Everybody loves pasta. October is National Pasta Month, as if we needed any more reasons to love our noodles.
But for many people, the default setting is white flour spaghetti, macaroni, or lasagna noodles. Perhaps you are one of the people who tried whole wheat pasta years ago, when the whole wheat pastas on the market went from crunchy to mushy in a split second. I remember, I was there.
For years, I ignored whole wheat pasta, even as I ate brown rice and whole grain breads, and almost never ate refined flour. Because even I can not eat something I don’t enjoy.
I’m here to tell you, the process of making great pasta from whole wheat has been tweaked and improved. I’m a big fan of whole wheat angelhair, which is thin and firm enough that most people will not even notice that it is not white. But for today, I used a beautiful tubular pasta called Chiocciole, made by Bionaturae. It’s kind of a giant macaroni, plump, curved tubes that give you lots of surface area for sauce.
The thing to remember about whole wheat pasta, as with whole wheat flour in baked goods, is that it has a stronger flavor. Real, wheaty, hearty flavor, rather than bland, white flavor. That heartier flavor calls for a pairing with heartier, more robust sauces in your dish. The season is perfect for meals that celebrate intense tastes. Now’s the time to crank up the oven and roast some simple vegetables to deep, concentrated sweetness, with a touch of the bitterness that browning can add.
So I plucked the last precious cherry tomatoes from the bowl on the windowsill, for a last blast from the summer garden. I had a nice chunk of Blue Hubbard squash, a fantastically meaty and sweet winter squash. Brussels sprouts would round out the dish, by roasting to tender, shrunken nuggets of flavor.
Cranking up the oven feels good these days, and the comforting “thwack” as my knife hits the board sings a song that comforts me as I work. A little olive oil and some heat will release the magic from my harvest haul, creating a perfect companion to the whole grain pasta.
The only trick to this dish is the finish. Once the tomatoes have burst and given up their juices, I like to mash them to make a sauce that will coat the pasta. I also mash some of the tender squash cubes, and mix the roughly in the roasting pan with the tomato pulp. No need to wash the food processor, a fork will do. The caramelized juices in the pan and the olive oil, which has absorbed a blend of all the vegetables essences, make a rustic and light sauce. Just cook the pasta, toss to coat, and taste. If you want more olive oil or salt, add it. If it seems a little bare, pluck out a few squash cubes and mash them, then stir back into the pasta. I love the simplicity of this, but you can certainly make it more of a meal with toasted nuts, cooked chickpeas or beans, or a sprinkle of cheese.
All that veggie goodness will complement the nutty, chewy whole wheat pasta, and you’ll be glad you cranked up the oven.
Roasted Squash and Whole Wheat Pasta with Thyme
This makes a big batch- 12 cups total, so you can either eat it twice, or cut the recipe in half for a smaller portion. It’s a good make-ahead and freeze sauce- just save half of the vegetables and freeze them, then thaw in the fridge and proceed. If you want more protein, drain and add a can of white beans, top with toasted walnuts, or if you like cheese, add crumbled chevre.
1 1/2 pounds Blue Hubbard or other firm meaty squash, peeled and cubed
1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tablespoons plus 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup packed fresh thyme leaves, coarsely chopped
1 pound whole wheat chiocciole or penne
freshly cracked black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Prep the vegetables and spread the squash on a sheet pan, and the tomatoes and brussels sprouts on the two halves of a deep roasting pan. Drizzle with the first two tablespoons of oil and toss each ingredient, keeping them separate. Roast for 15 minutes, stir, sprinkle on the thyme, and roast for 15 more, until the sprouts are browned and the squash is tender. Take out the pans and place on racks. Scoop a cup of the squash cubes up and put on top of the tomatoes. Use a fork to mash the squash and tomatoes to a pulp, adding a tablespoon or two of the remaining olive oil to make a coarse paste.
Cook the pasta, drain well. In the pot that you cooked the pasta, combine the cooked pasta and roasted vegetables, mashed vegetables, and a generous amount of salt and pepper. Toss to coat the pasta, and taste to see if you want more salt or pepper, or olive oil.
Serve immediately. Keeps and reheats pretty well, too.