetables and fruit, increasing vegetable intake offers the most opportunity to improve our health. I frequently talk to clients who like vegetables but are simply not in the habit of eating them. So why do we resist this one simple way to improve our lifestyle?

Healthy eating habits begin with your grocery list. In the store, note what is in your shopping cart. If you are only buying meat, bread, milk and eggs, look for some different pastas to try. And make a pass through the produce section to find both familiar items and perhaps something different. Our diet will only be as balanced as our cart.

Some pastas stand out as stars. Acini di Pepe (pronounced ah-cheenee dee peh-peh) a less known pasta is gaining popularity. The name is Italian for "seeds of pepper" and refers to its shape and size. In Italy, acini di pepe is traditionally known as a symbol of fertility, which is why it is used in Italian wedding soup. It is also sometimes referred to as pastina (Italian for "tiny pasta"); however, some pasta makers distinguish pastina as smaller than acini di pepe. This bee bee size pasta can be used in recipes from savory to sweet; in salads, soups, main courses, side dishes or desserts.

This month’s recipe Combines Acini di Pepe with vegetables and traditional Italian seasonings to produce an excellent main dish or side. Also try adding a cup of this interesting pasta to improve the texture and heartiness of any soup. Viva la Pasta!

Tim Scallon is a registered dietitian nutritionist with many years’ experience practicing nutrition therapy in local hospitals and clinics, teaching nutrition and developing healthy recipes. He is a Nacogdoches resident and he helped create the popular TV show Memorial Cooking Innovations celebrating the world of food and health. Memorial Cooking Innovations currently runs in 62 cities and is locally available on Sudden Link cable channel 2 in Nacogdoches.

Acini Di Pepe E Verdura Serving size: 1 cup Serves: 4-5

Ingredients 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil ½ medium onion, diced 1 medium carrot, diced 1 stalk celery, diced 1 clove garlic, minced ½ teaspoon salt ½ teaspoon coarse black pepper ½ teaspoon dry basil ½ teaspoon dry oregano ¼ teaspoon turmeric 1 cup acini di pepe pasta ½ cup dry white wine 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest 2-3 cups low sodium chicken (or vegetable) broth 3 tablespoons butter Fresh parsley, diced Fresh parmesan cheese, grated

Directions Heat the oil over medium high heat in a large sauce pan. Sauté the onion, carrot, celery and garlic until tender, about 5 minutes. With a wooden spoon, stir the seasonings into the sauté. Add the acini de pepe and stir to coat. Add the wine and stir until absorbed. Stir in the lemon zest. Stir in the broth ½ cup at a time, stirring until the liquid is absorbed. Keep stirring! Continue stirring and adding the broth ½ cup at a time. When all the liquid is absorbed, stir in the butter and season to taste. Garnish with fresh parsley and grated parmesan. This dish makes an excellent side to any meat. Or add diced chicken or pork loin for a main dish. It pairs well with Sangiovese or Chianti wine.

Exchanges per serving 2 Starches, 3 Fats Nutrients per serving Calories: 290 Calories from fat: 126 Total Fat: 14g Cholesterol: 21mg Total Carbohydrate: 30g Sodium: 441mg Dietary Fiber: 3g Protein: 6g