Pasta Is New Again

October 2, 2023

Everyone was enjoying twirling noodles until the pasta police arrived and ruined not only Wednesdays, but everyday with their emphatic declaration that white was not right! Pasta as we knew it had to go. A health ruination, a weight gain menace, a carb with consequences.

What to do? Enter the world of whole grain pasta! We are saved. We can twirl linguine once again!

It is time for whole grain pasta to take its rightful place on the dinner table. Growing up in a large southern Italian family, pasta was always a central dish; we didn’t call it pasta (which means paste), we called it macaroni and we understood its character and goodness because it was made a mano (by hand).  Every week, the hand crank pasta machine would get anchored to my mother’s thick butcher block baking center. My job was to turn the crank, a job I truly disliked.

I would watch as dozens of fresh deep, orange-yoked eggs were cracked and cradled in the middle of heaping mounds of white flour. My mother and grandmother would work the ingredients together so fast with flour caked hands, that even a food processor would be envious! The result was batch after batch of spaghetti and linguine hanging to dry on wooden dowel rods that were propped between chairs. Some was saved in wide, flat cardboard boxes to cook later, some was given away, and some went right into the pot. Every Sunday without fail, huge platters made their steamy way down the long dining room table. Macaroni thin as shoelaces and tossed in mom’s best tomato sauce was a culinary triumph. No one sitting at the table would even have known what whole wheat pasta was back then, not even in Italy.

Eating habits change with time and so it is with pasta. Ever since carbohydrates were declared enemies of the plate, many of us have had to reluctantly resign ourselves to a single reality…our beloved pasta had been banished from the garden of eating.

In one of my previous books devoted to pasta, Mangia Pasta!, I explored the world of conventional pasta made from durum semolina, a hard wheat. And I showcased the difference between dried pasta (pasta secca) and fresh pasta (pasta fresca). I married the appropriate sauces for each type and explained in detail that cooking pasta was more than throwing it into a pot of boiling water; it was an art. But sometimes the simpler the cooking appears, the harder the technique is for getting it right. To this day, many people are stumped by the Italian cooking term “al dente” which means to the tooth. Is that a convincing way to describe when pasta is cooked? I have a better way, an artful way. And it simply involves breaking a piece of the cooking pasta in half and noticing if any flour remains visible; if so, throw it back into the pot until there is no evidence of uncooked flour. That’s al dente.

I am more convinced than ever that we find ourselves among a generation that does not know the fundamentals behind cooking simple foods. This is due in large part to busy lifestyles that leave little room for a home cooked meal. The supermarket takeout counter or microwaveable foods makes “what’s for supper?” less stressful than trying to figure out what to cook at the end of the day.

Choosing to incorporate whole grain pasta in your diet will affect your health. You’ll get more minerals and vitamins. You won’t have to worry so much about packing on the pounds because whole grains are absorbed slowly into your system, leaving you with that full feeling while eating less. You’ll have more energy too!

Pasta is a food of the ancient world, but the world of whole grain pasta is in its infancy. Open a box and discover the satisfaction and surprise that comes from adding whole grain pasta to your diet.

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