We could all use a little comfort these days – and as comfort foods go, pasta ranks pretty high. But at a time when many consumers are craving foods that soothe but also those that promote better health, restaurant operators need to offer options that that tick both boxes. Pasta made from alternatives to wheat flour – whether chickpeas, quinoa, red lentils or another source – can help. While these pastas are not necessarily low-carb, their elevated protein and fiber content make them reliable options to offer guests who want comfort without the guilt.
About 30 percent of Americans purposefully avoid gluten. Do you have some reliable go-to grains that help you adapt a dish as needed without sacrificing taste? Across your menu, consider where you might offer brown rice, quinoa, wild rice or gluten-free pastas in place of traditional white rice and pasta. Having a range of these staples on hand can help you stretch your menu – both for guests with gluten allergies and for others looking to customize their order with a nutrient-dense base.
At a time when there’s so much pressure to simplify menus and do more with fewer ingredients, planning a menu can feel restricting for chefs. One thing that may help lend new interest to a recipe is bringing in a variety of ingredient shapes and textures. A different pasta shape can make a dish feel more upscale, while swapping in quinoa or freekeh for the noodles in a dish can make it an appealing option on your salad menu.
You’re likely serving more flexitarians these days – or people who simply want to increase their intake of vegetables in interesting, satisfying ways. Plant-forward pasta dishes are a great alternative for these guests because they can pack a dish full of nutrients without feeling restrictive. They’re also easy to adapt and customize with whatever vegetables happen to be available and in season (or with chicken, seafood or sausage for those who want a little meat).
Is there a better foundational ingredient than pasta? At a time when operators need to make the most of their inventory, pasta is an especially valuable tool. It can add dimension to your salad menu, be upscaled with seafood, or add bulk to ingredients in a global dish. Yet it also shines alongside simple, fresh ingredients. Depending on the shapes used, it can make a dish feel more comforting, surprising or upmarket.
What’s more versatile than pasta? Treat it as a critical resource in your toolbox at a time when you need to make every item in your inventory count. It can be a tasty side dish when combined with fresh vegetables and a vinaigrette, offered as a craveable appetizer when baked with cheese or elevated to an entrée when paired with seafood. Serve it hot or cold, make it health-conscious or indulgent, and swap in different shapes to instantly kick up the interest of a recipe.
Summer picnics are made for pasta salads. Try a creative spin on them by changing up the expected presentation. Consider using large pasta shells stuffed with a mixture of seasoned summer vegetables, turkey and cheese, which can work as a light entrée, starter or side dish.
The decision to use one kind of pasta over another in a recipe may seem insignificant at first. But the shape of the pasta you use can add so much interest to a recipe because of how it mixes with other ingredients and adheres to sauce. Bucatini, which is like spaghetti but hollow to help carry sauce through a dish, is ideal for creamy sauces and subtle flavors that you want to make sure come through in each bite. Pair it with this lemony cream sauce and then add shrimp for a filling, satisfying meal.
At a time when so many people are separated from extended family members, reminders of home can be a comfort. Try a menu addition like Casarecce, a traditional pasta shape from Sicily, which gets its name from the Italian word “casereccio,” meaning “homemade.” It’s a short noodle that has a homemade texture and curves in on itself, helping it hold on to sauces and marinades. This variety from Barilla is made from chickpeas, a good alternative for gluten-free customers. Consider combining it with chicken, vegetables and lime vinaigrette for a nutritious, complete meal that delivers the satisfaction of a traditional pasta dish.
It’s hard to beat pasta as a winter comfort food. Easy to prepare and customize, pasta is an appealing base for everything from light broths to rich, creamy sauces made from pork or meat. Bucatini Amatriciana is one example of a pasta dish that manages to combine a handful of ingredients into an impressive, satisfying dish. While the authentic Italian version of the dish uses guanciale, a fatty cured pork cheek, pancetta is easier to source and replicates the dish’s rich, satisfying flavor.