Tuesday, February 15, 2022

How to Use Bean and Legume Pasta

Much as I love pasta, I’m not sure it loves me. Last year my carb-heavy comfort food diet led to some weight gain so I looked into low carb pasta as an alternative. There’s a lot out there and I’m still trying different brands and styles, but I thought now would be a good time to share what I’ve learned so far.

Pasta with Butternut Squash and Brussels Sprouts
My introduction to legume and bean-based pasta was thanks to Barilla. I was lucky because I got to attend a webinar with Barilla’s incredible chef, Lorenzo Boni. I tried his recipe for pasta with butternut squash and Brussels sprouts which I definitely recommend and have now made several times. If you’ve seen his wildly popular (150k+ followers!) Instagram feed you know he’s a master at making all kinds of pasta dishes and that he often eats plant-based meals. I followed up with him to get some tips on cooking with pasta made from beans and legumes.

Pasta made with beans and legumes is higher in protein and so the recommended 2-ounce portion is surprisingly filling. But the texture isn’t always the same as traditional semolina or durum wheat pasta. Chef Boni told me, “The nature of legume pasta makes it soak up more moisture than traditional semolina pasta, so you always want to reserve a bit of cooking water to adjust if needed.” But when it comes to cooking, he says that with Barilla legume pasta you cook it the same way as semolina pasta. “Boil in salted water for the duration noted on the box and you’ll have perfectly al dente pasta.” They are all gluten-free. 

Chickpea pasta

When I asked Chef Boni about pairing chickpea pastas with sauce he said, “Generally speaking, I prefer olive oil based sauces rich with vegetables, aromatic herbs and spices. Seafood also pairs well with chickpea options. If used with creamy or tomato-based sauces, keep in mind to always have some pasta water handy to adjust the dish in case it gets too dry.” He added, “One of my favorite ways to prepare a legume pasta dish would be a simple chickpea rotini with shrimp, diced zucchini and fresh basil. The sauce is light enough to highlight the flavor of the pasta itself, while the natural sweetness helps keep the overall flavor profile more appealing to everyone.” I like the Barilla brand because the only ingredient is chickpeas. Banza makes a popular line of chickpea pasta as well although they include pea starch, tapioca and xanthan gum. 

Edamame pasta


I tried two different brands of edamame pasta, Seapoint Farms and Explore Cuisine. The Seapoint pasta has a rougher texture than the Explore. With the Seapoint I found the best pairings were earthy chunky toppings like toasted walnuts and sautéed mushrooms. The Explore Cuisine edamame & spirulina pasta is smoother and more delicate, and worked well with an Asian style peanut sauce. I was happy with the Seapoint brand, but would definitely choose the Explore brand instead if it's available.


Red lentil pasta

Red lentil pasta is most similar to semolina pasta. Barilla makes red lentil pasta in a variety of shapes. But for spaghetti, Chef Boni says, “Barilla red lentil spaghetti is pretty flexible and works well with pretty much everything. I love red lentil spaghetti with light olive oil based sauces with aromatic herbs and some small diced vegetables. It also works well with a lean meat protein.” I have to admit, I have yet to try red lentil pasta, but I'm excited to try it after hearing how similar it is to semolina pasta. It is made only with red lentil flour, that's it. It's available in spaghetti, penne and rotini. 

Penne for Your Thoughts

Do you remember seeing photos from Italian supermarkets where the shelves with pasta were barren except for penne? I too seem to end up with boxes of penne or rotini and not a clue what to do with them so I asked Chef Boni his thoughts on the subject. He told me, “Shortcuts such as rotini and penne pair very well with all kind of ragouts as well as tomato based and chunky vegetarian sauces. One of my favorite ways to prepare a legume pasta dish would be a simple chickpea rotini with shrimp, diced zucchini and fresh basil. The sauce is light enough to highlight the flavor of the pasta itself, while the natural sweetness helps keep the overall flavor profile more appealing to everyone.” Thanks chef! When zucchini is in season I know what I will try!