October is National Pasta Month and we’re gearing up to celebrate with ways to take your pasta dishes to the next level without being too complicated. Today, there are various types of “pasta” on the market to accommodate people with allergies or intolerances, as well as vegans, vegetarians, or those who are simply looking for healthy alternatives. For people who are allergic to wheat, there are many whole grain pastas made from buckwheat, corn, quinoa, and rice. And for those who do not eat grains, there are pastas made from legumes, nut flours, and vegetables like zucchini, sweet potatoes, squash, etc. What we know as “pasta” originated in Italy. Pasta means paste in Italian. It is made by mixing ground grain or flour with liquid (eggs, water, and/or oil). While many different cultures ate some sort of noodle-like food, composed mostly of grain, the key characteristics of pasta are durum wheat semolina, with a high gluten content, made with a technique that allows the resultant dough to be highly malleable. At NGI we celebrate pasta with hand-made, fresh varieties made with different types of flour and dyed with herbs, spices, and vegetables. But there are ways to elevate your pasta dishes with easy techniques and simple ingredients. Add shiitake “bacon” – Shiitake “bacon” is an NGI staple, and we like to add it to dishes whenever we can. It gives pasta dishes a comforting, umami-rich flavor. Simply trim and thinly slice ½ pound shiitake mushrooms, toss mushrooms with 2 tablespoons olive oil and ½ teaspoon salt. Bake until crisp, stirring once, about 20 minutes. Give it a try by making this Pasta with Swiss Chard, Ricotta and Shiitake “Bacon” dish. Get creative with pesto – Pesto can be made with anything from herbs, to leafy greens, to the tops of carrots or beets. Adding it to pasta dishes is a great way to get key vitamins and nutrients from green varieties like spinach, arugula, or parsley. Our favorites are Arugula-Walnut Pesto and Carrot Top Pesto. Include cheese alternatives – Hosting a gathering and serving pasta? Make sure there are dairy free alternatives for those who are intolerant or allergic when it comes to cheese and sauces. At NGI we make various types of cheeses using nuts and soy. Make 1 quart of tofu ricotta by mixing 1-pound firm tofu (pressed), 2 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, 1 teaspoon minced garlic, 1 tablespoon white miso, and 1 teaspoon umeboshi paste in a food processor and process until smooth. Spiralize your veggies – If you are cutting down on carbohydrates or looking for a healthy alternative to traditional pasta, spiralizing or making ribbons out of your vegetables successfully mimics our beloved pasta noodles while adding nutrients, such as beta carotene, vitamin C, and fiber from sweet potatoes or potassium, folate, and vitamin A from zucchini. Try these Sweet Potato ‘Noodles’ with Sage-Brown Butter Sauce for a comforting dish to welcome the beginning of fall. Keep it simple – You do not need a lot of ingredients to elevate your pasta dish. Make infused oil, roast some garlic, and stew some vegetables and you can have a delicious dish that requires very little work. For example, this Quinoa Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes, Garlic and Basil is very easy to put together, making it perfect for a weeknight meal or weekend get-together.