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Italian High Protein Pasta Bake Recipe – Easy & Cheesy

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This Italian-style High Protein Pasta Bake Recipe is the ultimate macro-friendly comfort food! This easy dinner is saucy, cheesy, hearty, and delicious while packing nearly 40 grams of protein per serving. It’s a dinner that kids and adults alike will beg for!

side plate with a portion of high protein pasta bake next to the full pan.

There is nothing better than a hearty baked ziti. It is filling, satisfying, and rich. However, it isn’t always the healthiest meal to make…that is, until now!

I wanted to create a high-protein baked ziti with cottage cheese that was generous in portion size while keeping calories in check. I knew I needed to make this recipe full of lean protein and fiber while reducing the fat. 

Thankfully, the carefully selected ingredients in this recipe made that easy to do without sacrificing flavor.

Why You’ll Love This Recipe

This recipe is high in protein and fiber and lower in fat and calories while still tasting just like a traditional baked ziti!

What is Protein Pasta?

There are many great protein pasta options out there these days. Protein pastas are typically made from beans or legumes to increase the protein amount over typical wheat pasta. There are many brands available nowadays, but not all of them are easily accessible in grocery stores.

I am a huge fan of Banza. This brand is easy to find and is the closest-tasting alternative pasta to regular that I can find! It also happens to be gluten-free, making it a great choice for those on more limited diets. However, Banza isn’t the only type of protein pasta out there.

I was able to find 3 types of protein pasta at a smaller grocery store in my town. Here is a breakdown of the protein content and major ingredients in the following infographic:

infographic showing bowls of chickpea pasta, red lentil pasta, and a mixed pasta blend with text sharing protein count.

As you can see, the red lentil pasta is a clear winner in the protein count. However, I knew that feeding my kids the red lentil pasta would probably not go over well.

They do like the Protein+ type of pasta, but I’m also a huge fan of Banza as a way to vary our diet.

I love the taste of Banza as well as the higher protein and fiber content from the chickpeas. It is a fabulous pasta choice to add more nutrition to your dinner and increase the number of plants you eat in a week (aim for 30+ if you can!)

We use lean ground beef to add hearty, savory flavor and protein. Our cheesy mixture includes reduced-fat mozzarella and cottage cheese, and this cheese mixture also packs a protein punch of its own.

Overall, this high protein pasta bake recipe is not only delicious, but it’s a great meal the whole family will love. You can also cut and store the baked pasta in individual portions for a weekly meal prep that can help you meat your daily protein goal. That’s a win-win!

Protein Baked Ziti with a large metal spoon removing a serving.

Ingredients

To make this healthy pasta bake, you need the following:

  • Lean Ground Beef (96/4) – Lean ground beef gives lots of protein to this meal without tons of added fat calories.
  • Turkey Pepperoni – Turkey pepperoni gives a savory bite while also reducing the fat calories from regular pepperoni.
  • Tomato Sauce – Use your favorite marinara sauce for this recipe.
  • Onion, Garlic, & Green Pepper – These veggies give our sauce a deeper, richer flavor.
  • Banza Chickpea Pasta – I love the Banza penne because it’s easy to find, but if you can find the ziti that would be ideal! The rotini also works. You can also opt for a different kind of protein pasta, or even use regular pasta (it will lower the fiber and protein content of the final macros). Note that you need 1 1/2 boxes of Banza for this recipe.
  • Egg – The egg is the binder in our cheese mixture.
  • Cheese – Reduced fat cottage cheese, mozzarella cheese, and grated parmesan cheese each add their own creamy, gooey, and salty flavors to this dish.
  • Seasonings – Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, and even a little bit of red pepper flakes add great flavor to our pasta bake.
protein pasta bake array of ingredients on a white background with wooden cutting board. all ingredients labelled.

Instructions

To make this high-protein pasta bake, follow the step by step below:

This is a cutting board with chopped green pepper, onion, and garlic.

1. Chop Veggies

Dice the onion, garlic, and green pepper into small pieces. Set aside.

stainless steel pan with cooked ground beef crumbles.

2. Brown Meat

Heat a large skillet to medium heat and add your ground beef. Cook the meat, breaking it apart as it cooks, until it is no longer pink. Remove the cooked meat from the skillet and set aside. Drain any excess fat or liquid.

cooking diced peppers and onions in a stainless steel pan.

