Explore pasta ideas with storage and prep in mind
While the cost of goods and labor continue to soar, we must continue to find creative ways to provide value to our guests while keeping our bottom line in check. What I love most about pasta is that it is super versatile and can be highly profitable. You can create so many great tasting options using a few cuts of pasta and ingredients that you already have in your prep table.
When considering which cuts of pasta to feature on your menu, think about how much space you have in your walk in to store par cooked pastas. For maximum efficiency, dry pasta will need to be par-cooked, pre portioned and re-thermalized to order. The amount of space that you can dedicate to this will determine how many cuts you decide to offer. You can do a lot with two or three cuts which will save prep time and space on your line.
Three of my favorite cuts are rigatoni, penne and homestyle fettuccine.
Rigatoni is a sturdy pasta and stands up to par cooking and rethermalizing but beware of over cooking this pasta because it will flatten out and break. It is a great pasta for dishes like chicken bacon mac and cheese because when prepared properly, it holds heavy sauces well without flattening out. Because it is a larger cut, it will really fill up the bowl and presents beautifully at the table. From a simple rigatoni with marinara and broiled mozzarella, to a spicy Pasta Arrabbiata using your house marinara, ground beef and crushed red pepper, you can create a lot of tasty options with this versatile cut.
Penne or Mostaccioli (more common in some regions) is staple on any Italian table. What is the difference you may ask? Penne has ridges and usually has a thicker wall, while Mostaccioli is smooth with a slightly thinner wall and can have a slightly smaller diameter, but they are both cut on the bias. I would go with what is more commonly recognized in your region. People tend to stick to what they know. The benefit to choosing this cut of pasta is that it is tough! You really have to try to overcook it and it rarely falls apart. It is dense and can take a beating. It makes a great bed for Chicken or Eggplant Parmigiana. Try a Penne Ala Vodka, again using your house marinara, fresh shaved garlic, crushed red pepper, a hint of Alfredo and of course a generous pour of vodka for a tasty departure from the traditional Baked Mostaccioli.
Another favorite cut of pasta for me is “thick” or “homestyle” fettuccini. This is also a pasta that can take a lot of abuse. It doesn’t over cook easily and like rigatoni, it loves sauce! Of course, there is the traditional Fettuccine Alfredo, or fettuccine with marinara, but think about the ingredients that you have available to you. Have fun with your recipes. Take for instance your traditional Alfredo sauce, add sliced picante peppers and simmer. Toss in your fettuccine and top with grilled shrimp.
A Wholly Stromboli favorite is our Mediterranean Pasta. This dish features many of the ingredients found in our pizza prep table which is what made it so fun to create. Sliced onion, bell pepper, mushroom, fresh shaved garlic, artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers, sautéed and tossed with fettuccine in a brown butter sauce. Add chicken or shrimp and you’ve got a light but filling pasta dish that is a crowd favorite.
The other piece of advice I would give is consider which modifications you will allow. The “dough side” of your kitchen line works more like an assembly line. You work from one ticket to the next in succession. Dough, sauce, cheese, top, bake. A sauté line has so many moving parts and so many pieces that have to work in perfect harmony. Timing is everything! You will have multiple tickets in different stages of completion, take your eye off the ball and you risk having over cooked mushy pasta, blackened Shrimp Scampi, or thick clumpy Chicken Marsala.
Keeping your sauté team focused and following recipes is key. My point is, having your sauté cooks running around pulling ingredients from all over the kitchen that are not featured on your menu puts a huge stick in their spokes. Not to mention, that if you don’t have a recipe for that ingredient, no one knows how much “sliced pepperoni” to put in the “fettuccine, no sauce add extra olive oil, and shaved garlic”. Do we sauté the pepperoni, or dump it on the top cold? What about extra olive oil? How much is extra and how much do you charge for all of this? And don’t think that this guest won’t complain if this build-your-own nightmare concoction doesn’t come out the same the next time they strong arm your server into sending this point and grunt nightmare to the kitchen. Menus serve to create proper food costing, fair pricing and consistency through brand standards. Creating chaos in your kitchen by giving in to every whim serves no one. Leave that to the big chains, soon their cooks and servers may figure out they don’t have to put up with that nonsense if they worked for you.
While pizza and stromboli will always have my heart, the rising cost of cheese and proteins make the 20-inch pies and stuffed to the gills stromboli that we are known for a little bit of a challenge where COGS are concerned. Finding the sweet spot is key here. There is a fine line between making margin and turning off your guests. You may not hit 20 percent cost of goods on 20-inch pies and 30-inch stromboli, however, if carry a 16 to 18 percent cost of goods on Fettuccine Alfredo, baked cheese ravioli or even Shrimp Scampi this will help balance out your over all food costs while still providing your guests with value, fair pricing and happy tummies!
Don’t miss Melissa Rickman’s Pasta Demo Sunday, October 16 at 12 p.m. EST at Pizza and Pasta Northeast in Atlantic City. More at PizzaandPastaExpo.com.
MELISSA RICKMAN is co-founder of Wholly Stromboli in Fort Lupton, Colorado, and member of the World Pizza Champions.