Pasta Recipes with a Protein-Packed Twist

Culinary contests are an excellent way for students in JWU’s College of Food Innovation & Technology (CFIT) to get creative and sharpen their skills. Recently, Barilla called for recipes showcasing their Protein+ line, which includes 17 grams of protein from lentils, chickpeas, and peas in each 3.5-ounce serving.

Two of JWU’s 3 winners created vegan dishes, and one snuck in queso fresco as a garnish (making it vegetarian):

  • María Hernández, Cashew e Pepe (Vegan)
  • Vanessa Mello, One-Pot Protein Pasta (Vegan)
  • Josue Angel Cervantes, Mole Rosa en Otoño (Vegetarian)

Barilla asked for recipes that follow Mediterranean diet principles (high quantities of fruits, vegetables, high quality grains, legumes, fish, healthy oils and a reduced amount of animal fat) and a plant-forward focus, maxing out at less than 500 calories per serving with 5 grams of fiber.

“Mole is a symphony work. When making this dish, make it with your family; involve everyone. Incorporate the laughter, the mistakes, and the love.”

What are the benefits of cooking with protein-enhanced pasta? Cooking with them can be useful for those with restricted diets, explains Associate Professor Kara Cucinotta, DCN, MS, RDN, LDN, CNSC: “It could be very beneficial for individuals who need a high protein diet, or those with dietary restrictions due to multiple food allergies or a vegan diet. For these groups, protein food choices can be very limited, so this provides a convenient option to meet protein needs.”

Vegan Cashew e’ Pepe | Recipe by María Paula HernándezThe JWU students ran with this idea, keeping the pasta as the base protein and building from there.

María’s Cashew e Pepe (a riff on the Pecorino-and-black-pepper pasta dish, Cacio e Pepe) is her response to the question she is constantly being asked after 6 years of being vegan: “How do you get your protein?” She combined Barilla’s Protein+ spaghetti with a rich, plant-based “cream” sauce to create a complete protein-packed dish containing all 9 essential amino acids. By building layers of flavor into the sauce — first an herb-infused brown butter, then nutty cashews and creamy cannellini beans — she mimicked the cheesy tang of the Pecorino. (Don’t forget the crucial addition of roasted garlic, which gets buttery and caramelized in the oven.) “The purpose of this dish is to maximize nutritional and protein value with ingredients that would be easy to obtain for the home cook who wants to optimize protein intake without utilizing animal products.”

Vanessa’s One Pot Protein Pasta leans on pantry staples and is designed with family-friendly economy in mind. She notes: “This recipe makes 6 portions (340g each) and utilizes full packages of ingredients, so there are minimal leftover ingredients to store, and easy to measure.” And any leftovers can easily be stored in single-serving containers for lunch or dinner later in the week.

Mole Rosa en Otoño | Recipe by Josue CervantesJosue’s mole rosa recipe pays tribute to his ancestors from Taxco, Mexico. In Josue’s version, the sauce gets its rosy color from beets, its sweetness from white chocolate and dried fruits, its spice from dried chiles and its smokiness from hoja santa and tequila.

Don’t be daunted by the lengthy ingredient list — making mole is a perfect group project for a dinner party. As Josue explains, “Mole is a symphony work. When making this dish, make it with your family; involve everyone. Incorporate the laughter, the giggles, the mistakes, and the love. Having every person add their little twists and notes creates an orchestra.”

Cashew e Pepe

Recipe by María Paula Hernández Disla • 6-8 servings • Allergens: Tree nuts


7 ounces of Barilla Protein+ Spaghetti
10 ounces of almond milk
6 ounces of cashews
6 ounces of garlic (2 heads)
15 ounces of cannellini beans
6 ounces of vegan butter
2 ounces of sage
2 ounces of marjoram
10 ounces of shiitake mushrooms
4 ounces of olive oil
¼ teaspoon of nutmeg
Kosher salt: To taste
Black pepper, freshly ground: To taste (on the generous side)
Microgreens: To taste (garnish)


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Cut roots of garlic heads, drizzle olive oil as needed, and cover in aluminum foil. Place them in a small sheet tray and roast for approximately 10-12 minutes or until golden.
  3. When soft and golden, remove peel to create a garlic paste.
  4. In the meantime, soak cashews in hot water for approximately 20 minutes or until soft.
  5. Prepare your brown vegan butter by heating butter in a small saucepan until completely melted. Add sage and marjoram and allow them to brown for approximately 8 minutes. (Stir constantly to avoid burning).
  6. After butter has a light brown color, remove from heat, blend and strain. Let it rest at room temperature.
  7. For shiitake mushroom “bacon,” preheat pan with olive oil and 2 ounces of vegan butter, cut mushrooms into thin slices and sauté at low medium heat until crispy (approximately 7 minutes). Stir occasionally. Remove from heat when crispness is achieved. Set aside.
  8. For the pasta, fill a pot to the halfway point with water. When water starts boiling, add salt and your pasta. Let it cook for 7 minutes or until al dente.
  9. For the sauce, rinse cannellini beans through water until it runs clear. Add them to a high-speed blender along with roasted garlic heads, cashews, almond milk, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and vegan brown butter. Blend until a smooth and creamy consistency is achieved. Add more almond milk if needed.
  10. Mix sauce with pasta until well incorporated.
  11. Top with shiitake “bacon” and microgreens.

