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Whole wheat fusilliI grew up in a house where every Sunday I woke up to the smell of my mother’s sauce already simmering on the stove.  Tomatoes, onions, garlic… there’s nothing quite like it.  Sunday dinner, which we usually eat earlier in the day, remains a Discorfano family tradition — even our pups know on Sundays we head to Grandma and Grandpa’s house.  These days, I forgo the meatballs and sausage and have replaced the pecorino-romano cheese with a parmesean substitute by Galaxy.  So what about the pasta itself?

Years ago, when I was living in Rome, I used to buy Barilla and DeCecco pasta at my local market; and I’ve stayed true to those brands ever since.  I buy a box and, in my mind, I’m instantly transported back to my old neighborhood just a short walk away from the Vatican. These pastas are 100% semolina flour — no animal products!  The fact is… any pasta you buy off the shelf at your grocery store does not usually include animal products.  Only fresh pasta that you find in the refrigerated section uses eggs, and those items will say so.  Va bene!

However, I’ve expanded the pasta selection in my home pantry as we’ve tried new recipes, largely because I believe having variety is the surest way to stay on track.  Who wants to be bored with food?  Different pastas incorporate new flavors and textures into a meal… and can even provide some protein, which is always a plus once animal-based proteins are no longer on the menu.  Here are some favorites:

  • Trader Joes’s Brown Rice Fusilli
    A healthy option that tends to be lighter than other kinds of pasta.  For a quick meal, (the pasta takes only 9 minutes to cook), toss with some olive oil and sprinkle some “parmesean” on top.  Add in some broccoli florets, and you’ve got one of our favorite quick weekday dinners!  This pasta is also a good alternative to steamed rice to serve with a vegetable stir-fry.  Occasionally, we pair it with Tasty Bite quick ‘n spicy entrees or  Trader Joe’s Indian Fare — both come in pouches you just have to boil for a few minutes.  We like the Punjab Choley: the chickpeas provide the protein, and the sauce has just the right amount of “spicy.”
  • VitaSpelt (rotini, spaghetti)
    Spelt pasta, a form of wheat, is a heartier pasta than those made from semolina or rice, and it  has a slightly nutty flavor to it, which makes it a nice change from regular whole-wheat pasta.  It goes perfectly with cream sauces, or if you’re planning to mix in some seitan or chunky slices of vegetables. I like to toss the rotini with a little sauteed spinach and garlic, or in summer months with some sliced up fresh zucchini and yellow squash.  The spaghetti is molto delicioso (and filling) when served with a simple marinara sauce.  VitaSpelt also makes lasagna noodles that, in addition to being tasty, won’t fall apart on you when you serve it up!
  • Ancient Harvest Spaghetti
    This pasta is a quinoa-corn blend.  The beauty of the grain-like quinoa (actually a seed) is that it’s a wonderful source of protein.  The yellow of the spaghetti (because of the corn) can be the start of an especially pretty dish… just pile on the colorful vegetables.  I like to toss the spaghetti with just a couple tablespoons of olive oil and a mix of long, thin slices of roasted red, yellow, orange, and green peppers.  Top it off with a handful of roasted pine nuts.
  • Pasta Valente’s “Francesca’s Vegan Pasta”
    From a family-owned company based in Charlottesville, these pastas use locally-milled wheat flour along with a combination of herbs, spices and dried vegetables.  The “Francesca” was inspired by the founder’s granddaughter, who is vegan… and who also happens to be a friend of mine.  I know — how cool is it that she has a pasta named after her?!  Even more cool is that at the Fancy Food conference in NYC this summer, Francesca’s Vegan Pasta was named by Ecorazzi as one of the Top Ten Fancy Food Products of 2010.  So I encourage everyone to give it a try.  Right now, it’s available in stores around the east coast region, but I’m hoping it won’t be long before I see packages of Pasta Valente all the way across the country in Tucson.  Fran is one of the most genuine, sweetest people I know… and that fact alone will bring a smile to my face any time I get to sit down for a Francesca-pasta dinner.  Also, check out the recipe for vegan alfredo sauce on the Pasta Valente web site under “Favorite Recipes”: it uses cauliflower to make the sauce so creamy!

Mangia! For dinner tonight, we’re cooking up Seitan Piccata with angel hair pasta.  Mmmmmmm…

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Author: Sharon Discorfano

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