Hearty Enough for Whole Wheat


Don't trust anyone who tells you to pair whole wheat pasta with your favorite red sauce. That person only has one thing on his mind—whether it's weight loss, an obsession with fiber, or a hysterical aversion to white flour, I can't tell you, but it's definitely not with creating a tasty supper. There's just something about the flavor of whole wheat breaking through the mellow savoriness of tomato sauce that screams "I'm eating healthy!" in a sort of over-caffeinated way.

But whole wheat pasta does actually enhance some dishes, something I've learned by trial and plenty of error. Plain, with butter and cheese? A little confusing to the body, much like drinking a rum and coke. With aglio e olio, the combination of long-cooked, thus sweet, garlic and lots of olive oil? My husband was not amused (nor would be my Abruzzese grandmother, who I could practically feel glaring at me from across Brooklyn).

I've tried to figure out a rule of thumb for when it will work, and I think it comes down to this: The sauce must be one that puts up a fight, to match the pasta's assertive wheatiness. My favorite combination is whole-wheat linguine with pesto. I'm talking about fresh pesto, with plenty of raw garlic—regular pasta with pesto has tasted insipid ever since. Or this recipe, by food editor Alexis Touchet, which has become part of my regular rotation ever since I tasted it in the test kitchen*. Salty-meaty kielbasa and earthy chard, it turns out, are just the pair to do battle with whole wheat.

*For some reason, whole wheat penne is never able to shake its "I'M HEALTHY FOR YOU!" flavor. For this recipe, stick with fusili, or the charming "chiocciole" (snails) carried in health food stores.

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