Baked to perfection

Baked pastas provide comfort, high profit margins and great taste.

Published in FSD Update

Looking for an inexpensive way to offer customers value-added comfort food? Consider baked pastas, which are also “the best way to accomplish better taste and presentation,” says Fernando Cruz, executive chef at The Hotel at Auburn University, in Alabama, who serves braised rabbit cannelloni and meat lasagna. Baked pastas also “make things easier when executing the dish à la minute, as you can preportion the dishes ahead of time, ensuring incredibly accurate yields for every batch.” This also provides operators with increased cost control (read: higher profit margins).

Ida Shen, director of culinary and catering at UC Berkeley, also offers a range of baked pastas, from classic lasagnas and pasticcio to vegan and vegetarian bakes. “Pasta is popular in almost any form, but baked pasta dishes look more put together than a tossed one, as they have a value-added look to them,” Shen adds. “They’re also a great way to market a vegetarian dish and they help in lowering the costs for animal proteins because [you can stretch] the protein.”

Plus, “baked pastas have a comfort factor to them and usually feature cheese as an ingredient, which everyone loves,” adds Mark Kowalski, executive chef of Culinary Support Services at Penn State University, in State College. “We offer a wide variety of lasagnas, stuffed pastas and baked pastas with many different flavor profiles, and we try to incorporate different ingredients into the sauces and the pastas to make them unique.” Kowalski cites baked ziti and butternut squash, bacon and kale three-cheese pasta as most popular.

Baking in hearth ovens

One way to achieve great baked pastas is with a hearth oven. “We have two, which gives us a lot of flexibility,” says Cruz, saying temperature control is paramount. “You have to know your hot spots—hearth ovens cook a lot faster than traditional ovens—so play with the oven and familiarize yourself with it.” Cruz also heeds cleanliness. “You don’t want the surface to have burned flour or cornmeal on it because it can ruin the flavors of other items.”

Similarly, Kevin Cruz, executive chef of Culinary Services at Michigan State University, in East Lansing, makes nearly 1,400 baked pastas, like smoked Gouda mac and cheese and Buffalo chicken pasta bake, in a hearth oven each week.

“The fire adds that little bit of show as it caramelizes the natural sugars in the cheese to create that delicious crisp and color on the top,” explains Cruz, who says the cooler months have the highest baked pasta sales. “Hearth-baked pasta [dishes] are the ultimate comfort food, you can provide them at a minimal cost, and the flickering of the flame in the oven excites the presentation even more.”

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
chefs

We started inviting chefs and FSDs from other districts to come prepare lunch. Through featuring different chefs and chef-inspired meals, I’ve found the students have been looking forward to coming into the cafeteria. They are willing to try new things with crazy names, and to ask for their favorite outside items turned healthy.

Ideas and Innovation
tapas

I’ve created a high school “focus group” to see what future college students will want in terms of foodservice. This year, I called up two now-seniors from the last group to get 10 of their friends together. I also include a sophomore or two so that I always have a contact for next year. Tapas, grain bowls and late-night breakfast all originated from this group.

Ideas and Innovation
making meals

This summer, we teamed up with a church to deliver meals to three housing projects. We brought the meals to the church, and then the church recruited volunteers to deliver the meals to the children. We’ve been very impressed with this new model, and it shows great promise in getting meals to children who otherwise would not be able to leave their housing project.

Industry News & Opinion
sharing love

Having never personally experienced a hurricane, I can only imagine the horrors faced by the millions of people whose lives were affected by Harvey and Irma in late August and early September. It’s a group that comprises uncounted noncommercial operations, including Houston Independent School District, which serves 215,000 students.

But from that tragedy has come one of the most impressive feats of foodservice I’ve seen since coming on board at this magazine, partially spearheaded by Nutrition Officer Betti Wiggins , who only just joined the district. For the entire school year,...

FSD Resources