published Thursday, February 9th, 2012

Pierce: A Valentine's dinner that won't blow your diet

Planning to dine in on Valentine's Day? Then you've probably got in mind a little soft music, candlelight, wine and an Italian entree.

Since childhood, we've absorbed pop culture's subliminal messages that pasta and romance go together like love and marriage.

Most likely you were introduced to that concept when a shared plate of spaghetti led to a slurpy canine kiss in the Disney classic "Lady and the Tramp." Did you know that 50 years later, that iconic scene is still parodied in movies and on TV? In a recent "Glee" episode, Brittany fantasized that her dinner with Artie would be as romantic as Lady and Tramp's spaghetti meal.

Remember the scene in "The Apartment" when Jack Lemmon makes a candlelit dinner for Shirley MacLaine? He boils spaghetti, then strains it through a tennis racquet. Not too conducive to whetting your appetite but, ladies, didn't you still sigh over his thoughtfulness in trying to please her?

Julia Roberts ate with joyous abandon in her famous pasta-eating scene from "Eat Pray Love." She relished that guilty pleasure, even moaning at one point. Who knew pasta could be so provocative?

Still, you may be thinking, there's the matter of all those carbohydrates with their bad-boy reputation.

A one-cup serving of cooked pasta contains about 40 grams of carbohydrates and about 220 calories, according to nutritiondiva.com. What's out of control is knowing when to put the fork down. Portion distortion -- oversized servings -- is what I can't master.

You can have your pasta and enjoy it, too, with this recipe my former Weight Watchers teacher shared. A former caterer, she was a master at tinkering with traditional recipes to make them Weight Watchers-approved.

I'm passing it along today for a Valentine's dinner possibility. Toss a salad, pour two glasses of wine (85 calories per glass in a red or dry white wine), and dinner is served.

E-Z Fettuccine Alfredo

1 pound uncooked, boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Butter-flavored nonstick spray

1 box Betty Crocker Chicken Helper Italian Fettuccine Alfredo

2 cups fat-free milk

1/2 cup hot water

5 cups fresh broccoli, cleaned and chopped

Cut chicken into 1-inch or smaller pieces, and brown in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat using butter-flavored spray.

Add fettuccine sauce mix, milk and hot water, and stir until blended.

Add pasta and broccoli; cover and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat. Sauce will thicken after cover is removed. Makes 5 2-cup servings.

Weight Watchers PointsPlus count per serving: 8.

about Susan Pierce...

Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...

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