Wednesday, January 28

Cooking With Whole Wheat Pasta

Whole wheat pasta poses a challenge. It's far healthier than refined pasta, offering the fiber and higher nutrient content of whole wheat, but it doesn't taste as good. Basically, the taste is more rustic. While whole wheat pasta will never be exquisite--at least not the types that are commonly available in stores--it's possible to cook basically delicious meals with them. At that point, the pasta may still be an acquired taste, but at least it's possible to enjoy it.

The trick is to use ingredients with relatively strong, rustic flavors to complement the whole wheat flavor. Many of the classic pasta sauces, such as tomato sauce and olive oil and garlic, are meant for refined pasta's subtle and delicate flavors. With whole wheat pasta, the sauce ingredients need to be both powerful and diverse, also offering more texture to balance out whole wheat's less perfect texture. We've made two successful whole wheat pasta dishes recently. You might call the first one rustic olio e aglio, with chunky mushrooms and greens, and lots of very lightly cooked garlic in lots of olive oil. The second one was with pistou, which is basically a winter pesto made with parsley instead of basil, made with an emphasis on the nuts in order to add earthiness. For both, we use either penne or spiral pasta, so that there's a more consistent balance of sauce and pasta with each bite.

Whole Wheat Pasta With Olive Oil and Garlic and the Rest of the Garden
serves 2 with leftovers

1/2 pound pasta, whole wheat, such as penne or spiral (250 g)
1/2 to 1 pound mushrooms, such as crimini, sliced relatively thickly
1 onion, optional, sliced or chopped relatively finely
1/2 or 1 head garlic, to taste, minced
salt to taste
1 or 2 bunches greens, such as chard, washed, stemmed as necessary, and cut into bite sized pieces
a lot of olive oil
1 big handful parsley, optional, minced, for garnish
parmesan or other cheese, optional, shredded or whatnot

Start the salted water boiling for pasta. Whenever the water boils, prepare the pasta and set aside. If it's going to sit for a bit, toss it with some olive oil so that it doesn't stick together.

In the meantime, prepare the sauce. Make sure the greens are washed, cut, and prepared. In a fairly large pan, fry the mushrooms in olive oil. If you are using onion, add soon afterwards. When the mushrooms are nearly done, add the garlic, stir, and add salt.

The character of this dish is basically shaped by how much you cook the garlic. You can cook it very briefly, and go for that sharp raw garlic taste. You can cook it for a long time, and go for that mellow cooked garlic taste. My ideal is to catch it right in between, with a little pungency and a little mellowness.

When the garlic is nearly cooked as much as you would like, add the greens and cover. Once the greens have wilted down to the desired degree, stir, add more olive oil, and salt.

Pour the pasta into the pan with the sauce, stir, and add more olive oil and salt as desired. Add the parsley and cheese if using and serve with red wine.

Whole Wheat Pasta With Pistou
serves 2 with leftovers

1/2 pound pasta, whole wheat, such as penne or spiral (250 g)
1 clove garlic
2 handfuls nuts, such as pecans... you want these nuts to be flavorful, not too mild
1 chunk parmesan or other cheese, optional
1 large-ish bunch parsley, washed and dried
a lot of olive oil
salt to taste

Stir the salted water boiling for pasta, and once it boils, cook the pasta according to the package directions. When it's done, set aside.

Toast the pecans lightly. You can do this by frying them in a dry pan with medium heat, stirring gently. Be very careful not to burn them, and as soon as they're fragrant remove them from the pan.

Add the ingredients to your blender (or, I suppose, food processor). If you're using a blender, make sure to add the chunky ingredients first. If your blender isn't mixing things, try adding more olive oil.

Serve the pasta and pistou, with additional olive oil if desired.

apologies for the lighting!

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