You know that one friend whose taste you trust in nearly everything, from clothing to coffee shops to books to podcasts to recipes? The friend who’s caring for a practical greenhouse of plants, who’s skiing one weekend, hiking the next, who’s filling homemade doughnuts with quince jam? The friend who, with all that, still manages to send you mail from across the country?
That friend, for me, is Rebecca, who I swear could have a side gig as a lifestyle influencer.
So I was floored when I found out that she cooks whole-wheat pasta for herself on a regular basis. Was I to trust Rebecca, as I always had, and assume that whole-wheat pasta, which I had always assumed to be gritty, earthy, and dense, could be...good? Like, actually good, and not just because it’s high in fiber?
I am hear to give a resounding YES, and to thank her for making me see the whole-wheat pasta light. I’ve learned that as long as you don’t treat it as a one-to-one swap for the regular stuff, whole-wheat pasta can be delicious.
It does, however, demand recipes and flavor combinations that lean into its nuttiness (and, I hate to say it, graininess). It will compete with vodka sauce and detract from pesto; it’s too aggressive for carbonara.
But it will make a dish that’s savory, earthy, or oniony — and not trying to be too delicate, bright, or pure — even better.
Take this recipe for Garlicky Whole-Wheat Pasta With Fried Hazelnuts. You start off frying hazelnuts in olive oil (no pre-roasting necessary) until they’re deeply golden and irresistibly fragrant. When you remove the nuts from the skillet, you’re left with oil that’s infused with their richness—and ready to become pasta sauce. With chile flakes, garlic, and lemon—along with pecorino for more nutty saltiness and a pat of butter for gloss—it’s the ideal counterpart to the whole-wheat noodles: The crunchy hazelnuts provide a foundation of flavor that keeps the pasta from feeling out of place; the spicy, lemony sauce brightens it up to prevent the dish from feeling like it’s been buried underground.
In this case, I’d say that whole-wheat pasta is even better than its refined counterpart.
Garlicky Whole-Wheat Pasta With Fried Hazelnuts
Serves: 2 as a main
8 ounces whole-wheat linguine or spaghetti
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup roughly chopped hazelnuts (50 to 55 grams)
1 sprig thyme, plus more for serving
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 cup packed finely grated Pecorino Romano (30 grams), plus more for serving
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed