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May 1, 2013

Whole-wheat pasta is redeemed

No matter how unimpeachable whole-wheat pasta is in terms of nutritional cred, I’ve always found it off-putting.

Sure, it has more fiber and whole-grain nutrition. But it always struck me as rather spineless and dull. And as someone whose culinary credo is that food can be scrumptious and healthy, I wasn’t about to eat whole-wheat pasta for its nutritional benefits alone.

Happily, several brands recently have developed very respectable lines of 100 percent whole-wheat pasta. If you haven’t lately, you might want to taste a few of them to decide which is your favorite.

Once you’ve settled on a winner, cook it the way I suggest in this recipe, which is to finish cooking the pasta in the sauce. This produces a more flavorful dish than the more traditional method — cooking the sauce and pasta separately, then combining them only at the last minute. Plenty tasty, but the flavors never marry.

I learned a better way years ago when New York chef and restaurateur Scott Conant (his mom is of Italian descent) was my guest on “Cooking Live.” Transfer the pasta before it’s fully cooked to the sauce, then let it simmer in the sauce until it’s done. This way the pasta absorbs the flavor of the sauce and becomes that much tastier.

If you also add a little of the pasta cooking liquid to the sauce, it will work to glue together the pasta and sauce in a most satisfyingly connubial fashion.

And let’s not forget our Swiss chard. A spring vegetable, this tangy Mediterranean member of the beet family comes in several colors, from bottle green to rainbow. And it’s edible from tip to toe, too, stems included. Just slice the stems and put them in the pan before the greens, because they take a little longer to soften.

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