Recipes > Lunch/Dinner > Healthy Whole Grain Pasta Base Recipe

Healthy Whole Grain Pasta Base Recipe

Many people choose to avoid pasta due to its high carbohydrate content. However, when eaten in appropriate serving sizes and mixed with nutrient dense sauces or vegetables, it makes for a healthy main dish or side! 
healthy whole grain pasta in a gray dish topped with fresh basil

This is one of the base recipes featured in our Whole Life Meal Plan. There are thousands – probably hundreds of thousands! – of ways to make delicious pasta dishes. This healthy whole grain pasta base recipe is a staple in our kitchens for quick, easy, and nutritious weeknight dinners. Use this base recipe as a guide, then have fun exploring different add-ins, sauces, and flavors and changing the recipe to YOUR taste! 

Three Must-Know Cooking Skills

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Culinary Tips for Making the Best Healthy Whole Grain Pasta

Generously salt the pasta water for the best flavor; this allows the salt to go inside the pasta while cooking. Don’t be scared of the large amount – not all of the sodium is absorbed by the pasta. In fact, an experiment conducted by Cook’s Illustrated found that only ¼ teaspoon is absorbed per serving, flavoring the pasta from the inside out!

Don’t add oil to the pasta water! It does not keep the pasta from sticking together, and it hinders the starch development which helps the sauce adhere to the pasta.

Be sure to cook the pasta al dente. Al dente translates to “to the tooth”, meaning the pasta should still have a slight bite; it should not be mushy.

Be sure to reserve a cup of pasta water! The extra liquid can help thin the sauce out, while the starch in the pasta water will help the sauce stick to the noodles. You most likely won’t need the entire cup, but it’s better to have more rather than not enough.

Making pasta for one? Or another quantity? This recipe is based on a ratio of 2 ounces dry pasta (1 cup cooked): ¼ cup sauce. For every additional cup of ingredients, such as vegetables, beans, or meat, add ¼ cup more sauce.

Ingredient Substitutions

  • Pasta: use any shape or even a combination if they have the same cooking time. Spaghetti, fettuccine, penne, fusilli, and farfalle are all classic shapes. Note that spaghetti and fettuccine don’t mix as easily with other ingredients, like vegetables and beans. For gluten-free options, try pasta made from beans or lentils.
  • Sauce: use homemade or store-bought. If buying sauce, look for low-sodium options and simple ingredients. Classic marinara, arrabbiata, and butternut squash sauce are all flavorful and nutritious options. To take your pasta to the next level, try out our classic marinara sauce. More indulgent options like alfredo and vodka sauce also work. Our ratio isn’t designed for pesto, as much less is required. Start with ¼ cup + 2 Tablespoons for 8 ounces of pasta, then add more to taste.

Base Recipe Variations

Remember that this is a base recipe, so the goal is for you to customize it to your taste! You can change up the toppings to whatever sounds good to you. When it comes to creating healthy pasta recipes, the sky’s the limit! 

Use these additional ingredients for even more flavor and texture.

  • Vegetables: use fresh, frozen, or roasted vegetables. This recipe provides a great opportunity to use up vegetable leftovers! Asparagus, bell pepper, broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, frozen peas, mushrooms, yellow squash, and zucchini are all great options.
  • Animal Protein: use lean protein options such as diced or shredded chicken, turkey meatballs, sautéed grass-fed beef and mushrooms, or nitrate-free Italian turkey sausage.
  • Beans: white beans, like cannellini, navy, and great northern work best with pasta, but others can still work. If using a red sauce, brown or green lentils add a meaty texture and appearance.

Garnishes such as shredded or shaved parmesan or asiago cheese, torn or chiffonade basil, olive oil, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, and/or capers are all delicious toppings for a touch more flavor.

Equipment Recommendations

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Health Benefits of Whole Grain Pasta 

Many people choose to avoid pasta due to its high carbohydrate content. However, when eaten in appropriate serving sizes and mixed with nutrient dense sauces or vegetables, it makes for a healthy main dish or side! 

Whole Grain Pasta

Whole grains are good sources of fiber, phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Compared to regular white pasta, whole grain pasta has significantly more fiber – more than double! Fiber is important for digestion, satiety, stable blood sugar, good cholesterol, and healthy gut bacteria. Phytonutrients work as antioxidants to help fight off diseases and keep us well. 

Colorful Vegetables

Vegetables are rich in essential vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that promote health and help fight diseases. It’s important to eat a variety of vegetables, as each color provides different benefits!

Sauce

Tomatoes are the main ingredient in marinara sauce. Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, a phytonutrient that helps protect against heart disease and prostate cancer. Canned and/or cooked tomatoes are higher in lycopene than their fresh counterparts.

Learn more about health benefits of different foods in our book, To Your Taste!

Serving Suggestions

Serve this healthy whole grain pasta with a side salad and/or a side of roasted vegetables to make a beautiful Whole Life Plate.

How to Store and Reheat Leftover Pasta

Cool pasta completely, then store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

To reheat, transfer to a microwave-safe dish and heat through in the microwave. If the pasta looks too dry, drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil.

Leftover pasta is also great cold!

Looking for more easy dinner recipes?

Try out these delicious and nutritious recipes!

Baked Tostadas Base Recipe

Easy Coconut Curry Base Recipe

Salmon with Yogurt Sauce Base Recipe

One Pan Mexican Quinoa Skillet

healthy whole grain pasta in a gray dish topped with fresh basil

Healthy Whole Grain Pasta Base Recipe

This is one of the base recipes featured in our Whole Life Meal Plan. This healthy whole grain pasta base recipe is a staple in our kitchens for quick, easy, and nutritious weeknight dinners.
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Course Dinner, Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Servings 4 servings

Ingredients
  

Base Recipe

  • ½ Tablespoon kosher salt
  • 8 ounces whole grain pasta
  • 1 cup sauce
  • 1 cup reserved cooking water

Additions to YOUR taste

  • 2 cups vegetables (add ½ cup extra sauce)
  • 4 – 8 ounces raw or cooked animal protein (add ¾ cup extra sauce)
  • ½ – 1 ½ cups cooked lentils or beans (add ¾ cup extra sauce)

Garnishes to YOUR taste

  • Chopped fresh herbs
  • Grated or shredded cheese
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Capers
  • Lemon zest
  • Drizzle plain or infused olive oil

Instructions
 

  • Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Add salt. (Do not add oil to the water!)
  • Add pasta and return to a boil. Cook until al dente, according to package directions.
  • While pasta is cooking, sauté or cook any additional ingredients in a 10-12” pan. Add sauce once ingredients are cooked. Bring sauce to a simmer over medium low heat. If not sautéing additional ingredients, bring sauce to a simmer in a 10-12” sauté pan on its own, then add vegetables and/or beans and/or cooked animal protein.
  • Drain the pasta, but reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Do not rinse or add oil to the pasta!
  • Add pasta directly to the sauce and use tongs to gently combine. Thin sauce with reserved pasta water if needed, adding a little bit at a time (you most likely won’t need the full cup). Sprinkle with optional garnishes to taste. Enjoy!

Notes

Be sure to generously salt the pasta water for the best flavor; this allows the salt to go inside the pasta while cooking. Don’t be scared of the large amount – not all of the sodium is absorbed by the pasta.
 
Cook the pasta al dente. Al dente translates to “to the tooth”, meaning the pasta should still have a slight bite; it should not be mushy.
Keyword Healthy Whole Grain Pasta

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