Whole wheat pasta is, very often, seen as a compromise. It's sometimes compared to cardboard, relegated to the dusty shelves of our pantry and only taken out as a second choice. But should this be the case? Today, we're here to unpack the metaphorical box of the oft-misunderstood whole wheat pasta—and illustrate how to let it shine in its own right. Nuttier, denser, and toastier than its lighter counterpart, pasta made with whole wheat is a whole different animal—and deserves to be treated as such. With the right preparation, tools, and sauces, whole wheat noodles are not only a passable substitute for white pasta—they're a delicious dish unto themselves.
Consider this your guide book into the world of whole wheat pasta; one rife with cooking tips and sauce inspiration. So get your water boiling, and prepare to change your relationship with whole wheat pasta.
- Though you should always strive for al dente noodles, it's especially critical not to overcook whole wheat pasta. When cooked too long it tends to mush together and loses its critical nutty bite; taste your noodles a few minutes before you think they're done to make sure you drain them in time (and don't forget to reserve some of that pasta water!).
- Whole wheat pasta is nuttier and more toothsome than its paler counterpart, and therefore needs to be paired with a loud, vibrant sauce. Steer clear of the simpler, more pared-down sauces that sing so well on white pasta (cacio e pepe, a pared-down tomato sauce, or a simple herb butter) and pair whole wheat noodles with sauces with backbone—ones that aren't afraid to turn the volume up to 11 and keep on going. Think anchovies and sardines, garlic and lemon breadcrumbs, a red wine reduction, or chilis and guanciale. Opt for sauces with varying textures and flavors, like big hunks of golden-roasted vegetables or crumbly fennel-y sausage—ones that won't be lost under the toasty flavor of the pasta itself.
- As mentioned above, whole wheat pasta doesn't stand up well to even a minute or two of overcooking. Therefore, it's usually not a good choice for baked pastas, soups, or one-pot situations. The good news is, when cooked correctly, the heartier texture of whole wheat pasta lends itself especially well to leftovers, keeping its bite even after a day or two in the fridge.
- Don't forget that by choosing to cook whole wheat pasta, you're already being virtuous—so don't skimp on the cheese and olive oil.
Where do you stand on whole wheat pasta: pro, con, somewhere in between? Let us know (and share your best sauces to pair) in the comments!
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).Order now