With the recent plant-based evolution, customers are looking for more produce-filled options when they browse a
menu. According to Datassential, 70% of consumers are actively trying to increase their produce intake. One area
of your menu that’s easy to infuse more fresh produce is within two customer favorites: pasta and pizza. Consumers’ enduring love affair with these comfort foods offers a huge opportunity, and pasta and pizza are excellent platforms to flex your culinary muscles. Take advantage of the popularity of pasta and pizza by expanding your signature offerings to include more fresh, seasonal vegetables and meet the growing demand for crave-worthy plant-based items. The best part – utilizing seasonal vegetables is not only on-trend, it’s more economical due to its abundance.
Pumpkin and butternut are the most popular winter squash varieties and can add rich tastes to pastas and pizzas. Butternut squash is nutty, sweet, and excellent when accented with autumnal flavors such as brown butter and sage, bacon and maple syrup, or ricotta and cranberry. If you’re looking to serve a pasta entrée that’s less traditional, consider fusing seasonal and ethnic flavors with a pumpkin pad thai. Coat rice noodles with a mixture of pumpkin purée, peanut butter, tamari, and agave, and top with hazelnuts. Chefs can also utilize the versatile varieties of winter squash to add texture, color, and flavor to pizzas. Drizzle winter squash pizza with maple syrup, or top it with ginger, an earthy and spicy superfood, that will provide nutrients and add sweet heat.
According to Datassential, Brussels sprouts are the second fastest growing ingredient and have been generating buzz on menus, inside pasta entrées, and as a pizza topping. Adding sophistication to these timeless offerings, charred Brussels sprouts are underexploited, yet provide earthy, robust flavor. Brussels sprouts and bacon make a balanced, savory duo and work well in pasta and pizza dishes alike. For menu differentiation, try serving roasted Brussels sprouts and pancetta with traditional orecchiette noodles in a ricotta-lemon sauce, or top pizza with charred Brussels sprouts, prosciutto, and a drizzle of honey.
Chefs are giving more thought and care to greens, intentionally highlighting their textures, colors, and versatile flavors. Not only do they add aesthetics and enhance the taste of pastas and pizzas, they also increase the nutritional content, appealing to a broader range of customers. Swiss chard is a nutritional powerhouse that adds a slightly bitter taste to pasta and pizza applications. Sauté, braise, or roast and pair with fontina, Gruyère, and pecorino cheeses. Watercress, another tangy green, often takes the role of a garnish but deserves far more recognition. Its peppery bite can give pizza a fresh and intriguing zing and can also level out the richness of a creamy pasta sauce. Watercress marries perfectly with walnuts, presenting opportunity for creating watercress-walnut pesto and utilizing as a pizza or pasta sauce. Arugula is already a popular green, especially on pizzas, and its micro-version is gaining traction. With skyrocketing nutritional levels and concentrated flavor, microgreens increase the appeal of any dish. Change things up on your menu by using micro arugula or other on-trend, health-benefiting blends such as micro radish, micro rainbow chard, and micro kale as a finishing touch.
Root vegetables are abundant in fall and are a cost-effective way to add seasonality to traditional menu items. Beets, available in gold or candy cane varieties, add bold flavors and vibrant hues to pasta and pizza. Use beets for ravioli stuffing containing goat cheese, ricotta, and mint filling. It also makes for a great pizza topping when roasted, grilled, or in a pesto made with beets, garlic, walnuts, and Parmesan. Other root vegetables that lack an attractive appearance, such as celery root, rutabaga, and turnips, can be used to create sauces and purées. Try a celery root-potato purée or a creamy turnip-garlic sauce. A great way to maximize on a variety of fall vegetables is to consider serving a pasta primavera. Utilize fall produce such as cauliflower, celery root, parsnips, rutabaga, and turnips, and menu it as “harvest primavera” for seasonal appeal.
Extremely versatile with neutral flavor, potatoes pique customer interest and make for a hearty pizza topping. Add a crispy element to pizza with thinly sliced potatoes over Gruyère cheese or try our Tuscan Potato Pizza recipe.
