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
For recipe success, learn how to:
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!
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.
Don’t forget 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 do not 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.
- 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, and then add more to taste.
- Vegetables: start with fresh or frozen vegetables, and roast or saute them for best flavor. This recipe also 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.
- Beans: white beans, like cannellini, navy, and great northern work best with pasta, but the ever versatile garbanzo bean is also a nice addition. If using a red sauce, brown or green lentils add a meaty texture and appearance.
- Animal Protein: use lean protein options such as diced or shredded chicken, sautéed grass-fed beef and mushrooms, or nitrate-free Italian turkey sausage.
Whole Grain Pasta Recipe Variations
Because this is a base recipe, the goal is for you to customize it to your taste! Add or remove ingredients based on what you have on hand and what your body is craving. When it comes to creating healthy pasta recipes, the sky’s the limit!
Use this base recipe as a guide, but feel free to add other ingredients that compliment your dish. Garnishes such as shredded or shaved parmesan or asiago cheese, torn or chiffonade basil, red pepper flakes, and/or capers are all delicious toppings for a touch more flavor.
Use these kitchen tools for recipe success!
- Large Stock Pot
- 10-12” Sauté Pan
- Cutting Board
- Chef’s Knife
- Liquid Measuring Cup
- Measuring Cups & Spoons
- Grater or Microplane (for optional cheese)
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, phytochemicals, 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. Phytochemicals work as antioxidants to help fight off diseases and keep us well.
Vegetables are rich in essential vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that promote health and help fight diseases. It’s important to eat a variety of vegetables, as each color provides different benefits!
Tomatoes are the main ingredient in marinara sauce. Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, a phytochemical that helps protect against heart disease and prostate cancer. (1, 2) Canned and/or cooked tomatoes are higher in lycopene than fresh. (3)
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 1/2 – 1 Tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil.
Leftover pasta is also great cold!
Looking for more easy dinner recipes?
Try out these delicious and nutritious recipes!
Healthy Whole Grain Pasta Base Recipe
- ½ Tablespoon kosher salt
- 8 ounces whole grain pasta
- 1 cup sauce
- 1 cup reserved cooking water
- 2 cups vegetables (add ½ cup extra sauce)
- 1 can drained and rinsed lentils or beans (add ¾ cup extra sauce)
- 8 ounces animal protein (add ¾ cup extra sauce)
- Fresh herbs (basil, Italian parsley, etc.)
- Grated or shredded cheese (parmesan, pecorino romano, grana padano)
- Red pepper flakes
- 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. If sautéing ingredients, use a 10-12” pan and 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 don’t need the full cup). Sprinkle with optional garnishes to taste. Enjoy!