One-Pot Protein Pasta

Recipe by Vanessa Mello • 6 servings


14.5 ounces of Barilla Protein+ Pasta
2 tablespoons of olive oil
8 ounces of zucchini, cut on a bias
8 ounces of yellow onion, cut into thin rounds
1 ounce of garlic cloves (sliced thinly)
1 tablespoon of miso paste
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
6 ounces of fresh tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon of crushed chili flakes (adjust to taste)
8 ounces of red bell pepper, diced
10 ounces of frozen spinach (thawed and drained)*
15.5 ounces cannellini beans
4 ounces of fresh basil (thinly sliced)
2 ounces of fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper (to taste)

*Substitute: 19 ounces of fresh spinach


  1. Gather and prep all of your ingredients.
  2. Boil pasta in salted water until al dente in a medium pot. Drain and set aside.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil on medium heat.*
  4. Add zucchini slices and pan fry until browned. Set aside on top of a paper towel to drain excess oil.
  5. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Then, add the onion and garlic. Sauté until lightly browned.
  6. Stir in tomatoes, red bell pepper, miso paste, tomato paste and chili flakes. Let simmer until tomatoes and bell peppers soften and onions are translucent.
  7. Next, fold in the spinach, cannellini beans, and the pasta noodles. Reduce heat to low.
  8. Once the sauce has a thick consistency, turn off the heat and squeeze fresh lemon juice, season with salt and pepper to taste, and garnish with basil ribbons and zucchini slices.

*Optionally, add parmesan cheese to help further thicken the sauce.


If you want to add lean protein such as chicken or salmon, pan fry it before the zucchini and add to the sauce with the pasta noodles and beans.

Mole Rosa en Otoño

Josue Angel Cervantes • 6 servings • Allergens: Tree nuts; dairy


Mole Rosa

1 ounce of grated cinnamon
1 ounce of cloves
1/4 ounce of whole black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon of cumin seeds
2 leaves of hoja santa
1 ounce of almonds
1 ounce pumpkin seeds
1 ounce of pecans
1 ounce of walnuts
1 ounce raw peanuts
1 ounce of pink or white pine nuts
2 tablespoons of white sesame seeds
1/4 ounce of dried chipotle, de-seeded
1/4 ounce of dried ancho chile, de-seeded
1/4 ounce of dried pasilla chile, de-seeded
2 ounces of dried apricots
2 ounces of dried prunes
2 ounces of dried dates
1 ounce of raisins
4 ounces of diced beets
2 ounces of diced Spanish onion
1 tablespoon of minced garlic
2 ounces of minced apple
4 ounces of diced plantain
1.5 quarts of vegetable stock
5 ounces of white chocolate
3 ounces of tequila
Salt, to taste
Avocado oil, as needed


14.5 ounces of Barilla Protein+ Spaghetti
2-3 quarts of water
1-2 tablespoons of salt (for pasta water)
1 tablespoon of avocado oil (for pasta water)

Pasta Toppings

1 cup of sliced beets
4 ounces of roasted chickpeas
2 ounces of roasted beets, finely diced into a brunoise
2 ounces of queso fresco
2 ounces of beet microgreens (as garnish)
2 ounces of sliced apricots
1 ounce of toasted pumpkin seeds


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Start by adding your water for the pasta to a medium stock pot. Generously add some salt and bring to a boil.
  3. Bring your vegetable stock to a boil in another stock pot.
  4. In a small skillet, cook your your de-seeded chile peppers with a bit of water until soft, then remove from the heat and add to a large bowl.
  5. Mix your chickpeas, sliced beetroots, and brunoised beetroots in a bowl with a small amount of avocado oil, salt and smoked paprika. Roast for 15-20 minutes, checking halfway through to turn the vegetables for even roasting. Once roasted, allow to cool and set to the side.
  6. Toast your spices — cinnamon stick, peppercorns, cumin seeds, cloves, and hoja santa — in a skillet for 1-2 minutes. Watch carefully so they do not burn. Remove from the heat and add them to the large bowl containing the chiles.
  7. To the same skillet, toast your nuts stage by stage until you smell the nutty aroma and they begin to darken slightly in color. Remove from the heat and add them to the same large bowl.
  8. To the same skillet, add some avocado oil and allow to heat up. Next, add your dried fruits and cook for 30 seconds. Remove from the heat and add them to the same bowl.
  9. To the same skillet, add more avocado oil if needed. Then add your beets, onions, garlic, apples, and sweet plantain. Allow to sweat, and once translucent, add your tequila and flambé, allowing the alcohol to cook out and release the flavors from the ingredients. Remove from the heat and add to the bowl with the chiles.
  10. In batches, blend your cooked ingredients from the bowl into the heated vegetable stock. Blend and strain to another bowl. If you have any leftover chunks from the blends, add them back to the blender and repeat by adding more vegetable stock. Once all ingredients have been blended off, discard any excess chunks left over from the blending stages.
  11. In a stock pot, add some avocado oil and allow it to heat up. Add the sauce and let it cook and reduce.
  12. While your sauce is cooking, stir in your white chocolate. Once the chocolate has been added, add your pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente. Reduce on low heat until the sauce coats the back of a spoon.
  13. Now that your sauce has cooked and reduced in size, turn off the heat and set it to the side until ready to eat.
  14. Strain the cooked pasta and add to a bowl. Drizzle a little olive oil to fully coat the pasta.
  15. For plating: Add the pasta to a serving bowl. Spoon the mole rosa over the top. (The amount of sauce will depend on your preference.) Garnish with roasted chickpeas, roasted beet chips and diced beets, queso fresco, sliced apricots and beet microgreens.
  16. Enjoy!

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Vanessa Mello, Josue Cervantes and María Hernández (left to right) pose in front of a hallway mural in the Cuisinart Center at JWU Providence’s Harborside Campus.

Vanessa Mello, Josue Cervantes and María Hernández