Surround the potatoes with soft cheeses such as fontina, mozzarella, or Gorgonzola to avoid sogginess while keeping the potatoes moist and slowing the browning process. Sweet potatoes, white potatoes, and Yukon Golds are popular options that have high-starch content and blend naturally with a variety of meats and cheeses.
For maximum cost-efficiency, you can also cross-utilize leftover vegetables such as roasted potatoes for stuffing pastas. Stuff ravioli with leftover roasted sweet potatoes and incorporate additional root vegetables such as beets to enhance the produce content. Finish with a brown butter-pecan sauce or kale pesto for vegan customers. If you’re making house-made ravioli, go one step further by incorporating sweet potatoes into the pasta dough for added color, texture, and flavor. Gnocchi, a classic Italian pasta, can also be made from leftover baked sweet potatoes as well as other root vegetables such as parsnips and squash. Enhance the seasonality of gnocchi by pairing with seasonal sauces such as mushroom cream sauce made with baby bellas, garlic, Dijon, soy sauce, and parsley, or pumpkin cheese sauce made with heavy cream, white wine, mozzarella, nutmeg, cayenne, and fresh sage.
With a growth in diners seeking low-carb menu options, utilizing vegetables as the foundation for pasta and pizza can elevate the flavor and expand your customer reach. Spiralizing or shaving vegetables and transforming them into vegetable noodles can attract more customers and give your menu items textural contrast and increased visual appeal. According to Datassential, 53% of consumers say they’re likely to try vegetables prepared this way (spiralized or shaved) in a restaurant setting. Create spiralized or shaved “noodles” with vegetables such as zucchini, butternut squash, carrots, parsnips, eggplant, rutabaga, daikon radishes, beets, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes. Pair vegetable noodles with worldly sauces such as gochujang, Thai-peanut sauce, Romesco sauce, or creamy turmeric sauce. Vegetables are also a great carb-free substitute for pizza crusts. They allow diners to opt for a healthier meal while helping your restaurant utilize its vegetable inventory.
With high demand of produce-forward items, vegetable-based pizza crusts also present opportunity for increased price points, furthering your restaurants ROI. Maines offers riced cauliflower, sweet potato, and butternut squash that are pre-prepped timesavers for creating gluten-free crust options. Contact your Maines Territory Manager for more information on carb-free pizza crust products.
From vegetable noodles and crusts to vegetable-rich sauces and purées, pasta and pizza are blank canvases for infusing seasonal produce. Serving creative, produce-forward pastas and pizzas can increase profitability and convey a compelling story that customers want to hear – and eat.
Enhancing Your Pasta with Non-Wheat Alternative Flours
Making fresh pasta in-house can differentiate your menu and set your brand apart. To further distinguish your house-made pasta, consider utilizing non-wheat alternative flours. These flours increase nutritional composition, add distinct flavor, and are gluten-free, allowing you to expand your customer reach and make your offerings more appealing.
Popular in Indian and Middle Eastern cooking, chickpea flour gives dough a slightly nutty flavor but it will not be as soft or flexible as pasta dough made with wheat. Cutting chickpea flour with wheat flour will make it stronger. However, to keep the dough gluten-free, you can use tapioca, xanthan gum, and/or sweet rice flour to strengthen the dough.
Utilizing rolled oats is a great way to cut costs and reduce waste while serving a refined, nutrient-packed dish. Process rolled oats in a food processor and substitute for a gluten-containing flour such as wheat or all-purpose– it behaves very similar and holds just as well. Oat flour pasta is high in fiber and will produce a heavy textured pasta.
When using buckwheat flour alone to create house-made pasta, it’s often more difficult to handle because it contains no gluten. To produce a more elastic noodle, such as soba noodles, chefs typically cut buckwheat with another gluten-containing flour. Kamut or white spelt flour are two alternative flours to use instead that will keep the recipe gluten-free. Buckwheat pasta will have a deeper brown hue, nutty, bold flavor, and more texture.
With amaranth flour, you must cut it with another type of flour to create a dough that will hold. Using just amaranth flour can result in high cooking loss and incredibly soft texture. To minimize these effects, cut with tapioca, buckwheat, or quinoa flour. Items made with amaranth flour taste mildly sweet, lending the opportunity to create bold combinations with pasta sauces or garnishes.