Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Whole Grain Pasta That Actually Tastes Good!

Cheap, Sustainable, Delicious: Whole-Grain Pasta With Fresh Tomato and Zucchini Sauce
This light, flavorful pasta is like summertime in a bowl. (Photo:Ian Knauer)

I recently started eating tomatoes again after a many-month hiatus. It wasn’t enough that winter tomatoes taste like nothing; I would still buy them occasionally, tempted by their unseasonably ripe-looking redness. I was always, and I mean always, disappointed. But it took a book all about tomatoes (and why they don’t taste like anything when eaten out of season, not to mention the atrocious conditions by which they’re farmed) for me to finally stop buying them any time other than summer. But, it’s summer. (You should read Tomatoland by Barry Estabrook, too. He’s also an erstwhile contributor to this site.)

My garden’s tomatoes aren’t ready yet (with the exception of a few cherry tomatoes) but the local farm stands are starting to show their scarlet goodness, and I am all in. I eat them in sandwiches and salads and in my favorite summertime pasta sauce, where they are raw and tossed with olive oil, lemon juice, and thinly shaved zucchini.

But this post is only half about tomatoes. I’ve also been on a quest to find a whole-wheat pasta that I actually like. After a few gag-reflex-worthy tries, I found one.

MORE: Could You Live on $20 a Day? Ask Florida's Tomato Workers

The first reason to switch over from white flour pasta is the health benefits, so you’ll want to get the biggest bang for your effort. Buyer beware: Many whole-wheat pastas on the market are just regular pasta in disguise. Take a look at the ingredient list. If the word “enriched” is in there, put it back on the shelf. What you really want is a whole-grain pasta, and The Whole Grains Council (yes, there’s a whole-grains council) has made them easy to identify. If a pasta is made with whole grain there is a yellow postage-style logo on the package. They print a Basic Stamp (which denotes at least eight grams of whole grains per serving) and a 100% Stamp (with a minimum of 16 grams per serving). Go 100%.

And thus began the hard part of this article’s research. Some whole-grain pastas taste like dog food; some taste far worse. I won’t bother to list the losers.

Gia Russa makes my favorite whole-grain pasta. It has a slight nuttiness and a nice chew. It swirls around the fork (many of these pastas break into grainy pieces). At 55 grams per serving, it feels healthy without tasting too healthy and does a fine job of sucking up raw tomato juices.

Whole-Grain Pasta with Fresh Tomato and Zucchini Sauce
Serves 4 to 6

1 small garlic clove
2 1/2 pounds tomatoes
1 large zucchini
1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound whole-grain pasta
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

Mince garlic and mash to a paste with a pinch of salt using a large heavy knife.

Core and coarsely chop two thirds of tomatoes. Slice zucchini very thinly with a slicer. Toss chopped tomatoes and zucchini with the cheese, oil, garlic paste, lemon juice, salt, sugar, and pepper. Let stand until ready to use, at least 10 minutes.

While tomatoes stand, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, until al dente, about 9 minutes. Drain in a colander and immediately add to tomato mixture, tossing to combine. Sprinkle with basil and serve.

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