KEY POINTS:
* Modern technological innovations have enabled reputable brands to offer dried pasta of greater consistency and quality
* When you’re serving filled pasta such as ravioli or tortelloni, fresh is best
* An alternative to making your own is to find a local fresh pasta producer who can supply your business daily, or utilise frozen pasta from a quality supplier
* When comparing different pastas, try the product on its own so you can taste the flavour of the pasta free of any sauce

When adding pasta to the menu, you have the choice of using fresh, frozen or died — but how do you decide which is best for your business? To find out more about the pros and cons of the different pasta options available, we spoke to Fonterra Foodservice Executive Chef Liam McLaughlin.
WHILE FRESH PASTA MAKING is quite an artform in itself, dried pasta predominates in Italy, the home of pasta. This may be attributable to technological innovations — from the highly textured bronze dies through which the fresh pasta is extruded, to the industrial-strength dryers which now take only from two to five hours while ensuring the flavour, aroma and nutritional value of the wheat is retained during the process. In effect the wheat is ‘toasted’, which produces the dark yellow colour that is the hallmark of good quality pasta.
With such effective quality control now available, Liam says that as long as you choose a reputable dried pasta brand, you’ll always be able to rely on the consistency and quality of the product.
While quality dried pasta is ideal for your basics such as spaghetti, penne and fettucine, when it comes to filled pasta such as ravioli, tortellini and its larger cousin tortelloni (all of which have meat, cheese or vegetarian fillings) your choices are necessarily restricted to either fresh or frozen varieties.
“In my experience, fresh is best when you’re going to fill pasta,” Liam confirms. “Especially at the higher end of the market, creating your own pasta for a lasagne, ravioli or tortelloni is the best option. Certainly you could put a specialty filled pasta on the menu and make it fresh — that will attract customers and keep them coming back.”
Of course, using fresh pasta doesn’t mean you have to make your own — many restaurants serving Italian cuisine, especially those in ‘Italian neighborhoods’ such as Leichardt in Sydney or Carlton in Melbourne, have access to fresh pasta suppliers in the vicinity who can supply them daily as required. For those that don’t, good quality frozen pasta is another option, as Liam explains:
“Frozen pasta is particularly useful for gnocchi and there are some really good quality gnocchi out there in the foodservice market. By offering a cook-from-frozen product they’re able to avoid the use of gums, flours and other starches to hold the pasta together over time, so that when it’s cooked it comes out as lighter, fluffier and reminiscent of a fresh-made product. Whether your pasta filling is meat, vegetable or cheese, when it’s frozen the manufacturer is able to put more of the fresher component in there.”
In choosing pasta it’s best to compare lots of different brands, but Liam emphasises you should try the pasta on its own — without the sauce.
“This way you can get an idea of the flavour, because that’s often what we don’t stop to try. You want to get a sense of what an artisanal dried pasta manufacturer has been able to do with their pasta, as compared to a mass-produced product that’s a little more mainstream.
“At the end of the day pasta is still the cheapest component of the dish, so a couple of cents per portion for a better quality pasta might well deliver a substantially better quality meal for a very small additional outlay.”
Fresh pastamaking is an art in itself
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