6 Ways to Bulk Up Your Pasta for a Heartier Meal

Though often comforting, pasta in sauce can be a little unfulfilling. Sure, it’s a big bowl of carb-loaded deliciousness, but nutritionally speaking, it’s lacking. Even meatballs can get a little boring. In the dead of winter with nary a fresh market vegetable to be seen, mixing pasta and supermarket veggies can make the dish greater than the sum of its parts for a filling, hearty meal. Rather than tucking into another round of noodles and red sauce, stretch that box of pasta and bring a little something extra to the table with these recipes.

Penne boiling, pasta

Source: iStock

1. Vegetable-Loaded Pasta Bake

This vegetarian pasta bake from Better Homes and Gardens is so loaded with veggies, no one will notice that there’s only a ½ pound of pasta in it. For sturdier pasta, use whole wheat. This recipe recommends using penne, but you could use any shaped pasta.


  • 8 ounces dried penne pasta
  • 2½ cups cauliflower florets
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 medium carrots, sliced
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 12 ounces kale, stems removed, leaves torn
  • ½ cup frozen peas
  • ½ cup frozen whole kernel corn
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 cup fat-free milk
  • 4 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 2 tablespoons finely shredded or grated Parmesan cheese

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large pan or Dutch oven, cook pasta according to package directions; add cauliflower during the last 4 minutes of cooking. Drain; rinse. Set aside.

In the same pan, cook onion and garlic in hot oil over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add carrots and celery; cook just until carrots are tender. Add kale, in batches if necessary, and cook just until wilted. Stir in pasta mixture, peas, and corn.

For cheese sauce, in a small saucepan melt butter; stir in flour, salt, and pepper. Add milk all at once; cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Reduce heat; add cheddar cheese. Cook and stir until melted. Stir sauce into pasta and vegetables. Transfer to a 2½-quart casserole pan. Bake, covered, for 35 minutes. Uncover; sprinkle with Parmesan. Bake 5 minutes more.

pasta, cauliflower, ancovy and pine nuts

Source: iStock

2. Cauliflower Pasta With Pecorino, Grated Egg, and Pine Nuts

Grating hard boiled eggs is a great way to bulk up pasta in this recipe from Bon Appétit with a little protein without chunks of rubbery egg white getting in the way of your toothsome pasta and cauliflower. The cauliflower here gets golden brown and a little caramelized, adding some extra depth to the dish. If you don’t want to use pine nuts, substitute with walnuts.


  • 2 large eggs
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1½ teaspoons ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 small red onion, finely diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large head of cauliflower, cored, cut into ¼-inch slices
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt plus more for seasoning
  • 2 cups whole wheat penne
  • 2 ounces Pecorino, grated
  • ⅓ cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves, or a combination of parsley and fresh mint leaves
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest plus 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon toasted pine nuts

Directions: Place eggs in a small saucepan and add cold water to cover by 2 inches. Bring water to a boil over high heat; immediately remove from heat and let eggs sit for 9 minutes. Transfer eggs to a bowl of ice water. Let cool completely; peel and coarsely grate. Set aside.

Heat 4 tablespoons oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-low heat. Stir in coriander and red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add onion, garlic, cauliflower, and ¾ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring often, until cauliflower is golden brown, tender, and sweet, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, cook penne in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain, reserving ⅓ cup pasta cooking water.

Return skillet with cauliflower to medium-high heat. Add reserved pasta cooking water and penne; toss gently to combine. Cook for 1 minute, then stir in reserved grated egg, cheese, parsley, and lemon zest and juice. Drizzle penne with remaining 2 tablespoons oil and season to taste with salt and more lemon zest, juice, and red pepper flakes, if desired. Divide among warm bowls and garnish with pine nuts.

Tagliatelle, Pasta Bolognese, meat sauce

Source: iStock

3. Fettuccine Alle Cipolle

The longer you cook the onions in this recipe from Food Republic, the sweeter they get. Then, when you add wine, they lose their structure and start to gel in the best way possible, creating a mild sweet-and-sour sauce for the lamb and pasta. Long, sumptuous noodles like tagliatelle, pappardelle, and fettuccine are the way to go here. Finishing the pasta in the pan is an important trick to getting the pasta and sauce to meld.


  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 large onions, peeled and finely sliced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and finely grated
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 7 ounces ground lamb
  • ¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon white wine
  • 1¼ cups vegetable stock
  • 14 ounces fettuccine
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Directions: In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and sauté the onions, carrot, and rosemary over medium heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until softened and golden, 5 minutes.

Add the lamb and mix well, allowing the meat to crumble. Cook, stirring frequently, until the meat has browned all over, 5 minutes.