3. Cook Veggies

Add the veggies to the skillet you use to cook the meat. The leftover meat juices should be enough to cook the veggies without any sticking, but you can add a teaspoon of olive oil if needed. Cook the veggies until soft and fragrant.

This is a stainless steel pan with red meat sauce with pepper and onion for the baked ziti recipe with cottage cheese.

4. Make the Meat Sauce

Add the meat back into the skillet with the veggies, then add the pasta sauce to the skillet and stir. Cut your turkey pepperoni into quarters and stir it into the sauce. Add 1 tbsp of the Italian seasoning, the salt & pepper, and a pinch of red pepper flakes if desired. Stir thoroughly and let your skillet simmer on low heat while you prepare the pasta and cheese.

This is a blue pasta strainer with the protein penne inside.

5. Preheat Oven & Boil Pasta

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Put a large pot of salted water on the stove on high heat and bring it to a boil. Add 12 ounces of dry pasta (1 1/2 boxes of Banza) to the water and boil to al dente, about 5-6 minutes for the Banza penne pasta variety. If using a different pasta shape, subtract one minute from the package directions to keep the pasta firm. The key is making sure these pasta alternatives are slightly underdone so they do not get mushy. Drain the pasta when the boil time is complete and set aside.

This is a glass bowl with the ingredients for the creamy cheese mixture for the cottage cheese baked ziti.

6. Make Cheese Mixture

While the pasta cooks, you can make your cheese mixture. Add the cottage cheese, half of the mozzarella, an egg, and the rest of the Italian seasoning to a bowl and stir.

Assembling the layers of the high protein pasta bake.

7. Assemble the Pasta Bake

Take out a 9×13 baking dish and spray with a little bit of cooking spray. Pour 1/3 of your meat sauce in the bottom of the dish and spread it around evenly. Add half of the cooked pasta and spread it out, followed by half of the cheese mixture, and another 1/3 of the sauce.

Repeat with the rest of the Banza, the rest of the cheese mixture, and the last of the sauce. Your layers will look sparse at first, but it will fill out as you go.

Top the pasta bake with the remaining cup of mozzarella cheese and sprinkle your grated parmesan on top.

This is the high protein baked ziti right out of the oven cooling.

8. Bake

Place your cheesy pasta bake in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, until the top of your cheese is completely melted and starting to lightly brown. Remove from the oven when finished and serve.

Quick Tips

Shred your cheese yourself! It is so much tastier, and it melts better than pre-shredded cheese which is covered in additives to keep it from clumping in the bag.

Tips & Variations

  • This delicious Italian pasta bake recipe can be topped with some fresh basil or chopped fresh or dried parsley. Feel free to swap out the ground beef for other lean meats, like ground turkey, bison or reduced-fat ground pork.
  • This easy pasta bake could also handle more veggies if desired–more bell peppers, fresh mushrooms, or zucchini would be delicious!
  • Try all kinds of different protein pastas in these recipe to see if you find a new favorite.
side plate with a portion of high protein pasta bake next to the full pan.

Serving Suggestions

Serve this high-protein pasta bake with a hearty winter kale salad

Want another high-protein Italian dish makeover? Try my high-protein pizza recipe!

If you’re in the mood for a more traditional pasta dish, try my Bison Bolognese or my Bison Meatballs recipe. Bison meatballs are a favorite in my home and they go very well with red sauce and your favorite noodles.

For more healthy comfort food recipes, try my Healthy Tater Tot CasseroleHealthy Biscuits & Gravy, and Birria Enchiladas.

Nutritional Information

The full recipe makes 8 generous servings. For each serving, the nutritional information is as follows:

  • Calories: 413
  • Protein: 39 grams
  • Fat: 14 grams (6 grams saturated)
  • Carbs: 37 grams
  • Fiber: 7 grams

Recipe Notes

Store leftover portions in an airtight container. They will last for 3-4 days in the refrigerator. This makes an excellent meal prep and reheats well in just 1-2 minutes in the microwave.

close up of the protein baked ziti in casserole dish.

FAQ

Which pasta is highest in protein?

Pastas made from beans & other legumes have higher protein than wheat pasta. While whole wheat can also be nutritious, these higher-protein pasta options are great ways to get even more nutrients packed into your dinner!

How can I add more protein to my pasta?

