Artichoke Tortellini Primavera

The night before I went back to Weight Watchers, S and I cooked together. Although I do the majority of the cooking around here (and he does all the dishes), when both our schedules permit, nothing makes me happier, or feel more married, than working in the kitchen with my husband. We’re in the midst of painting the room, so lately we’ve been doing plenty of “work” in there together, but the chaos has allowed for very little cooking. Sunday night, though, a fridge full of vegetables just this side of rotten beckoned.

I first went to WW when I was about ten, with my mom. She had gained weight with each of her four pregnancies, and as I’ve written before I was fat since toddlerhood. Once a week, we’d walk over to the VFW hall for the meeting, where we’d get weighed and then listen to a half-hour lecture. All I can remember is being desperately bored. The plan accommodated children—I got more to eat than my mom, and I believe milk was required for me—but the meetings sure didn’t. The specifics of the program at the time elude me, but I do recall it mandated eating fish—which I absolutely hated back then—five times a week, and liver—which I hated even more, and still do—once a week. I’m pretty sure pasta wasn’t even mentioned as a possibility, and the amount of vegetables, beyond meager choices like lettuce, was restricted. Needless to say, my parents kindly let me off the hook with the more stringent rules. And needless to say further, I failed miserably on this program. My mom generally did no better than I. Every year, usually in January, she and I would trudge back to the VFW hall for another shot, and within six months we’d both drop out again. But before we did, we’d make sure to enjoy our last meals, our last treats—often for as long as a week before going. Ice cream and chips, fries and pizza, and lots of it. We probably gained five pounds just getting ready to start each time.

Back to the other night. I knew I’d be going to WW the next day—I’d looked up the local meeting several weeks ago—though I didn’t mention it to S. Wanted to leave a back-door open, I guess, in case I chickened out. But my days of pre-diet gorging are long gone, so even though I knew it would be a while before I ate a chocolate chip cookie again, I wanted to eat something healthy. Our dinner—artichoke tortellini primavera, with chicken—could easily have been a WW meal, filled as it is with loads of vegetables, a little bit of chicken, and the very tasty tortellini we had in the freezer. It’s also wonderfully flexible: just about any vegetable can be used, as long as you cook them in the order I’ve given below (hard veggies like broccoli stalks and carrots go into the pasta water first, to give them a little head start, and then everything gets added in order from hard to soft). Chicken is entirely optional—the dish is just as good as an all-vegetable meal. Even the tortellini isn’t strictly necessary, since we’ve enjoyed this dozens of times with plain old pasta.

Seriously, it’s the perfect healthy-but-still-decadent dinner. It sure gave me a good start on my way back to Weight Watchers.

Artichoke Tortellini Primavera

Serves 2, with leftovers

1 spear broccoli, stalks and florets cut into ½” pieces and separated

2 carrots, peeled and chopped into ½” pieces

A glug or two of olive oil

1 small onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 T. Roasted Red Pepper Spread (optional)

1 t. Peperoncino Picante Paste or red pepper flakes, to taste

* ½ pound boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into ½” pieces (optional)

2 ribs celery, sliced into ½” pieces

½ red pepper, cut into ½” pieces

1 zucchini, sliced in half lengthwise and then cut into ½” pieces

** 1 cup chicken broth

1 package frozen artichoke tortellini [I use Trader Joe’s]

10 button mushrooms, quartered

10 cherry tomatoes, halved

Salt and pepper to taste

2 T. pine nuts, toasted (optional)

Freshly grated parmesan cheese

While you’re chopping, put a large pot of salted water on to boil, and place a large bowl of ice water nearby. When the water boils, put broccoli stalks and carrots in for 2 minutes. Add broccoli florets and boil 1 minute more, then scoop all the vegetables out and plunge them into the ice water to stop the cooking. Cover pot and keep water simmering—you’ll be using it to cook the tortellini. Set vegetables aside.

In a large sauté pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent, then add garlic. Sauté, stirring, until garlic fragrance fills the room, then add Red Pepper Spread and/or Peperoncino Paste. Sauté for 30 seconds more, just enough to heat the red stuff. Add the chicken (if using) and cook, stirring occasionally, until it turns white, about three minutes. Add the reserved broccoli and carrots, the celery, the red pepper, and the zucchini. Add chicken broth as needed, if mixture looks dry or starts to stick.

Bring water back up to boil. Cook tortellini according to package directions.

While tortellini is cooking, add mushrooms and tomatoes to chicken-vegetable mixture, and more chicken broth if it doesn’t look saucy. Cover and lower heat. Let it simmer lightly until tortellini is done. Drain tortellini and add to pot. Toss it all together, and serve topped with toasted pine nuts and/or grated parmesan.

* When I trim chicken for freezing, I pull off all the tenderloins and freeze them separately—it defrosts really fast, and it’s already cut-up for last-minute stir fries and dishes like this.

** If you want to make this totally vegetarian, use some of the pasta cooking water instead of chicken broth (just scoop it out with a glass measuring cup while the tortellini is cooking).

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