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May 1, 2008

Low-carb pasta (Recipe: Tex-Mex penne)

Updated April 2012.

Tex-mex-penne

Wehd ya fine dat penny riggAHHHHduh?

When I first moved from Boston to Rhode Island, I didn't speak the language. Eight years later, I'm starting to catch on.

Where'd you find that penne rigate?

That's what the cashier at my local supermarket asked me as he scanned the box in the checkout line. It was the colorful-but-not-blue design (and, by the way, why do so many pastas come in blue boxes?) that caught the cashier's eye.

What caught my eye was the promise of a low-carb pasta that didn't have the texture of wallpaper paste or taste like wet cardboard.

Penne

Over the past few years, as more and more companies have jumped on the low-carbohydrate bandwagon, I've tasted some pretty dreadful products masquerading as healthy-and-delicious, so when Dreamfields pasta actually passed both the taste and texture tests, I gleefully restocked The Perfect Pantry's shelves.

Made from durum semolina flour, with no soy or substitutes, Dreamfields has all the good flavor of regular pasta. When cooked to the al dente stage, it's actually firm to the bite, with what chefs call "good mouth feel." And with just 5 grams of digestible carbohydrate per 2-ounce serving, it's low low low on the glycemic index -- a boon to diabetics, South Beach dieters, and anyone who has to keep an eye on the daily carb count.

How does Dreamfields succeed where other alternative pastas, billed as low-carb or high-fiber or "healthy", have failed?

Thank technology and ingenuity. According to the inventor of the manufacturing process by which most of this pasta's carbs become "protected" or non-digestible, it "involves molecular interactions that help block the enzyme from attacking the carbohydrate starch granule. It is not encapsulated. We have basically created the situation where there is a matrix more or less that has a tendency to attract the enzyme to the matrix and not the carbohydrate."

That doesn't sound terribly appetizing, but the result is a truly technology-forward pasta that will hold up to your most traditional recipes. With six shapes to choose from, you can substitute this pasta in all of your favorite dishes, and nobody will miss the extra carbs.

Dreamfields does cost more than other dry pastas; at my local supermarket, a 16-ounce box sells for $2.99, compared to DeCecco ($2.39), Barilla ($1.33 to $1.79), Ronzoni ($1.25), and the store's own brand ($1.20). But, in the case of carbs, I'm willing to pay a bit more to get a bit less.

If you ever make it to Rhode Island, stop by for some penny riggaduh smothered with home-made gravy (that's what we call marinara sauce), a local favorite.

Tex-mex-penne-closeup

Tex-Mex penne

From the pantry, you'll need: pasta, canola oil, onion, ground turkey, cumin, chili powder, Mexican oregano, red pepper flakes, canned green chiles, canned tomatoes, grated cheese.

Serves 8; can be doubled, or made ahead and reheated.

Ingredients

1 lb pasta (penne rigate or rotini)
2 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 lb ground turkey (you can substitute beef, but reduce oil to 1 Tbsp)
1 tsp ground cumin, or more to taste
1 tsp chili powder, or more to taste
1/2 tsp Mexican oregano
Pinch of hot red pepper flakes
1 4-oz can fire-roasted green chiles, drained
16 oz canned chopped tomato
2 cups water
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Store-bought shredded reduced-fat Mexican four-cheese blend, for topping (or other cheese of your choice)

Directions

Prepare the pasta according to package directions, until the pasta is still a bit undercooked but almost al dente. Drain and set aside.

AT THE SAME TIME, when you start the pasta water, prepare the sauce. In a large, deep sauté pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat, and cook the onion for 2 minutes, until translucent. Add the ground turkey, and cook, breaking up the pieces, until lightly browned. Add cumin, chili powder, oregano and red pepper flakes, and stir to combine. Add green chiles, canned tomato, water, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Cook, uncovered, until mixture has reduced to desired consistency, approximately 20-25 minutes. (If the sauce gets done before the pasta is cooked, remove the pot from the heat and set it aside; bring back to the heat when you're ready to add the pasta.)

Add the pasta into the sauce, and cook, stirring well, until the pasta and sauce have come together, 2-3 minutes. Either stir in the shredded cheese, or pour the pasta into a serving bowl and pass the cheese separately, for each person to add to taste.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]


More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Rotini with spicy meat sauce
Farfalle with spinach and sausage
Falafel-turkey meatballs with pasta
Curried shrimp and pasta salad
Pasta with chunky vegetable sauce
Pasta puttanesca
Buddy Lasagna

Other recipes that use these pantry ingredients:
Baked rigatoni with turkey bolognese, from What We're Eating
Turkey (or chicken) lasagna with sage and three cheeses, from Kalyn's Kitchen
Penne arrabiata with brown rice pasta, from Gluten-Free Goddess
Turkey chili pasta, from Black Girl Chef's Whites
Creamy taco mac, from Annie's Eats

Comments

Ooh... I'm always trying various "healthy" pastas... and I even rather like some of the soy flour versions. But I MUST find this brand and check it out!

Lydia, I just read the WP piece--congratulations! That is fantastic and very well deserved recognition! :-)

As for the pasta dish, this sounds simple and delicious! Pasta in combination with tex-mex flavors never crossed my mind, but it sounds like a great place to experiment as this dish sounds really tasty.

I didn't even know you could get low-carb pasta! I'll be on the lookout here for sure...

I've tried this - it's yummy!

That's a great article in the Washington Post and congrats to you Lydia! Go sea salt and peppercorns!! Your stellar blog is such a joy to read and be inspired by!
Your Tex Mex pasta certainly is the perfect party dish. Love the turkey!

