Plant-rich plates are gaining in popularity, and it’s not just a short-lived trend—for many consumers, increasing vegetable consumption is an ongoing lifestyle choice or even a necessity for their health. According to a 2018 trendspotting report from Datassential, 22 percent of consumers are increasing their fruit and vegetable intake, and 49 percent report choosing plant-based foods because they are viewed as “healthier” options.
As instances of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity increase in the population, more consumers are looking for alternatives to their favorite foods. Datassential reports that gluten-free is one of the fastest growing menu terms and 16 percent of consumers are actively reducing their gluten intake.
“A number of consumer interests come together around plant-forward eating,” says Barilla Foodservice chef Yury Krasilovsky. “Customers want foods they can feel good about—that they perceive as good for their health and the planet, or even better, all of the above.”
To accommodate customer demands, many chefs are incorporating new plant-based products into their offerings to ensure the availability of healthful options without compromising on taste.
“Historically, chefs have looked at plant-forward dishes in an all-or none way—vegetarian or vegan,” Krasilovsky says. “While that might appeal to a vocal minority, chefs are now discovering a middle way, where limited amounts of animal protein are included and popular dishes are remade with less meat and more legumes or veggies.”
Specifically, many chefs have found success adding plant-based alternatives such as legume pasta to their menus.
“Legume pasta is first and foremost pasta—a universally popular, versatile comfort food that is approachable for guests and profitable for operators,” Krasilovsky says. “With the legumes—either chickpeas or lentils—as the single ingredient, this product has the health halo of the plant-forward and clean-label movements, and the protein positives of the legumes themselves, which are also naturally gluten-free.”
Offering legume pasta as an option in certain dishes is a simple way for chefs and operators to tackle the plant-forward trend without ditching profitable comfort food favorites that customers love.
“There are times when guests do not want to consume wheat products,” says chef Matt Harding, culinary director for Piada Restaurants. “Legume pasta is a great way for them to still have the familiarity of pasta as a flavor carrier. It also provides a genuine protein portion and is a nice bridge for those looking to move away from wheat or gluten.”
Cooking procedures for legume pasta are simple, so chefs don’t have to worry about additional training.
“Early versions of legume pasta were not always high-performing and could be mushy or grainy,” Krasilovsky says. “Barilla’s new single ingredient products surprise in their simplicity and in performance. They’re just like traditional pastas in that respect.”
Chef recommendations for adding legume pastas to your menus.
“You need to take the weight, flavor, and texture of the pasta into account and adjust your flavors accordingly,” Harding says. “Much like with whole grain pastas, I would suggest upping your flavor game and being intentional about your recipes.”
Take note: Because legume pasta is naturally very absorbent, most dishes will require additional sauce, except in the case of a butter or oil base.
Favorite recipe: Mnazaleh Mashup with Barilla Chickpea Casarecce
- 1½ lbs eggplant
- 1 tsp Kosher salt
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 5 garlic cloves, large
- 6 ounces white onion, sliced
- 3 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
- 1 ½ cups water
- 8 ounces chickpeas, cooked, rinsed, and drained
- 4 ounces Sauvignon Blanc
- ½ cup Italian parsley, chopped
- 1 tbsp sugar, granulated
- ½ tsp mint, dried
- 1 tsp Harissa seasoning
- 1⁄8 tsp cinnamon, ground
- 2 tbsp cilantro, chopped
- 1 ounce red wine vinegar
- 4-6 quarts water
- 2 tbsp salt
- 1 box Barilla chickpea casarecce
- Remove vertical strips of skin from each eggplant, exposing ½ the flesh, then cut eggplant into 1-inch chunks. Salt and leave eggplant overnight to drain in a non-corrosive colander.
- Rinse eggplant and squeeze dry. Heat oil in saute pan until hot, adding eggplant in small batches, fry over medium high heat until colored and about ½ cooked, draining as you go.
- Add remaining oil, onion, and ½ cup water to pan. Cook over medium low heat for about 20 minutes until liquid is absorbed and onions begin to color. Add garlic and tomatoes, and saute for 30 seconds. Stir for a minute, then add water and cook covered for 20 minutes.
- Uncover, add eggplant, half the parsley, salt, sugar, mint, and cinnamon. Simmer until eggplant is very soft (about 30 minutes). Meanwhile, boil water in a large pot and add salt. Add casarecce and cook according to box instructions. Drain into a colander.
- Toss eggplant with cooked casarecce until warmed through. Remove from heat and garnish with remaining parsley, cilantro, and
“I really like the legume pasta for an easy gluten free option, or for building vegan or vegetarian dishes.” says chef Tamra Scroggins, director of food culture for Sizzler USA. “It’s also great for kids that are picky eaters – pasta is always a hit with kids, and parents like the healthy profile of legume pasta.”
Take note: Not all legume pastas are suited for cold applications. Chickpea pasta performs well as a cold dish, however lentil pasta will harden under cooler conditions. Visit barillaafs.com for Scroggins’ Mediterranean chickpea pasta salad.