Forget what you've heard. These old-school dishes are nutrient-rich and guilt-free.
Nils Bernstein 1 / 4
If you ask renowned heart doctor Giovanni Campanile, the answer is yes: you can indulge your cravings for pasta and not hate yourself later. And no: To do it, you don’t have to be an endurance athlete whose fuel furnace burns calories like kindling. All you need, says Campanile, is to swap the old white-flour-based stuff—that high-glycemic, insulin-spiking gut punch that can derail a day’s worth of gym work—for superhealthy, unbelievably tasty whole-grain pastas.
The reason? It’s not rocket science, but biology: The body digests whole grains—grains that still have their endosperm, germ, and bran—more slowly than those that have been stripped (aka “refined”); that means blood-sugar levels don’t jump wildly, so there’s less chance of storing fat and developing diabetes. Whole grains also have more protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals than refined grains, as well as fewer calories, three times the fiber, and 25% more protein. “Grain pastas are perfect superfoods—they’re packed with phytonutrients and have been shown to prevent heart disease, cancers, and diabetes in many studies,” says Campanile, who’s so behind the whole-grain movement that in 2013 he opened Pazzi Pasta, a Brooklyn eatery specializing in “ancient” grains—wheats like emmer, spelt, and red fife—as well as rye, quinoa, and millet.
But if you can’t get to Brooklyn, you’re still in luck: Your local supermarket likely stocks the same grains in pasta form—try the Eden Foods or Racconto brands—or as seeds you can easily make into pasta at home.
Here, courtesy of Pazzi Pasta and grain-savvy chefs Walter Edward of Tallulah’s, in Seattle, and Simone Bonelli of NYC’s La Pecora Bianca, are three delectable, nourishing new ways to put pasta back on your table.
FROM GIOVANNI CAMPANILE, M.D., AND OWNER OF PAZZI PASTA, BROOKLYN, NY
When you’re cooking with whole grains, says Campanile, try to avoid anything generically labeled “wheat”—95% of wheat produced today is a modern species known as “common wheat,” which has been genetically altered for increased yield and pest resistance, not flavor and nutrition. So when you’re cruising the supermarket aisles, be on the lookout for names like einkorn, spelt, and khorasan. These are all ancient grains that are high in protein and fiber and come packed with a clean, tasty, “wheaty” flavor.
In this recipe, we’ve opted for Eden Foods Kamut and Quinoa Twisted Pair, which resembles the traditional busiate, or spiral, pasta typically paired with this pesto in its homeland of Trapani, Sicily, as its shape ensures that the light pesto stays on the noodles and won’t pool at the bottom of your bowl.
When making this Southern Italian pesto, Campanile suggests using a mortar and pestle to mash it. (If that’s too much pressure, a food processor also works just fine.) “A smooth texture allows the pesto to coat the pasta,” he says. But above all, Campanile says, “fresh, seasonal herbs and vegetables are mandatory to create the best pesto.”
INGREDIENTS: 1/2 lb fresh plum tomatoes 1 garlic clove 1 cup fresh basil 1/2 cup blanched almonds 1 tbsp pecorino cheese 1 tsp salt Black pepper or red pepper flakes, to taste 1 tbsp capers (optional) 1/2 cup pitted black olives (optional) 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
PESTO DIRECTIONS: Dunk the tomatoes in boiling water for 2 minutes, drain under cold water, and peel the skin off with your fingers. Add all ingredients except olive oil to a food processor and blend until smooth. With the mixer running, add the olive oil in a thin stream.
When making pesto, opt for a spiral-shaped pasta. That will ensure the sauce stays aboard instead of pooling at the bottom of your bowl.
Red Sauce and Turkey Meatballs over Whole-Grain Spaghetti
FROM CHEF WALTER EDWARD OF TALLULAH’S, SEATTLE, WA
Whether you’re using beef meatballs or, in our case, the lighter turkey variety for this hearty classic, you shouldn’t use just any whole grain. Because marinara—yes, good old “red sauce”—has a sweet taste to it, says Tallulah’s chef Walter Edward, who specializes in vegetable-and-grain-driven comfort food.
We recommend pairing it with a pasta packed with a tasty, nutty flavor, and Racconto 8 Whole Grain Spaghetti—blending eight healthy grains, including rye, buckwheat, and millet—fits the bill perfectly.