Now we're cookin'! I LOVE Dreamfields pasta, but can't find it in our local groceries anymore. How is that even possible! And this recipe--aside from the fact that I'm a pasta nut--sounds perfectly suited for the upcoming Cinco de Mayo celebrations.

Just started reading your blog upon recommendation from Dani Spies's blog! Love it so far!

This is quite ironic - just about two weekends ago I met with my friend's mom, who's dieting like I am, and she told me about this pasta, raved about it, and made me try it. I picked some up about 3 days ago! I'll have to try this recipe for it. I paid $1.89 for the penne - cheap! Worth it!

I found your blog a few weeks ago, and I've learned so much already. Thanks for the review on the low-carb pasta. I try to watch my intake of white flour and sugar, but for some reason, whole wheat pasta makes me extremely sleepy. I'm putting Dreamfields pasta on the grocery list.

I am glad to know this is good..sigh..it is time to watch the carbs again.
Love the texmex version!

How fabulous that you were in the Washington Post! Great article too. Of course you know that I just love Dreamfield's Pasta. It's $2.99 in my store too, but occasionally they put it on sale for $2.39 and I stock up. (You can also get it at Amazon.com for any of Lydia's readers who can't find it where they live.)

Isn't that so great to be recognized for something you so obviously love doing, congratulations! Don't you just love it when man's ingenuity is used for the common good, pasta that isn't as fattening. Love the sauce too.

Ann, this is, honestly, the first "healthy" pasta I've really liked. Most are truly awful.

Mike, tex-mex pasta has got to be the ultimate born-of-the-pantry concoction, but it really works. We like it a bit spicier, so I put in lots of chiles.

Mallika, you can, and it's worth looking for this brand, which is the only one that seems to have significantly lower digestible carbs.

Rupert, it is yummy....

WORC, thank you so much. I'm always inspired on your blog, too.

Sandie, I was so excited to find this on Amazon; I ordered a case of it!

Channing, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. I want to shop where you're shopping -- that's a huge price savings over what I paid in the grocery store. Amazon's by-the-case price is a better deal for me.

Michelle, welcome! I don't know why the whole wheat pasta would have that effect, but for me, the whole wheat pastas I've tasted have landed like lead balloons in my stomach. Maybe, like brown rice, it's harder to cook whole wheat pasta.

Marye, welcome to my pantry! Trust me, you will not miss the carbs -- this pasta is really delicious.

Kalyn, I love it when newspapers catch on to how cool we food bloggers are! I eat a lot less pasta than I used to, even with this low-carb alternative, so a box will last for several meals. I hope it goes on sale at my supermarket one of these days.

Neil, thank you so much. As a rule I'm against any kind of technological monkeying around with food -- but in this case, I'm okay with it!

Congratulations!! You richly deserve as much recognition as possible. I always look forward to reading your posts. :):)

Any recipe that is Tex-Mex is fine with me!

Great story in the Post, Lydia! Congratulations! I have mostly switched to whole wheat pasta which offers lower carbs and more fiber. Can't decided how I feel about the taste, though -- I actually wish it tasted nuttier than it really does, but at least I feel like I'm doing something nutritious!

We're definitely going to have to try to find that pasta. We eat so much of the stuff it wouldn't hurt to start using a low carb version. And if it's as good as you say...

It's worth noting that Dreamfields loses some or all of its low-glycemic properties when it is cooked in sauce (especially tomato sauce, I think), and also when it sits (e.g., refrigerated overnight). It is not a pasta to use for macaroni salad or anything that needs to sit in its sauce to let the flavors meld. I think the same holds true for lasagna-- cooking the pasta in the sauce raises the available carbs.

Sher, thank you! And I know you'll love this pasta dish, too.

TW, many thanks. I've tried whole wheat pasta, but the texture doesn't do anything for me. Soba, yes, but regular Italian-style whole wheat pasta, no.

Jack, it's good. I promise.

Christina, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. It certainly makes sense that if you cook pasta in a sauce that's full of carbs (though tomato sauce would be a "good" carb), it will absorb some of the carbs into the pasta. I don't know why it would change the digestible carb value to have the pasta sit overnight; can you tell us more?

i have not seen something like this in germany. we get pasta made with spelt and whole wheat which is great too - nutty! i also found the recipe here extremely interesting.

Meeta, I've seen spelt pasta here, too. Only tried it once, so not really fair to judge -- but I've not had good luck with whole wheat pasta at all. This recipe is quickly becoming one of our favorites -- though every time I make it, I throw in a few more chile peppers!

Did you find this low carb pasta at a specialty shop or at a large chain grocery store?

I love your site and the interesting items that you portray. I envision that you have this coveted specialty store that stocks all the hard to find and great food items! Is that true?

Thank you.

Sonya

Sonya, absolutely not true -- I live in a very small town with one grocery store, and a larger chain supermarket 10 miles away. I do almost all of my shopping in those two stores, or on occasional forays to Asian markets in Boston's Chinatown -- and online, of course. It's amazing how easy it is to find great products online. Sometimes it's more expensive, sometimes cheaper. You definitely need to comparison shop! (I bought this pasta at my regular grocery store, but liked it so much that I bought a case of it on Amazon.com.)

That sounds like a wonderful way of having pasta and still get a healthy dish, Lydia.

Thank technology and ingenuity. According to the inventor of the manufacturing process by which most of this pasta's carbs become "protected" or non-digestible, it "involves molecular interactions that help block the enzyme from attacking the carbohydrate starch granule."

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About The Perfect Pantry®

  • My name is Lydia Walshin. From my log house kitchen in rural northwest Rhode Island, I share recipes that use what we keep in our pantries, the usual and not-so-usual ingredients that spice up our lives.

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