Get Your Whole Grains from Pasta

Monique Volz, from Ambitious Kitchen, joins us each Friday in May to recap her week in our Healthy Every Week Challenge. This week's goal: eat more whole grains.
By: Monique Volz
whole-grain pasta

Photo by: Picasa


We’re hosting a Healthy Every Week Challenge for the month of May; a month-long initiative to develop healthy eating habits. The plan is to develop a manageable healthy habit each week that will carry through the new year. Join us here and share what you’re eating on Facebook and Twitter .

How did the second week of the Healthy Every Week Challenge go for you? Did you eat enough whole grains?

The second week of the challenge was a success for me. After falling head over heels for quinoa in pancakes, I couldn't resist eating quinoa as my whole grain for nearly every meal. I even used some of Toby’s different quinoa ideas. From a Mexican flavored quinoa salad with lime, avocados, and black beans to completely delicious enchilada chicken and quinoa stuffed bell peppers; I was celebrating Cinco de Mayo with quinoa all last week.

One of my favorite things about spring is how affordable produce becomes. Instead of buying frozen food, I become inspired to cook more at home with fresh, seasonal vegetables. I found a variety of bright baby tomatoes and squash on sale at the grocery store and knew I wanted to incorporate them into something for this week’s theme: eating more whole grains. Of course pasta was the first thing on my mind; to me a big bowl of pasta is like a giant serving of comfort.

Since I try to eat healthy most of the time, I typically end up using whole-grain pasta. It's funny though, many people seem not to enjoy whole-grain pasta because of the texture; however I find that pairing it with bold ingredients, sauces, and cheeses can really enhance the flavor of a dish. In fact I make some of my favorite lasagnas with whole-wheat noodles and my family has never been able to tell the difference.

I stumbled across this beautiful bright spring dish on Pinterest (because who isn't addicted to Pinterest these days?) and knew I wanted to create something similar. I began by sauteing up fresh zucchini with a bit of olive oil. After realizing that I had frozen butternut squash that needed to be used up, I decided to make a unique pasta sauce with it and tweaked a Martha Stewart recipe. I loved the idea of making my own sauce. All I had to do was steam the squash, then puree it in a blender with a little garlic and milk. I combined the sauteed zucchini, tomatoes and sauce with the whole-grain pasta and divided it into bowls. I let my family season their own dishes with Parmesan cheese, and red pepper flakes. Let's put it this way: there were absolutely no leftovers!

Not only did this easy pasta dish get me to use fresh vegetables and get in my whole grains, but it also enabled me to experiment with a unique sauce. I encourage you to try this vegetarian recipe out with fresh seasonal vegetables of your choice. Make it your own! I think it would be terrific with broccoli, cauliflower, or asparagus -- whatever is in season near you. Experimenting with flavors and ingredients is the best part; you never know what tasty meal you can come up with.

Below I've listed my favorite creative healthy pasta dishes from around the web. Trying them out with whole-grain pasta is an easy way to eat more whole grains.

2. Creamy Cauliflower Baked Macaroni via Healthy Food for Living Blog
3. Acorn Squash Lasagna via Martha Stewart

Here is my recipe for Fresh Veggie Pasta With Butternut Squash Sauce (pictured above). Feel free to add in a lean meat, such as shrimp, turkey or chicken. Don't forget to share your favorite whole-wheat pasta dish in the comments below!

Fresh Veggie Pasta With Butternut Squash Sauce
1 pound whole wheat penne pasta
2 large zucchini, sliced
2 pints grape or cherry tomatoes (cut tomatoes in half)
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
1/2 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
red pepper flakes for seasoning

For butternut squash sauce:

4 cups cubed butternut squash (I like the frozen or the fresh, already cut package available in the produce section)

Coarse salt and ground pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup skim milk

Steam squash according to directions on package. Transfer squash to a food processor; add garlic then puree. Add milk and process until smooth. Then add about 1 1/2 cups water; continue to process until smooth. Add more milk or water if necessary to thin out sauce. Season again generously with salt.

Cook pasta according to package instructions. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water; drain pasta and return to pot.

While pasta cooks, heat olive oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add the zucchini, and sauté over medium heat about 3 minutes or until the zucchini is tender. Then season with salt and black pepper to taste.

Pour sauce over pasta; toss to coat. Add in zucchini, tomatoes, and parsley; toss again. Garnish with parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes if desired.

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