6 ways to get whole grain pasta love


Are you celebrating World Pasta Day today? It’s an annual event that got its start in Naples almost 20 years ago.  Since that time, we’ve seen this traditional food take more than its shares of attacks but on this day, let’s set the record straight.

Pasta has been an age-old favourite around the world for centuries but like any food, it can be abused. And one of the chief causes for slurs to its reputation is portion distortion. When you’re served a  gargantuan plate full of pasta in a North American restaurant that would feed a family of four in Italy, don’t blame the food as being fattening.

Another misconception that maligns pasta’s healthfulness is about its impact on blood sugar readings. Pasta is frequently mistakenly classified together with refined grains in their effect on blood sugar levels. When properly cooked – al dente meaning “to the tooth”- pasta has a low glycemic index, leading to a slow rise in blood sugar readings compared to sugar and white bread.

If you’re looking for fast food, meatless meals or ways to incorporate more vegetables into a meal, you cannot beat pasta.  Pair your noodle shape of choice with pulses such as chick peas or lentils or toss them with sautéed onions, peppers and mushrooms and a splash of extra virgin olive oil and a spoonful of Parmigiana Reggiano and you can have a satisfying meal in a flash.

Whole grain pasta ups the nutrition ratings even more so but you’re not alone if you or someone you’ve cooked it for has given it a thumbs down for taste. But you might be surprised at the reasons for this common occurrence. Simply substituting whole grain pasta for regular noodles in your favorite preparation is not the best strategy.

At the recent conference, “Whole Grains Away from Home (Whole Grains in Foodservice, the Next Frontier)” in Chicago,  organized by Oldways and the Oldways Whole Grains Council, Barilla Executive Chef Lorenzo Boni enlightened delegates with his presentation and cooking demonstration, “Flavor Pairings with Whole Grains”.
Who knew that you couldn’t just use a whole grain noodle in your regular family faves? But it actually makes perfect sense when you think about it. Chef Boni pointed out that due to its more intense and assertive flavours than regular pasta, certain combos are more palate pleasing.

Here are 6 points to keep in mind along with pairings from Chef Boni which will complement your whole grain pasta dishes:

•    Be sure to cook whole grain pastas al dente
Don’t overcook whole grain pasta as both the taste and glycemic index suffer. As with regular pasta, the glycemic index of overcooked whole grain pasta climbs.

•    Pair it with sweeter sauces
Roasting vegetables brings out their natural sweetness. Also consider using winter squashes, carrots and other root vegetables which are naturally sweet.

Go for  savory ingredients and  umami
Mushrooms of all types, especially earthy wild and exotic types like morels, porcini or chanterelle along with cheeses such as Parmigiana Reggiano   all  provide  umami, making them delicious partners for whole grain pasta.

•    Select sauces and ingredients that complement the whole grain flavor
Assertive vegetables like kale, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli rabe, asparagus, Brussels sprouts are just a few of Chef Boni’s suggestions

•    Go for toppings with more texture or thicker sauces
Go for a chunky sauce rather than a smooth one to match up with whole grain taste.

•    Skip light vegetable, dairy or acidic sauces such as an Alfredo or pure tomato sauce
Vegetables with mild flavours such as zucchini or plain creamy sauces are overpowered by the stronger taste of whole grain pastas. Also consider adding some heat from chilies or crushed red pepper flakes.

Up next: a whole grain pasta recipe from Chef Boni

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Categories: Food Trends, Weight Management

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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