I always like to serve my pasta dishes with a lean meat source, such as bison, a 96/4 ground beef, or ground turkey. Lean meat is nutrient-dense, lower in calories than higher-fat cuts, and has lots of protein per serving.

Is high-protein pasta worth it?

Yes, high-protein pasta is worth it, especially if you have a high protein goal to hit in your day and find it a challenge to hit that target. Adding extra protein through foods that aren’t typically considered a protein source is a great hack.

It is more expensive than regular pasta, but protein is the most expensive macro-nutrient. Especially when compared to regular refined white pasta, the nutrition you get from protein pasta is much higher. While many healthy foods are cheap (like rice, bananas, etc), that doesn’t usually apply to protein sources.

Get Your Nutrition with My Cottage Cheese Pasta Bake!

You’re going to love this delicious recipe. After you make it, please leave a comment and review! It means the world!

side plate with a portion of high protein pasta bake next to the full pan.
Print Recipe
5 from 2 votes

High Protein Pasta Bake

This hearty & cheesy pasta dish packs nearly 40 grams of protein per serving.
Prep Time20 minutes
Cook Time15 minutes
Total Time35 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: healthy comfort food, healthy family meals, healthy pasta bake, high protein, high protein dinners, pasta
Servings: 8
Calories: 405kcal
Author: Holly Lee
Cost: $15

Ingredients

  • 1 small onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 lb 96/4 ground beef
  • 24 oz tomato sauce
  • 60 grams turkey pepperoni about 34 pepperonis
  • 2 tbsp Italian seasoning divided into 1 tbsp + 1 tbsp
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes *Optional-omit if you don't like any spice
  • 12 ounces Banza penne pasta or other pasta variety
  • 1 1/2 cups 2% cottage cheese
  • 2 cups part skim shredded mozzarella divided into 1 cup + 1 cup
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan

Instructions

  • Finely dice the onion, garlic, and green pepper. Set aside.
  • Heat a large skillet to medium heat and add your ground beef. Cook the meat, breaking it apart as it cooks, until it is no longer pink. Remove the cooked meat from the skillet and set aside. Drain any excess fat or liquid.
  • Add the veggies to the skillet you cooked the meat in and cook until soft. The leftover meat juices should be enough to cook the veggies without any sticking.
  • Into the skillet of veggies, add back the meat followed by the pasta sauce. Cut your turkey pepperoni into quarters and stir it into the sauce. Add half of the Italian seasoning, the salt & pepper, and a pinch of red pepper flakes if desired. Stir thoroughly and let your skillet simmer on low heat while you prepare the pasta and cheese mixture.
  • Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Put a large pot of salted water on the stove on high heat and bring it to a boil.
  • Add 12 ounces of dry pasta to the water and boil to al dente, about 5 minutes for the Banza pasta variety. If using a different pasta type, subtract one minute from the package directions to keep the pasta firm. Drain the pasta when the boil time is complete and set aside.
  • While the pasta cooks, you can make your cheese mixture. Add the cottage cheese, half of the mozzarella, an egg, and the rest of the Italian seasoning to a bowl and stir.
  • Take out a 9×13 baking dish and spray with a little bit of cooking spray. Pour 1/3 of your meat sauce in the bottom of the dish and spread it around evenly. Add half of the cooked pasta and spread it out, followed by half of the cheese mixture, and another 1/3 of the sauce. Repeat with the rest of the Banza, the rest of the cheese mixture, and the last of the sauce.
  • Top the pasta bake with the remaining cup of mozzarella cheese and sprinkle your grated parmesan on top.
  • Place your pasta bake in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, until the top of your cheese is completely melted and starting to lightly brown. Then remove from the oven.

Video

YouTube video

Notes

This recipe uses 12 oz protein pasta. If using Banza, the boxes are usually 8 oz so you will 1 1/2 boxes.
Your layers will look sparse at first, but they will fill out as you go.
Cook the pasta al dente so it does not get mushy.
Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It is good for up to 4 days. This reheats well for meal prep.

Nutrition

Calories: 405kcal | Carbohydrates: 34g | Protein: 40g | Fat: 14g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 3g | Trans Fat: 0.2g | Cholesterol: 88mg | Sodium: 1204mg | Potassium: 625mg | Fiber: 8g | Sugar: 9g | Vitamin A: 713IU | Vitamin C: 19mg | Calcium: 327mg | Iron: 7mg

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