Vail Today: Lemony pasta helps balance rich holiday foods (video) | VailDaily.com

Vail Today: Lemony pasta helps balance rich holiday foods (video)

Holiday visitors won't weigh you down in the kitchen this season with a colorful and fresh pasta dish. Lemony pasta can be prepped and served warm or at room temperature and will last in the refrigerator for up to six days.

Typically, holidays are filled with elaborate meals, layered with cheesy appetizers and warm, rich desserts. This Christmas, combine the naughty and nice with a pasta dish rich in antioxidants and vitamins and free of the big-calorie price tag.

Cell-damaging free radicals: Be scared of this healthy meal. Asparagus is full of glutathione, which is a detoxifying compound that breaks down carcinogens and helps fight against cancer, specifically bone, breast, colon and lung. Studies also say eating asparagus can slow the aging process while helping to fight cognitive decline with a healthy serving of folate, which works with vitamin B12 to keep your mind on high alert.

Bell peppers are high in vitamins A, C and B6. As gardeners already know, the pepper that is as bright as Santa's outfit is actually a green pepper that has been left on the vine to ripen longer. It has a sweet flavor and a lot more vitamin C than its younger self. A whole red bell pepper has a mere 37 calories, so it is great low-calorie, crunchy snack.

Feeling blue or tired? Bell peppers' B6 helps your brain produce serotonin and melatonin. Red peppers also contain manganese, a mineral that helps develop strong bones and connective tissue — hello skiers!

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Another, super important, totally awesome fact for the ladies: According to Worlds Healthiest Foods, post-menopausal women benefit greatly from eating onions daily, as they lower the risk for hip fracture. Your grandkids may not welcome kisses, but at least you'll be able to keep moving for many more years with strong bones.

By adding lemony ricotta, we up the calorie count and increase the calcium. Lemon rind is also a great source of vitamin C, and if the acid in lemon juice upsets your stomach, the rind is kinder and the flavor is intense and low calorie.

Enjoy this healthy and light dish with your guests, and happy holidays.

Lemony pasta

16 ounces dried pasta (cavapatti)

1 cup asparagus, chopped into 1-inch pieces

2 cups red pepper, chopped into ½-inch pieces

1 cup red onion, chopped into ½-inch pieces

1/2 cup Italian parsley, leaves

1 ½ pounds chicken breast

8 ounces ricotta

2 lemons

2 tablespoons butter

Olive oil marinade

1/3 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon dried parsley

In a small bowl, mix olive oil marinade and reserve.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place chopped asparagus, red pepper and onion on baking sheet, and pour half the marinade over the vegetables. When chopping the asparagus, use only the top half of the stalk. Roast vegetables in oven for 15 minutes.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Heat sauté pan that can be transferred to oven over medium heat.

Coat the chicken in the marinade that is left over. Place chicken in pan and sear for 5 minutes per side. The vegetables should be done cooking and removed from the oven.

Reduce oven heat to 350, place chicken in oven, and cook 7 to 10 minutes, until done. Remove chicken, and let rest 5 minutes. When pasta is done, drain, and add butter to melt. Mix vegetables into pasta. Cover to keep warm; slice chicken and add to pasta.

Using a micro plane, zest both lemons and mix lemon zest into ricotta. Plate pasta on a serving platter. Using a teaspoon, drop spoonfuls of ricotta evenly on pasta. Chop Italian parsley and sprinkle over pasta.

Serves 10 to 12.

Statistics are from EatingWell (www.eatingwell.com), Heathy Eating (healthyeating.com) and Worlds Healthiest Foods (www.whfoods.com). Tracy Miller's food focus is adding fruits and vegetables to all meals. She is a private chef and blog writer on colorfulcooking.com. You can contact her at tracy@colorfulcooking.com.