October 31, 2009

Marie Callender's Pasta Al Dente

mcpasta.jpgLet's start this review off with some background. I don't like frozen meals. Most of them just leave me unsatisfied, at best, or disgusted, at worst. That being said, when I'm pinching pennies and I buy some to avoid going out for lunch at work, I try and find some that at least look moderately appealing. Marie Callender's new Pasta Al Dente line seemed interesting. The claim on the box is that the heating method causes the pasta to "steam to perfection" (hence the "Al Dente" name). I grabbed two varieties, Beef Bolognese Rigatoni and Chicken Carbonara. As I pulled out the first meal (Beef Bolognese Rigatoni) to cook it, I saw how the heating process worked. The meal comes in a large bowl that holds only the sauce. Set inside the bowl is a steamer which holds the meat, veggies and noodles. The first thing I noticed is that you don't have to cut a slit into the plastic while the meal cooks, as the meal self vents. This is great because it saves you an extra step. When you place the food in the microwave, the sauce heats up which causes steam to rise and cook the rest of the meal. When it's done cooking, you simply pour the stuff in the steamer down into the sauce and mix it together. It's actually a pretty ingenious method, and I'm happy to report that the pasta prepared with it has by far the best texture of any frozen meal pasta I've ever had. As far as taste goes, the Beef Bolognese was OK. Aside from the great pasta, the sauce was good, but uninteresting, and the beef had slightly better-than-average consistency for frozen food meat. It certainly was a bit better than your average frozen food dish, overall, but not spectacular. As I was expecting it to be the better of the two, I had little hope for the Chicken Carbonara. Surprisingly, it was in fact the Carbonara that exceeded my expectations. The smokey, flavorful carbonara sauce was very tasty, and blended well with the chicken, peas and uncured pieces of bacon. When mixed with the great pasta, I must say that it was quite good. I doubt it will cause a culinary revolution, but it is great by frozen food standards. It's my humble opinion that Marie Callender's Pasta Al Dente line is above average in both taste and quality for frozen food. Though I was a bit disappointed by the Beef Bolognese, it was certainly not bad, and the Chicken Carbonara ranks amongst the best frozen food I've ever tried. If you like pasta and are on a budget, I can certainly recommend this line. I'm sure I'll try more Pasta Al Dente varieties in the future, which hopefully will be as good or better than the Chicken Carbonara.

Phoood ratings:

Beef Bolognese Rigatoni: So-so
Chicken Carbonara: Outstanding!

Posted by Edgar on October 31, 2009

How do you feel about throwing all that plastic into a landfill? This particular convenience food is an environmental crime, in my opinion.

As for being on a budget, pasta is cheap! Make your own and it will save you a ton of money.

Posted by: wendy at November 1, 2009 11:51 AM

I feel just fine throwing all that plastic away when I purchase stuff like this.

I bet you never throw anything like plastic in the trash, right?

Geeze, Im sick of people like you on your high horses. Give it a rest.

Posted by: Meno at November 1, 2009 10:44 PM

Wendy, this is not a site relating to the protection of the environment, so I suggest you get off of your high horse and stop telling other people what to do. In fact, I think that I will now throw away as much plastic as possible, to make up for what you aren't using ;)

Anyway...I really want to try these pastas, they look delicious!

Posted by: Summer at November 1, 2009 10:48 PM

Dear Edgar----Many thanks for not only trying but also reviewing the new "Pasta Al Dente" dinners from Marie Callender. I've been wanting to try this product but was afraid of literally throwing good money down the drain. Your article however has given me the courage to give it a chance.
Thanks again,

Posted by: maryellen norcross at November 2, 2009 12:16 PM

I had the one with sausage and meatballs. It was very tasty.

And landfills are good. They build golf courses on them.

Posted by: grumpyoldman at November 3, 2009 6:25 AM

Just last night I studied these meals at great length at the grocery store. I decided not to try one, but it's good to know they ARE worth the money. Thanks! I will definitely try one.

Never even considered the plastic/landfill area. Guess there's something wrong with me! Ha ha.

Posted by: Gail at November 5, 2009 12:29 PM

I hope the view from "not on the high horse" is looking good for you...

I agree that this kind of packaging is extremely wasteful.

One should consider getting off their "high-self-centered-narcissistic-donkey" and realize that this earth isn't just for you.

If it is convenience that you seek, spend a little time preparing meals in advance. Freeze your own lunch, make a sandwich and a salad, etc. A person can't possibly be *that* busy.

Sheesh, for the money wasted, go to McD's! Some of us out here who would like to preserve the planet for future generations would rather your arteries were clogged quicker anyway!

I couldn't resist commenting just based on how insensitively ignorant you all sound. Summer, really???? gah! I hope I don't know you.

Posted by: zee at November 12, 2009 10:08 AM

Zee, I recycle and try to limit my waste like every else that cares for the environment, but I don't go around telling people off if they do not. Also, the review is about the product; we don't need your niggardly wisdom. Seriously, you sound like you have wood up your ass.

Anyway, I tried the Chicken Carbonara because of your review, and it was great. I usually don't eat frozen foods, but this one was actually worth eating. I think I know what I'm going to eat from now on. :)

Posted by: matt at November 19, 2009 6:02 PM

I think the issue is, yes, these meals are good quality for frozen meals, but we should all be aware of how much waste they are producing. And it's certainly true that pasta-based meals are cheaper to make at home, but convenience has its place. If we make our desires for less packaging (or more recyclable packaging) known to the makers of products, they will (eventually) comply. Anybody remember Styrofoam burger containers? We CAN have our cake and eat it too.

Posted by: TheGem at December 22, 2009 5:48 AM

I am with Wendy. Promotion of a plastic, single use, processed food item is absolutely irresponsible. What a waste! As Wendy noted, pasta is simple, make your own and take it to work in a reusable container. Your body and the earth will thank you. ConAgra Foods is not in business to benefit the consumer. They're just lining their pockets, and lazy, mindless consumers who purchase their items are making it possible.

Posted by: Liz at January 16, 2010 7:40 AM

There's this thing called recycling if you personally are tweaked about the plastic recycle.

Anyway with the food I think I'll have to try it and get some for my parents to take to work.

Posted by: AbbyG at February 7, 2010 2:25 PM

I too noticed an alarming amount of Plastic in this packaging and decided to take home from work and throw in the Recycle bin. If that sounds stupid maybe we should lean on these copanies to at least use better packaging.

Posted by: Big Mike at September 13, 2010 10:05 AM
Please keep your comments clean and relevant to the food! If your comment includes foul or obscene language, it will be deleted. Thanks!

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