- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2007

You’re probably seeing more whole wheat bread in your supermarket, thanks to the U.S. government’s dietary guidelines that recommend Americans consume three servings of whole grains a day.

That takes care of breakfast toast and lunchtime sandwiches, but until recently, whole grains weren’t readily available in typical dinner ingredients.

That’s changing, and now you can take advantage of a wide range of whole wheat pasta products food companies are offering.

Most supermarkets offer whole wheat spaghetti, penne and macaroni. You may even find pasta enhanced with several whole grain ingredients, including cornmeal and rye.

Unlike pasta made with refined flour that has a neutral taste, whole grain pastas add another flavor dimension to your typical spaghetti dinner. Whole grains are sweet, nutty or slightly herbal, depending on which grains are used.

The additional flavor profile means you have a tasty dish with fewer ingredients. Toss some cooked vegetables and shredded Parmesan cheese with cooked whole wheat pasta and you have a delicious dinner. Combine whole grain pasta with leftover roast chicken and a dash of olive oil and you’re halfway to a meal.

I’ve discovered, however, that some ingredients are better partnered with conventional pasta. Alfredo sauce, for instance, is overwhelmed by whole grain pasta. A light and fresh tomato sauce is also better with a pasta made from refined grain, while a gutsy, highly seasoned sauce can stand up to the whole grains.

If you haven’t tried whole grain pastas, this recipe provides a delicious opportunity. Start with whole wheat pasta, then explore the other products in your market.

Whole wheat penne with pancetta

Water

Salt

2 cups broccolini or 2 cups thin-stalk broccoli, cut into 1-inch pieces (measure after cutting into 1-inch pieces)

6 ounces whole wheat penne

4 ounces pancetta, coarsely chopped

1½ cups halved grape tomatoes (about 1 pint)

1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, optional

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil. Add the broccolini and cook for 1 minute. Remove with a slotted spoon. Don’t discard the water. Add the penne and stir. Cook penne according to package directions until tender. Drain well.

Meanwhile, place pancetta in a large nonstick skillet. Heat over medium heat, stirring frequently until fat is rendered and pancetta is browned and cooked through. Don’t drain off fat. Add broccolini and tomatoes and cook over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes or until tomatoes are slightly chunky.

Stir in penne, crushed red pepper flakes and pepper. Stir well and heat through. Spoon mixture into serving bowl. Pass Parmesan cheese separately. Makes 2 servings.

Bev Bennett is the author of “30-Minute Meals for Dummies” (John Wiley & Sons).

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