Certain shoes go best with certain outfits. Different wines pair best with certain dishes. And certain sauces go best with the nuttier, fuller taste of whole grain pasta. But which ones? We asked several companies specializing in whole grain pasta to give us their best advice on “pasta pairing” so we could pass their tips on to you.

Try big, bold flavors

Whole grain pasta brings its own flavor to the party – it’s not simply a blank canvas – so choose flavors that complement its lively personality. Spicy peppers, crushed red pepper, or Sriracha, can add a pop of flavor, or simply choose a spicy, savory sauce as in Pasta Puttanesca (traditionally made with anchovies, capers and olives, among other ingredients). Aromatics – like garlic, onion, and leeks – and flavorful herbs can be used liberally, without overwhelming whole grain pasta.  Savory, umami-rich sauces do well, too.


Travel around the world

Pasta is enjoyed across the globe, so don’t just think “Italy” when you make a dish of pasta. Toss whole grain pasta with grilled meats, roasted vegetables, and harissa for a North African flavor, for instance.  Or take things in an Asian direction by pairing cool mango with seared Mahi tuna and a wasabi or ginger dressing.

Pair pasta with salty, savory, sweet, and earthy ingredients

Our pasta pairing panelists recommended a wide range of ingredients that work best with whole grain pasta’s natural depth of flavor. Some that came up repeatedly were:

  • Strong or salty cheeses, such as Pecorino, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Feta

  • Mushrooms, especially wild and exotic types like morels, porcini or chanterelle

  • Nuts, including almonds and walnuts

  • Small bits of meat (Italian sausage, pancetta)

  • Sweet vegetables, like winter squash, carrots, beets, especially when roasted

  • Garbanzo beans and other beans

  • Assertive vegetables, like kale, cauliflower, or broccoli – accented with a little bacon or pancetta

Some examples of pastas using ingredients like these include this Whole Grain Penne with Leeks, Pancetta, and Brussels Sprouts (photo 1) and this recipe for Roasted Vegetables with Sprouted Grain Pasta (photo 2).

What about milder-flavored sauces?

While traditional wisdom has it that whole grain pasta doesn’t “go” with white sauces or creamy sauces, this belief may stem partly from the color of the pasta. Some folks just feel that a pasta has no business being darker than its sauce! If you’re in that camp, try your favorite white sauce with a pasta made from whole white wheat (a lighter-colored variety of wheat). Some brown rice pastas and quinoa pastas are lighter in color, too. Keep in mind, also, that many whole grain pastas are lighter in color after they’re cooked than they look in the package. One final option: use a more interesting and flavorful cream sauce, as in this recipe for Farfalle with Avocado Sauce (photo 3) made with whole grain pasta.

Lemon-based sauces, or some light tomato-based sauces, may go best with milder-flavored pastas – but that doesn’t mean giving up the extra nutrition-boost of whole grain pasta. Sprouted wheat pasta and spelt pasta tend to have a milder flavor than traditional whole wheat pasta, with slightly sweet notes. These pastas, along with brown rice or quinoa pastas, might be a great choice for simple butter-and-parmigiano toppings or for any light-and-lovely sauce. For instance, consider this White Wheat / Quinoa Pasta with a Lemon Cream Sauce (photo 4).

Getting the family on board

If your family is not yet used to the more robust taste of whole grain pasta, perhaps you just haven’t found the right pairing. Try one of the recipes or combinations mentioned above, or consider mixing it half-and-half with regular white pasta, and serve with any sauce your family likes already. (Here are some kid-friendly suggestions.) Then gradually increase the ratio of whole grains as their taste buds adapt. Or simply experiment with different brands of whole grain pasta. Unlike white pastas, which may taste fairly similar, whole grain pastas offer a wide range of tastes and textures, so experiment until you find ones that you and your household like best. Enjoy! (Cynthia)

Thanks to the following for sharing their ideas about whole grain pasta pairing: Barilla, Dakota Growers Pasta, Essential Eating, Hodgson Mills, New World Pasta / Ronzoni, Purity Foods / VitaSpelt

Photo credits, from top: iStock, Barilla, Pastashoppe.com, Oldways, Hodgson Mill





Richard Pittman
Your recipe's are great, also your suggestions

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