Whole Wheat Penne, Wholly Healthy and Wholly Comforting

Whole Wheat Penne Pasta

The past couple of weeks have been filled with a whirlwind of activity. The anticipation of the arrival of my parents for a visit with us has been sweet, though touched with some stress due to my husband and I juggling our jobs, the preparations for their arrival, family time, and the blog. When I get a few too many things on my “to-do” list, I start to feel a little scatter-brained; I often liken myself to a computer with no storage space left, operating at full capacity, and I’m just hoping and praying I don’t “crash”. Ever been there? Even the minor, necessary adjustments to routine that come along can throw a tiny little monkey wrench into the usually smooth-moving cogs, and I’ll find myself doing circles and feeling out of balance while doing the most menial tasks that I’ve done a million times before. Frustrating, but that’s what happens to me. It’s all part of life, and I suppose as long as there’s enough time for me to swim from one buoy to the next and to pop up out of the water for air when needed, then these challenging periods can be navigated with some degree of grace, right? Oh, I hope!

Whole Wheat Penne Pasta

All I can say with any real certainty is that these are times when comfort food is what’s needed. Though ice cream and frozen yogurt, peanut butter M&M’s and chocolate bundt pudding cake all have their own very special place in my snack food-loving heart during hectic times, I don’t want to throw ALL dietary caution to the wind completely, so I try to sneak some healthy substitutions into the oh-so-necessary comforting meals. I like to look at it as “food balance”; a little junk food sometimes, healthy food, more times. There are so many healthy options out there to swap out, too, options that don’t require a sacrifice of flavor and enjoyment, but that actually leave me feeling good about what I’m eating. When I can sub some healthier ingredients into those cozy meals, like whole grain pastas and leaner meats, then I feel like I’m not only getting some much needed TLC in a bowl, but some extra benefits, as well. Hey, win-win!

Whole Wheat Penne Pasta

Oh, I’m looking forward to feeling less scatterbrained and more “me”. Let me tell you, taking a few deep breaths when they’re needed helps, as well as letting go of the things that aren’t essential to keep hold of. Honestly, periods of higher activity are good times for me to brush up on my prioritization skills, and to practice keeping a positive attitude while in the midst of them. And if I can keep my belly happy with some healthy comfort food, that’ll give me the energy to get through it all with at least some grace, hopefully.

Taste what’s good and pass it on.


Whole Wheat Penne Pasta

Whole Wheat Penne in Roasted Garlic Tomato Sauce with Spicy Italian Chicken Sausage topped with Parmesan-Panko Breadcrumbs
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(Serves 4-6)


3 heads garlic
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided use
1 ½ teaspoons salt, plus a pinch, divided use
4 links Spicy Italian Chicken sausage, diced into small cubes
1 small onion, diced small
2 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Pinch red pepper flakes
¼ cup red wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 (14.5 ounce) cans organic, no-salt diced tomatoes
¼ teaspoon black pepper
8 ounce bag whole wheat Penne pasta
½ cup Panko breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped, divided use
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons fresh basil, thinly sliced, divided use


-Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and prepare 3 small squares of foil for garlic heads.

-Cut the tops off of the 3 heads of garlic, drizzle each with about 1 teaspoon of the olive oil and sprinkle on a pinch of salt; wrap each garlic head tightly in a small piece of foil, and roast in the oven for 40 minutes; remove from oven, unwrap the heads and allow to cool; then squeeze the cloves from the papers and smash lightly with a fork to form a paste, and set aside to use in sauce.

-In a large, heavy-bottom pan or pot, add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil; once hot, add the diced chicken sausage and cook until golden-brown; next add the diced onion, and sauté for about 2 minutes; next add the garlic, the Italian seasoning, the oregano and the pinch of red pepper flakes, and give a stir, allowing to become aromatic; once aromatic, add the red wine and deglaze the pan, gently scraping all of the browned bits from the bottom of the pan; next add the tomato paste and stir, and allow to cook for about 1-2 minutes until the raw flavor is cooked out, then add the 3 cans of diced tomatoes, the reserved roasted garlic, the 1 ½ teaspoons of salt and the black pepper, and allow the sauce to simmer slightly covered for about 20-25 minutes while the Penne is cooked and the breadcrumbs are made; stir occasionally.

-Prepare the Penne pasta according to package instructions (you can add some salt and oil to the cooking water, as well).

-While Penne cooks and sauce simmers, combine the Panko breadcrumbs with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a small bowl, and use your fingers or a fork to incorporate together; in a small pan set over medium-low heat, add the breadcrumbs and toast, continually stirring, for about 1-2 minutes being careful not to burn the breadcrumbs; once the breadcrumbs are golden brown, remove from the pan and add back into the small dish; next add the lemon zest, 1 tablespoon of the chopped parsley and the grated Parmesan cheese to the breadcrumbs, and combine well with your fingers of a fork; set aside to use as a garnish/topping for pasta.

-Once Penne is cooked, drain and set aside to add to the sauce.

-To finish the sauce, turn heat off and add in the remaining 1 tablespoon of the chopped parsley and 1 tablespoon of the chopped basil and stir; next, add the cooked Penne directly into the sauce (or you can spoon the sauce over the Penne if easier), and toss to coat.

To Serve:

-Spoon Penne with the Roasted Garlic Tomato Sauce into a bowl, and garnish with about 2-3 tablespoons of the Parmesan-Panko Breadcrumbs, and a sprinkling of the remaining 2 tablespoons of chopped basil.

{ 3 comments… add one }

  • Laura (Blogging Over Thyme) June 3, 2012, 9:30 am

    Homemade tomato pasta is one my go to comfort foods too :-). Your addition of spicy sausage and parmesan-panko breadcrumbs sounds delicious!

  • Anna Victoria June 28, 2012, 3:41 am

    Healthy and delicious!

  • Sarah October 10, 2012, 2:46 pm

    Ingrid, I know just what you mean about swimming from buoy to buoy. Lately, for better or for worse, a bowl of evening pasta has become that buoy. Here’s to getting through this period with grace and ease…and carbs!

    (This would make a great contribution to this month’s Shine Supper Club, btw!)

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