Pasta

Whole-Wheat Pasta Skeptics, Meet the Recipe That’ll Change Your Mind

A crunchy, nutty, salty 30-minute dinner.

April  4, 2019
Photo by Rocky Luten

You know that one friend whose taste you trust in nearly everything, from clothing to coffee shops to books to podcasts to recipes? The friend who’s caring for a practical greenhouse of plants, who’s skiing one weekend, hiking the next, who’s filling homemade doughnuts with quince jam? The friend who, with all that, still manages to send you mail from across the country?

That friend, for me, is Rebecca, who I swear could have a side gig as a lifestyle influencer.

So I was floored when I found out that she cooks whole-wheat pasta for herself on a regular basis. Was I to trust Rebecca, as I always had, and assume that whole-wheat pasta, which I had always assumed to be gritty, earthy, and dense, could be...good? Like, actually good, and not just because it’s high in fiber?

I am hear to give a resounding YES, and to thank her for making me see the whole-wheat pasta light. I’ve learned that as long as you don’t treat it as a one-to-one swap for the regular stuff, whole-wheat pasta can be delicious.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I used to think whole wheat pasta was gritty too. I didn’t touch it for years. Then I decided to try it again. It was awesome. It was like a nutty but not gritty pasta and the nuttiness it did express was very mild. So I went back and bought more. Mmmm, sandpaper grit. What happened? It was a brand thing. I’ve found more than a few that are pretty good. Trader Joe’s spaghetti is usually a safe go to. Some of their other shapes aren’t as good. Keep trying until you find one in your store. I know it’s out there! 🍝”
— mikedalena
Comment

It does, however, demand recipes and flavor combinations that lean into its nuttiness (and, I hate to say it, graininess). It will compete with vodka sauce and detract from pesto; it’s too aggressive for carbonara.

But it will make a dish that’s savory, earthy, or oniony—and not trying to be too delicate, bright, or pure—even better.

Take this recipe for Garlicky Whole-Wheat Pasta With Fried Hazelnuts. You start off frying hazelnuts in olive oil (no pre-roasting necessary) until they’re deeply golden and irresistibly fragrant. When you remove the nuts from the skillet, you’re left with oil that’s infused with their richness—and ready to become pasta sauce. With chile flakes, garlic, and lemon—along with pecorino for more nutty saltiness and a pat of butter for gloss—it’s the ideal counterpart to the whole-wheat noodles: The crunchy hazelnuts provide a foundation of flavor that keeps the pasta from feeling out of place; the spicy, lemony sauce brightens it up to prevent the dish from feeling like it’s been buried underground.

In this case, I’d say that whole-wheat pasta is even better than its refined counterpart.

Are you a whole-wheat pasta fan? How do you cook it? Tell, tell in the comments.
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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).

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13 Comments

Louise G. April 20, 2019
I saved this recipe because Dear Hubby prefers whole wheat pasta, But my experience with making dishes with while wheat pasta is that they tend to be on the dry side, The grainey quality is the outstanding feature of the dish. It takes a lot of sauce to compensate for the heaviness of the whole,wheat. But I will try it and then see what I think,,,,
 
mikedalena April 8, 2019
I used to think whole wheat pasta was gritty too. I didn’t touch it for years. Then I decided to try it again. It was awesome. It was like a nutty but not gritty pasta and the nuttiness it did express was very mild. So I went back and bought more. Mmmm, sandpaper grit. What happened? It was a brand thing. I’ve found more than a few that are pretty good. Trader Joe’s spaghetti is usually a safe go to. Some of their other shapes aren’t as good. Keep trying until you find one in your store. I know it’s out there! 🍝
 
Michelle April 7, 2019
I use almost nothing but whole wheat pasta and have for many years. I think it can be used for almost any topping but you do have to find the "right" brand for your taste buds. My own favorites include Bioanturae, and house brands from Kroger and Fresh Market. Personally, I find Hodgkin Mills, a little bitter for my taste but it is widely sold so many people must like it. Certain pastas such a pappardelle and other pastas with egg are not available in whole wheat, in which case, with only a slight twinge of guilt, I use the regular. 80-20 rule I guess.
 
Madelaine L. April 6, 2019
I make homemade pasta with WHITE Whole Wheat Flour. Everyone is shocked when they learn it is whole wheat as it tastes like regular white pasta. The difference is the wheat itself. Here in the US, Red whole wheat is predominant. Originally grown in Australia, White whole wheat is making inroads here in the US. It is equal to Red whole wheat in nutrition values. I also use it for baking. This link tells the whole story: https://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/whats-whole-grain-refined-grain/whole-white-wheat-faq
 
Donna D. April 5, 2019
Try whole wheat pasta with sautéed meaty mushrooms (with a hint of garlic) and some cream, modestly and gently. Pecorino. Optional, a touch of sherry. The mushrooms play up the earthiness of the whole wheat, the light cream (no alfredo here) adds silkiness and contrast. Simple and fast.
 
Marsha S. April 7, 2019
I've had DreamFields Whole Wheat pasta found in most food stores and have made a similar recipe with mushrooms, plenty of shallots, minced garlic, chicken stock, heavy cream, white wine, butter,etc. Out of this world! It's an old recipe of Rachel Rays! I never thought I'd like whole wheat pasta but DreamFields pasta made a convert out of me. Admitttedly I use it on occasion only because my husband is a purist and won't use anything else but white pasta! His loss!!! LOL!
 
Marsha S. April 7, 2019
oh! And yes! Plenty of parmigiano reggiano cheese as well!
 
FrugalCat April 5, 2019
Barilla makes whole wheat shell pasta. Hazelnuts are the approximate size of chickpeas. A hazelnut nestles perfectly into a pasta shell. This reminded me of the pasta with chickpeas recipe that I made specifically to trap the little round morsel in the pasta shell. A delicious recipe and I suggest everyone try the shell shape for this and the chickpea recipe.
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. April 5, 2019
I love that idea!
 
Annada R. April 4, 2019
Whoa, so good to see your byline on F52 after a while. Sarah. I agree with Natalie, I do like whole wheat pasta with pesto and lots of vegetables.
 
Natalie R. April 4, 2019
Ohh I need to try this. I will say that I do like whole wheat pasta with some pesto. There was one my mom would by that had a very salty, strong flavor that I really enjoyed with the wheat taste, and I liked the texture of the pasta with it. Any ingredients I would pair with farro I've been more than happy to pair with whole wheat pastas. If you have a rosemary pasta recipe, that tastes awesome, too. But I am glad you pointed out that it isn't for everything.
 
Christopher C. April 4, 2019
That's fine, but just don't try to push brown rice on me -- tasting, as it does, of cardboard. Life is too short.
 
cmcinnyc April 4, 2019
To me, whole wheat pasta is winter pasta, because it's so good with things like roasted cabbage, pumpkin/butternut squash based sauces, and nuts. Not so nice with lovely spring things like asparagus and ramps.