2009 September: The Power of Pasta

pastas pasta bowlsPizza and pasta is a match made in heaven. If pasta isn’t already on your menu, start up the printing press — because that’s all about to change! Not only should you be offering both, but why not create a “family feast” by combining a pasta entrée, a pizza and a salad? I’ve heard from so many pizzeria owners who want to offer pasta but just don’t know where to begin. Put your worries to rest, because it will be much easier to implement than you think. You do need to have at least a burner to boil water to cook your pasta. If you have that, you’re on your way. You don’t need to go crazy offering eight different shapes of pasta.

I’d suggest starting with spaghetti and penne or ziti. Always salt your water and bring it to a boil before adding your pasta. Remember that pasta will absorb one to two times it’s own weight in water, so make sure you don’t try to cook too much pasta at one time.

I’d also like to point out that adding oil to your water is like throwing money down the drain. Simply make sure that you stir your pasta to separate it after you add it to the boiling water. Pasta only takes 8 to 10 minutes to reach al dente, depending on which shape you’re cooking. Angel hair pasta only takes about 3 minutes to cook. Remember, “al dente” is the goal: you want a little bit of firmness to it (without a crunch, of course!).

When it’s ready, remove it from the heat, drain it and run some cold water over it if it’s going to be used later. Remember that just shutting off the fl ame and leaving the pasta in the hot water doesn’t stop the cooking process. It must be removed from the heat and cooled down.

Once it has cooled, drizzle just a little bit of oil over the pasta and massage it in. This will prevent it from sticking together. Now you are ready to portion your pasta. 8 to 10 ounces into a microwavable bag is a very good entrée-sized portion. Depending on your volume and stove top space, you can either dip it into a small pot of simmering water with a strainer basket for 45 seconds or you can even microwave it for 60 to 90 seconds to order.

Now sauce your pasta, and you’re in business!
I’d suggest a great marinara or an Alfredo sauce. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that heating up some pizza sauce will make a great pasta sauce. Creating some space in an existing steam table or picking up a countertop unit is the best way to keep your sauces hot for pasta. Having everything hot and ready creats the ability to provide guests with a great pasta entree in
less than 2 minutes. That’s the kind of “wow” experience that will bring guests back again and again. If you were to take equal parts marinara and Alfredo sauce, you will have created a third sauce that I call a tomato cream sauce. Garlic butter is also a great choice for pasta, along with the other sauces.

Now you have your setup. You’ve got pasta ready to go along with some great sauce choices. What can we serve with our pasta? Meatballs and Italian sausage are items that can also be kept hot in a steam table as additional items to accompany your pasta entrée. You probably already offer chicken fingers or a chicken parm sub along with eggplant –– those are natural choices to add on top of your pasta dishes as well. This is exactly how to offer new items on your menu without bringing in a whole host of new ingredients. Utilizing food items that you already have in-house is the best way to create a better value for your diners while keeping your food costs and waste to a minimum. Melt a little mozzarella cheese over your chicken and eggplant after covering them with hot marinara and you just added a whole new section to your menu!

Want to be just a little different with a touch of gourmet fl air to set your pasta section apart from your competitors? No problem! You can do that by simply using ingredients that are most likely in your inventory as well. Baked ziti is made by simply tossing some penne or ziti pasta with some hot marinara or even meat sauce and a little bit of ricotta cheese. Put it in a pan or casserole and bake it with some mozzarella on top. Baked ziti Florentine is a real nice twist. Take some sliced or crumbled sausage that you already use, some spinach and toss it with penne and some Alfredo sauce and bake that with some mozzarella cheese.

I’m not sure if you use pesto in your pizzeria, but it’s simple to make and can be used on both pizza and in pasta dishes. Chicken Pesto Pasta is an easy dish to make by tossing some grilled chicken, artichoke hearts and black olives with some spaghetti and pesto. This is the kind of dish folks are willing to spend a couple of extra dollars on as well. If you were to mix some pesto with a little bit of Alfredo, you’ve just created a creamy pesto sauce, which yields yet another option. I’m trying to teach you that by adding cooked pasta, a couple of sauces and utilizing ingredients that you are already using in your pizzeria, you can create an easy, great “pasta entrée” section to your menu.

Pasta is also an incredible vehicle to help you tap into the catering world. No matter where you are located, I’m sure you have medical facilities and doctor’s offices nearby. If that is the case, then there are most likely pharmaceutical representatives that visit these offices. In today’s world it is typical for a drug rep (as I call them) to bring lunch to an entire office. That’s where we come in! (See Kamron Karington’s article on page 24 for more on this topic).

For catering purposes, purchase some aluminum pans and you’ll be ready to offer pasta entrées for any size group. (Pasta also tends to be perceived as a bit more upscale than pizza.) One of the most common caterings I offer is bread and butter, garden salad, pasta with chicken and broccoli Alfredo, plus baked ziti with meat sauce — and then I’ll give them gallons of iced tea and cookies/ brownies for dessert. I charge $35 for a half pan of the pasta entrées. They feed 10 people. This whole menu comes to $10 per person before tax and tip. I like to supply heavy-duty plates, fork kits with napkins and drink cups. This way, whomever books the catering doesn’t have to worry about a thing. That’s a really big plus in the catering world. 09.09.09

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