Pour in the wine and cook for another 3 minutes to allow the alcohol to evaporate. Season with salt and pepper and pour in the stock.

Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Stir every 10 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente.

Drain the pasta and immediately add to the meat sauce. Increase the heat to high and gently mix the sauce and the pasta together for 30 seconds, stirring continuously, to allow the sauce to coat the pasta evenly.

Serve immediately, topped with the freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Pasta, noodles, squash, pumpkin

Source: iStock

4. Pasta With Roasted Squash, Sausage, and Pecans

The pasta in this recipe from Food & Wine is really just a vehicle for the deliciously spiced additions. If you end up loving the dish, but want a slightly different way to prepare it, serve the flavorful sausage and vegetables over farro or make a hearty kale salad–this is a great way to use up leftovers, too!


  • 2½ pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch dice
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon chopped sage, plus 20 whole leaves
  • ½ cup pecans, coarsely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 pound fusilli or other curly pasta
  • ¼ cup freshly grated aged Asiago cheese, plus more for serving

Directions: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. On a large rimmed baking sheet, drizzle the squash with 2 tablespoons of oil and toss. Arrange in an even layer and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Bake for about 30 minutes, until just tender. Add the chopped sage and toss. Meanwhile, put the pecans in a pie plate and bake for about 4 minutes, until toasted.

In a large skillet, melt the butter. Add the whole sage leaves and cook over moderate heat, turning once, until crisp, 2 minutes. Transfer the leaves to a plate and pour the butter into a bowl. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and the sausage to the skillet and cook over moderately high heat, breaking up the sausage, until no pink remains, 7 minutes.

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water. Return the pasta to the pot. Add the sausage and melted butter and gradually stir in the cooking water over moderate heat. Gently fold in the squash, pecans and the ¼ cup of cheese. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a bowl. Scatter the sage on top and serve with more cheese.

Orecchiette pasta with greens, turnip tops.

Source: iStock

5. Rapini With Orecchiette and White Beans

In this dish from The Kitchn, you get to choose the star. If you like the pasta to be the main actor, use smaller cannellini beans or white navy beans. If you like the beans to be the headliner, use butter beans or Corona beans.

Rapini is in the brassica family, along with mustard greens and kale. If you can’t find rapini, sub in broccoli rabe, mustard greens, kale, or chard. Just don’t switch out the broth for water here; the flavor of the broth is the backbone of the pasta sauce.


  • 1 pound rapini, washed well and trimmed
  • 5 ounces dried orecchiette
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 lemon
  • One 16-ounce can canellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • ½ cup grated Grana Padana or Parmesan cheese
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Directions: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add rapini and cook for 2 minutes. Remove rapini with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl. If you prefer it to retain some bite, shock in ice water to stop cooking. Set aside. To the same water, add the orecchiette and cook according to package directions.

Zest the lemon into one bowl and then juice the lemon into a separate bowl.

Meanwhile, heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Add vegetable stock and juice from the lemon, simmer for 5 minutes. Add the beans and simmer for another 2 minutes. Add the pasta, broccoli rabe, lemon zest, crushed red pepper, olive oil and half of the cheese. Stir until well combined and cheese has melted into the broth. Remove from heat.

Serve in bowls and top with remaining cheese.

Source: iStock

Source: iStock

6. Baked Mac & Cheese With Spinach

Add some extra iron and vitamins to mac and cheese with this recipe from Eating Well. While you’re at it, switch out some of the higher-fat ingredients for low-fat milk and cottage cheese so you can feel good (better, at least) about tucking into a hearty bowl. For even bulkier mac and cheese, add in some peas, broccoli, cauliflower, ham, white beans, green beans, or get dangerous with some jalapeños.


  • 3 tablespoons plain dry breadcrumbs
  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika
  • 1 (16-ounce or 10-ounce) package frozen spinach, thawed
  • 1¾ cups low-fat milk, divided
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup low-fat cottage cheese
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 8 ounces whole-wheat elbow macaroni, or penne

Directions: Put a large pot of water on to boil. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Coat an 8-inch-square baking dish with cooking spray.

Mix breadcrumbs, oil and paprika in a small bowl. Place spinach in a fine-mesh strainer and press out excess moisture.

Heat 1½ cups milk in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until steaming. Whisk remaining ¼ cup milk and flour in a small bowl until smooth; add to the hot milk and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce simmers and thickens, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cheddar until melted. Stir in cottage cheese, nutmeg, salt and pepper.

Cook pasta for 4 minutes, or until not quite tender. Drain and add to the cheese sauce; mix well. Spread half the pasta mixture in the prepared baking dish. Spoon the spinach on top. Top with the remaining pasta; sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture. Bake the casserole until bubbly and golden, 25 to 30 minutes.

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