Photo by Iain Bagwell; written by Amy Machnak

Make flavorful dinners based on a new supermarket staple that's packed with vitamins and fiber

Amy Traverso,  – January 3, 2007

Whole-grain Penne with Walnuts, Caramelized Onions, and Ricotta Salata

Shrimp, Lemon, and Spinach Whole-grain Pasta Salad

Whole-grain Pasta Soup with Greens and Parmesan

Of all the new whole-grain products flooding the market these days, one of our favorites is pasta. No longer the grainy, crumbly stuff of years past, the new pastas have a toothsome texture and pleasantly nutty flavor, and they’re sold in most supermarkets.

Whole grains are this decade’s wonder food. For one, they offer a solution for dieters who have tried low-carb or no-carb regimes, but realized they couldn’t live without bread or pasta.

Whole-grain foods aren’t just great-tasting; with their low glycemic index (the rate at which a food is absorbed into the blood as sugar), they don’t cause the insulin spikes that no-carb diet proponents claim lead to weight gain.

Plus whole grains contain fiber, antioxidants, phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals, all of which have been associated with reduced risk of cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.  

When we tried these nutrient-packed pastas in Sunset’s test kitchen, we were surprised to find that most brands of whole-grain spaghetti and linguine were nearly indistinguishable from traditional refined-flour pastas. Stirred into a simple soup with kale and parmesan, they were mild-tasting, tender, and delicate.

We noticed more of a difference with heftier, extruded pastas, such as penne, rotini, ziti, and fusilli. Because their flavor is stronger, these pastas work best with assertive sauces, such as the tangy lemon-yogurt sauce on our pasta salad.

When shopping for whole-grain pastas, it’s important to know that the amount and type of whole grain varies from brand to brand, from multigrain blends such as Barilla Plus to 100 percent whole-wheat brands like Bionaturae.

We particularly liked the flavor and texture of whole-wheat pastas made by De Cecco, but all the brands we tried worked well in the recipes above.

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