Can pasta salad help you live longer? That might be a stretch, but lately I have been fascinated with longevity research and I recently stumbled across this interview with USC’s Valter Longo (the godfather of longevity research) on the impact of diet on aging and longevity (hint: he recommends a mostly plant-based diet). In that interview he said, “Other than genes, it is hard to think of something that can be more powerful than food in determining whether someone is going to make it to 100 or die before 50 years old.

He went on to talk about an “ideal” meal with a little pasta, a bunch of garbanzo beans, and a whole bunch of greens/veggies (he’s Italian, naturally). But classic Italian/Mediterranean diet isn’t about mountains of pasta – just *a little* pasta with a ton of other nutrient-dense food. As he puts it:

“the Italians who lived so long never ate the large bowls of ‘only pasta’ that people associate as being authentic Italian food. They were the old Italians for whom even pasta was expensive. So they ate what they could grab from their backyards, which was mostly legumes and vegetables, with some pasta. People are accustomed to eating a bowl of pasta or rice with a little bit of whatever on top; it should be the other way around.”

I found that idea so inspiring… a bowl with a little pasta and whatever you can find in your garden – a bunch of beans/peas, tomatoes, leafy greens, and more. It’s classic One Ingredient food. So I have been experimenting and evolving that idea for a while and I’ve ended up at the recipe below.

This is seriously the most complete meal I think I’ve ever made; plenty of whole-grain carbs, complete protein from the beans + pasta, about 9 cups of leafy greens, veggies, mushrooms, and more. It tastes SO good and satisfying, and I always feel healthy and energized after eating it (unlike with a pure bowl of pasta). I’ve made a big batch multiple times over this last month and eaten it twice a day on some days. It’s perfect.

If you’re looking for a delicious, healthy meal you can make once and eat for days, this is it. The best part is, you can just throw in whatever you have on hand; it’s a great way to clean out your fridge. There’s a lot of ingredients, but you can omit what you don’t have and add what you do have.

Makes about 6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 3 cups fresh kale leaves
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup raw cashews
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 16 oz whole wheat fusilli pasta
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms (I used shiitake)
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes (halved)
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce (optional)
  • 2 15 oz cans garbanzo beans
  • 3 cups fresh arugula (or other greens)
  • 5 green onions
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2-3 tablespoons sunflower seeds

This recipe is all about three separate parts that are tossed together in the end: The kale pesto, the whole wheat pasta, and the amazing garbanzo/veggie mixture. Here’s how to make them…

One: Kale Pesto

Prep: soak the cashews for at least 10 minutes (an hour or more is better), to soften before processing.

This is a super-simple, economical pesto. Instead of using a ton of basil and pine nuts (which can be expensive) it has nutrient-packed kale and cashews for the nutty component. In a food processor combine the first 6 ingredients: fresh basil and kale, garlic, lemon juice, cashews, and some salt and pepper. Pulse repeatedly and scrape down the sides as needed until a very smooth paste

Note that I measured three cups of each green by very loosely stacking them in a measuring cup – they were not tightly packed.

Two: Garbanzo Mixture

This is really the soul of the dish. In a large skillet over medium heat, begin cooking a cup of sliced mushrooms and two cups of halved cherry tomatoes with a splash of water and (optionally) a splash of soy sauce for extra umami. Cook until the tomatoes are starting to wilt and the mushrooms have softened. Then add in the garbanzos with a generous splash of balsamic vinegar and allow everything to simmer while the pasta is cooking (see step three below). When almost done, throw in a few giant handfuls of arugula and some chopped green onions and cook for just 3-4 more minutes until the greens begin wilting. When ready, toss about 20% of the pesto from step one into this dish and the remainder into the pasta.

Three: Pasta

This one’s easy: about halfway through the above step, boil a large pot of water and cook the fusilli according to package instructions and then drain. Try to time it so that the garbanzo mixture is done around the same time. Toss with 80% of the pesto (again, the rest goes into the mixture above).

Four: Finish

Finally, simply bring everything together: after the pesto has been tossed into the pasta, transfer the garbanzo mixture in as well and toss thoroughly. Spoon into bowls and top with a sprinkling of sunflower seeds for an added crunch.

Note: this keeps very well for 2-3 days, and is just as good cold as it is warm.