Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Processed Dinners For Two

Sometimes, I'm just too ill or too exhausted to cook a full meal. But we do need to eat, and I don't like leftovers or tv dinners, so when I can't cook for whatever reason, I try to stick with items marketed specifically for two servings. Some are pretty good, some are pretty awful, some are fine but a waste of money.

Barilla Three Cheese Tortellini 8oz package

I've walked past this on the shelf a few times and it never grabbed me, so I never grabbed it. But last time I went shopping it was on sale, so I decided to give it a try. The sale price was 2 for $6 (I bought only one) and regular price $3.49.

Pros: definitely enough pasta for two people, possibly even a bit more than we'd normally have. Very few of the tortellinis opened in cooking/draining, so very little filling spilled out. Easy prep. Tasted good. Shelf stable.

Cons: Apparent typo on package instructions. Package advertising not strictly accurate.

Details: the packaging attracted me because it's labelled as "Dinner for 2 in 10 Minutes". It is not, however, a 10 minute prep time. There was very little information on the packaging, and the instructions were nearly on the bottom (it's bag-shaped, so a curved base, which means it was somewhat back, somewhat bottom), but it says "Bring 3-4 quarts of water to a rolling boil". This annoyed me, frankly, because while I do own a pan large enough to boil 3-4 quarts of water, it's my stockpot, which is not often used, and it takes forever to bring that much water to a boil. Since the pasta had to cook for an additional 10-11 minutes after the water came to a boil, obviously it's not "dinner in 10 minutes". The product description on my grocery store's website says "Total Time 20 minutes" but that is not anywhere on the packaging. The same website includes the instructions for the product, which state "bring 2-3 quarts of water to a rolling boil". This sounds much more accurate for the amount of pasta being cooked, so I can only assume that there's an error at the package printing site, and that the instructions for the 12oz size were printed on what is definitely an 8oz bag.

I plated the pasta with two separate toppings, as I didn't have any pasta sauce in the house. I sprinkled a shredded cheese combination over the top on one plate, and it was acceptable. On the other, I tossed the pasta with butter and Parmesan cheese. Better than the other plate but still not exciting, though it's what the packaging suggested.

In the past I've several times served Buitoni refrigerated Three Cheese Tortellini in the 9oz package and liked it. Comparing the two it's basically a draw. The Buitoni fridge pasta tastes a bit better to me, but has to be eaten or frozen within a certain number of days, it's more pasta than we need for two people, and it's $1 more expensive at my grocery store. The Barilla wasn't quite as good, seemed a bit lower quality, but can sit on the shelf for months just like canned foods, and is the less expensive option. Both should be served with a pasta sauce for best results, whether fresh or in a jar, which drops both products down a notch for me because it doubles the price of the meal and means leftover sauce that has to be used or tossed (as pasta sauce is not generally available in sizes serving 2).

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often