Weeknight Pasta Upgrades

When did pasta become such a dinner staple in the US and the UK? Was it always the standby dinner for our parents and grandparents? I have a feeling it wasn't until the last 50 years or so that people in these countries started eating pasta at home on a weekly basis (unless they came from Italian families of course). Broccoli & Mushroom Pasta with Crispy Tempeh and Garlic

And now, as gluten-free diets become more and more commonplace, pasta is turning up in different forms. Our household is no exception.

Phil and I have pasta about once a week. He loves making his own pasta sauce; I like coming up with interesting additions to the dish.

But one thing is constant: we use brown rice pasta.

I haven't eaten wheat-based pasta for a long while now. I haven't even had spelt pasta for a while (something we ate pretty regularly in the UK). And we really can't tell the difference in texture or flavor! There is, however, a noticeable shift in the way we feel physically. Gone are the days of weighed down, bloated, over-stuffed bellies after a bowl of pasta. The brown rice-based versions leave us feeling lighter, our bellies happier.

And that is upgrade number one.

Here are some other ways you can upgrade your standard bowl of pasta, while still hanging onto that convenient midweek dinner option:

  • Add Fresh Veggies. Choose one or two vegetables. Don't boil them. Instead, steam or saute for just a few minutes, so that their color remains intact and they still have a bit of crunch. Bonus points if the veggies are in season!
  • Add an Interesting Protein. Too often, a pasta dish is garnished with nothing more than a jar of sauce and some powdery parmesan. Give it a bit of oomph with some protein, in the form of eggs, organic chicken sausage, or tempeh crumbles (see recipe below).
  • Spice it Up. All it takes is a few shakes of some spicy red pepper flakes, or a small red chili chopped up finely. Gone are the days of bland pasta for dinner.
  • Keep it Zesty. Lemon zest can take a dish of pasta from boring to vibrant.
  • When in Doubt, Add Olive Oil. If you're going sauce-less, like the below recipe, extra olive oil is definitely your friend.
  • Grate the Cheese Yourself. I urge you to never buy grated cheese from the supermarket. It's dry, tasteless, and usually full of added preservatives. Instead, buy a chunk of some fresh parmesan or pecorino (I like Pecorino because it's made from sheep milk yet still has the saltiness of Parmesan) and grate as needed. It will last FOREVER in your fridge (so don't let the price tag scare you off).

Now, go forth and make dinner interesting!

Broccoli & Mushroom Pasta with Crispy Tempeh and Garlic

by The Particular Kitchen

Prep Time: 15 mins

Cook Time: 15 mins

Keywords: boil saute entree gluten-free nut-free soy-free vegan vegetarian wheat free Italian


Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 16 oz brown rice penne (or other pasta)
  • 8 oz plain tempeh
  • olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 head broccoli, chopped into small bitesize pieces (stem too)
  • 2 handfuls shiitake mushrooms, roughly chopped (tough parts of stems removed)
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 oz Pecorino cheese, grated (or Parmesan)
  • sea salt and black pepper
  • optional: 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes


Cook the pasta according to package instructions. Brown rice pasta typically takes a little bit longer to cook. Drain the pasta and leave in a covered pot off the heat while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a large frying pan. Crumble the tempeh up into very small pieces and add to the hot oil carefully. Cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring often, until the tempeh starts to brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. Season with sea salt and black pepper. Leave to drain and cool slightly.

In another frying pan, add some more oil and the garlic. Cook over a medium heat for 2-3 minutes, then add the broccoli and mushrooms. Saute for 5-8 minutes, until warmed but still with a bit of crunch to the broccoli.

Add the veggies, tempeh, grated cheese, red pepper flakes (if using), and lemon zest to the cooked pasta. Season with salt and pepper and add another glug of olive oil.

Toss well to combine and serve.

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