When you’re prepping your meatballs, says Edward, squeeze them just enough to hold their shape, to give them the perfect amount of tenderness. And if you’re still pan-frying your meatballs rather than using the (far easier) method of baking them, this recipe will cure you of the habit.
INGREDIENTS FOR THE SAUCE: 6 garlic cloves 1 onion, roughly chopped 1 carrot, roughly chopped 1 celery stalk, roughly chopped 2 tbsp olive oil 2 tsp minced fresh thyme 1 (28 oz) can San Marzano tomatoes, drained and pulsed in food processor 2 bay leaves (preferably fresh) 1 tsp salt 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
FOR THE MEATBALLS: 2 lbs ground turkey 2 slices stale whole-grain bread (crusts removed), soaked in . cup nonfat milk 2 eggs, beaten 2/3 cup low-fat ricotta cheese 1/2 medium yellow onion, coarsely grated 3 garlic cloves, minced 1 tsp dried oregano 1 tsp ground fennel seed 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper 1 tbsp salt 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
DIRECTIONS FOR THE SAUCE: Put garlic, onion, carrot, and celery into a food processor and pulse until minced. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the minced vegetables and cook until translucent. Reduce heat, add the remaining ingredients, partially cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 3 hours.
FOR THE MEATBALLS: Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, break up ground turkey with your hands, then add the bread and mix gently until the bread disappears in the meat. Gently mix in the other ingredients. Shape meatballs (about the size of an ice cream scoop) with your hands and place on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for about 20 minutes, or just until golden brown and cooked through.
Of all the grains finding their way onto grocery store shelves, none has surged in popularity quite like red fife. A wheat that was dominant in much of the world in the 19th century, red fife fell out of favor; but thanks to its herbal, nutty, faintly sweet qualities, it was revived by North American farmers in the early 2000s.
“Like all whole grains, red fife has more protein and fiber than refined grains,” says La Pecora Bianca’s Simone Bonelli, who specializes in making traditional (ancient grain) Italian pasta using local, organic whole-grain flours. “I love it in our tagliatelle Bolognese for its nutritional value as well as its texture and consistency.”
Bolognese sauce, traditionally served with long, flat ribbons of tagliatelle—a pasta similar to fettuccine—is a classic of Italian cuisine. When made properly, it bears little resemblance to the “meat sauce” you find in your neighborhood Italian joint. Proper technique involves simmering it for hours—and when you think it’s done, simmering it another hour so everything integrates into a silky, uniform sauce.
To make this pasta, mix it directly on the countertop, knead it a few minutes, then roll it out. If you don’t have a pasta roller, use a wine bottle. and if you can’t find red fife flour, use any other whole-grain flour, or make your own by pulverizing whole grains to a powder in a coffee grinder.
INGREDIENTS FOR THE PASTA: 2 cups red fife flour (or substitute emmer, spelt, or Kamut flour) 1 cups “00” or “Italian-style” flour (or substitute all-purpose flour) 4 eggs, beaten 1 tsp olive oil 1 tbsp water
FOR THE SAUCE: 1 onion, minced 1 carrot, minced 3 celery stalks, minced 5 garlic cloves, minced 2 tbsp olive oil 1/2 lb ground pork 3/4 lb ground beef 1/4 lb fresh pork sausage (removed from casing) 2/3 cup red wine 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes 4 cups chicken stock Tied in a cheesecloth: 12 peppercorns 5 juniper berries 2 bay leaves 1 sprig rosemary 1 sprig thyme
DIRECTIONS FOR THE PASTA: Mix flours together and pile on a countertop, making a crater in middle. Add eggs, oil, and water to crater and, using your hands in a circular motion, gradually mix flour into wet ingredients until dough forms. Knead for 5 minutes, or until smooth and silky. (If dough is sticky, add flour; if it crumbles, add water.) Wrap in plastic; let rest in fridge for 2 hours. Divide into 2 parts and, using a pasta roller, rolling pin, or wine bottle, roll each half into a thin rectangle. Cut into 1/4-inch strips. Cook in boiling salted water for 2 to 3 minutes, or until al dente.
FOR THE SAUCE: In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, cook onion, carrot, celery, and garlic in oil until tender. Add meats; cook until brown. Add wine; cook until it evaporates. Add tomatoes and stock, lower heat, add cheesecloth with seasonings, partially cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 4 hours. Discard cheesecloth when done. And remember: Proper Bolognese is simmered for hours. When you think it’s done, simmer it for another hour.