Fettucine may come, penne may go, but lasagne stays at the top as the blockbuster seller in the ready-made pasta meals market. The popularity of this dish lies in a versatility which makes it appropriate for all types of catering operation from pub grub to buffet tables.
It can be made in advance and heated to order, frozen and regenerated, done in single or multiple portions and when heated will hold for some time without deteriorating beyond the point at which it can be sold.
Research carried out last year by Master Foods confirmed the popularity of a product where volume of sales is driven jointly by the caterer and the consumer.
Of 126 caterers interviewed, 56% voted lasagne as the most popular dish with their customers, well above spaghetti bolognese, its nearest rival, on 11%. The research also found that lasagne was the most often purchased pasta shape among caterers, with some 75% claiming to buy it regularly.
The tasters who came together at the Elstree Moat House in Hertfordshire to set their taste buds loose on this favourite were all open-minded about using ready-made frozen lasagne. Many already employ a mix-and-match option of both making their own and using a bought-in product according to the occasion.
The brief was to taste ready-made, multi-portion, traditional minced beef frozen lasagne. The following companies submitted products for testing:
Nurdin & Peacock
Brake Bros Foodservice
Fairway Frozen Foods
Ian Neill, director, Shadowfax Restaurants
As former managing director of Rank Restaurants responsible for the development of Prima Pasta, Sweeney Todds, and Pizza Piazza, Neill is well qualified to be a lasagne taster. His current portfolio includes two PizzaExpress franchises and Soho Pizzeria in central London. He also plans to open a new restaurant with an Italian flavour in north London later this year. Neill keeps his lasagne preferences a closely guarded secret.
John Jackson, general manager, London Catering Services
Lasagne is a regular menu option for this south London-based function caterer. An average event sees about 2,000 covers of lasagne. London Catering Services has used Brake Bros as a supplier in the past, but now chooses to make its own and also offers a home-made vegetarian alternative. (Jackson rated Brake Bros highly during blind tasting.)
John Conroy, guest service manager, Holiday Inn Garden Court, Brent Cross, London
Lasagne features on the table d'hôte menu at this Holiday Inn outlet about once every 14 days. It's always a popular option with a take-up of about 60%. Preferred supplier is Pullman Foods. (Pullman Foods did not take part in this tasting).
John Whybrew, development chef food services, Gardner Merchant
Brake Bros and Pullman Foods are nominated suppliers of ready-made lasagne to smaller Gardner Merchant units; larger units make their own. The majority of units offer lasagne at least twice in a five- or six-week menu cycle. (Whybrew rated the Brake Bros product very highly in blind tasting.)
Kevin Fraser, senior assistant manager, Elstree Moat House, Herts
Lasagne is offered in one form or another about three times a week in the table d'hôte, bar or conference buffet menus of this Queens Moat hotel. Head chef Trevor Brown has until recently favoured making his own, but with the move towards central purchasing will probably buy in products such as lasagne in the near future.
Tasters were asked to work their way through the six products at their own speed and in varying orders so that no particular significance was attached to any one product. The lasagnes were all heated according to the supplier's instructions and then kept warm in a bain-marie system. Each product was assessed on the following criteria:
Each taster was able to award a maximum of five points per criterion, giving a possible 35 points per taster per product. As there were five tasters, the maximum possible points per product was 175. All products were assessed for visual impression prior to being served by Elstree Moat House head chef Trevor Brown.
Caterer would like to stress that the opinions expressed are those of the judges and in no way reflect those of the magazine.