Traverse City Record-Eagle

February 7, 2013

Load 'em up: Skiers dig into pasta

Skiers dig into pasta to boost energy for Vasa

Special to the Record-Eagle

TRAVERSE CITY — Athletes worth their salt know that one of the key components to optimal performance is the right diet — especially the night before a big race.

"It's been a longtime tradition to eat carbohydrates the night before any race," said North American Vasa board president Pete LaPlaca. "It's important to be properly nourished."

And nearly half of those who signed up for the 37th annual ski race will be getting their carb load on at the annual "all-you-care-to-eat-carboload" Vasa Pasta Feed Friday night.

Studies show that an extra supply of carbohydrates has been demonstrated to improve endurance in longer-term racing such as the Vasa, where skiers may be covering up to 50 kilometers in frigid temperatures. Athletes need more easily burnable energy to maximize their muscle glycemic stores, said Connie Metcalf, a dietitian at Munson Medical Center in Traverse City.

One place to get that energy is from carbohydrates.

"Carbohydrates are a form of energy that is easily converted to sugar when necessary," said Metcalf. "Athletes need that energy from carbohydrate calories, but they also need additional fluids to stay hydrated."

Carbs can come in a number of forms: from grains and pasta to bread and vegetables. You also want to eat something the night before that is easily digestible, she suggested.

At the Pasta Feed, volunteers from the Traverse City High School Nordic Ski team will be serving up plates of pasta and sauce, along with salad and bread to skiers and race volunteers alike.

"This is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the cross-country team and we invite the community to come to the dinner," said LaPlaca.

The coed team, which includes skiers from both Traverse City West and Traverse City Central High Schools, will also be sitting down to the dinner since they'll be racing both Saturday and Sunday.

Coach John Kostrzewa said he encourages the young athletes to not only eat carbs the night before a race, but to avoid sweets and empty fat and calories from fast food, for instance.

"It seems like eating pasta is something skiers have always done," said the longtime coach. "That stored energy they get from carbohydrates is even more important than a light lunch that they might have between races."

Vasa Pasta Feed coordinator Laura Jacobson expects to host between 200 and 300 skiers, depending on the trail conditions.

"The number we feed is very snow dependent," said Jacobson, who has had three sons compete on the cross-country ski team.

"About half the number of registrants come for the dinner," she said. "Last year it wasn't so great and we had 200 exactly. In a good snowy year, we'll feed around 300."

Last year that meant boiling some 55 pounds of pasta and simmering 55 gallons of sauce.

"There are a lot of very serious skiers who come and they eat amazing amounts of food," said Jacobson. "But they burn so much fuel, they really need to."

The volunteers will dish up a pasta sauce from a recipe that has been the event workhorse for years.

"This recipe has been passed down from parent to parent," said Jacobson.

When the volunteers stir up the tomato-based sauce, they will add meat to one so diners will have vegetarian and meat options.

Jacobson learned that the athletes like their pasta al dente, so they partially cook the noodles the night before. On the day of the dinner, they set up turkey fryer bases outside to heat large pots of water where the pasta will be finished.

In addition to fresh pasta with a choice of homemade sauce, a lightly dressed Caesar salad, bread and homemade desserts made by the high school skiers' families will also be on the menu.

The dinner will be held at the Timber Ridge Banquet Hall from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. The cost is $10 for adults and $5 for children 12 and under.

Pasta Feed Sauce

¼ c. olive oil

4 medium onions, chopped

10 garlic cloves, minced

½ green pepper, diced

2 15-oz. cans tomato sauce

4 15-oz. tomatoes, whole or diced

1 6-oz. tomato paste

4 t. dried parsley or ¼ c. fresh diced parsley

3 T. sugar

1½ t. salt

1 T. dried oregano

1½ T. dried basil

Heat olive oil and add onions, pepper and garlic. Saute until tender. Add the rest of the ingredients. Stir, bring to a boil, lower to a simmer and cook for one hour. Add meat if desired.

Bow Ties with Sausage and Sweet Peppers

8 oz. dried bow tie pasta

¾ lb. fresh spicy Italian sausage links

2 medium sweet peppers, cut into bite-size pieces

½ c. vegetable broth or beef broth

¼ t. coarsely ground black pepper

Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, cut sausage into bite-size pieces. In a large skillet, cook sausage and sweet peppers over medium-high heat until sausage is brown. Drain off fat.

Add broth and black pepper to skillet. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Drain pasta. Toss pasta with sausage mixture. Yields four servings.

--"Better Homes and Gardens 500 Five-Ingredient Recipes," Better Homes and Gardens, Books

Creamy Lemon Pasta

9 oz. refrigerated or 6 oz. dried fettuccine

½ c. whipping cream

¾ c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 t. finely shredded lemon peel

Salt and black pepper

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain well. Add cream, half of the cheese and the lemon peel. Toss gently to coat. Transfer to a serving dish and top with remaining cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes three servings.

--"Better Homes and Gardens 500 Five-Ingredient Recipes," Better Homes and Gardens, Books

Vegetable Lasagna

2 T. extra virgin olive oil

1 large yellow onion, diced

1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced

2 small zucchini, diced

2 small yellow summer squash, diced

1 head broccoli, florets separated and chopped

1 12-oz. jar roasted red peppers, drained and diced

½ t. red pepper flakes

1 8-oz. log fresh goat cheese

8 oz. ricotta cheese

2 t. minced garlic

1½ t. chopped fresh thyme

1½ t. dried basil

1-„2 t. dried oregano

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 c. marinara sauce

1 lb. no-boil lasagna noodles

½ c. freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

3 T. chopped fresh parsley

Preheat the oven to 375°. Grease a 9-by-13-inch ovenproof casserole dish.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, zucchini, summer squash and broccoli florets and cook for three to five minutes. Remove the vegetables from the heat and allow them to cool. Stir in the roasted red peppers and the red pepper flakes.

Mix the goat and ricotta cheeses in a medium bowl until well combined. Add the garlic, thyme, basil and oregano and season with salt and pepper.

Spread 1 cup of the marinara sauce in the bottom of the prepared casserole dish. Arrange a layer of lasagna noodles over the sauce and season with pepper. Top with a layer of vegetables. Drop spoonfuls of the cheese mixture over the vegetables and spread the cheeses gently with a spatula, covering as much of the vegetables as you can. Repeat with the remaining sauce, noodles, vegetables and cheese, finishing with a layer of lasagna noodles and sauce. Sprinkle the Parmigiano-Reggiano over the top.

Cover the lasagna with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes. Uncover and continue to bake until the top is browned, about 15 minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with the parsley and serve. Serves eight.

--Courtesy of "In the Kitchen with David — Comfort Foods that Take You Home," David Venable, 2012

Garlic Broccoli Pasta

6 oz. uncooked rigatoni or large tube pasta

2 c. fresh broccoli florets

3 garlic cloves, minced

4-½ t. olive oil

¼ c. shredded Parmesan cheese

½ t. salt

⅛ t. white pepper

Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, place broccoli in a steamer basket. Place in a saucepan over 1 inch of water; bring to a boil. Cover and steam for four to five minutes or until crisp-tender.

In a saucepan, saute garlic in oil until tender. Drain pasta; add to saucepan and toss to coat. Add the broccoli, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper; toss to combine. Yields four servings.

-- "Taste of Home's Light & Tasty Annual Recipes 2005," Reiman Publications