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Food

Shaped to sell

Baked pastas have stood the test of time at the 217-unit Fazoli’s, the Italian quickservice chain based in Lexington, Ky. This fall, Darren Gray, director of culinary innovation, tweaked the formula to create a new LTO: Primo Pizza Baked Sacchetti.

Start with the pasta

Sacchetti—a ricotta-stuffed pasta that translates as “little bag or purse”—is the biggest change. “Fazoli’s customers really like to try different pasta shapes and sizes,” says Gray. He works with a company that produces great quality frozen pastas in many formats. This shape worked especially well with the other components in the new oven-baked dish Gray developed. And it’s the only new SKU he had to purchase for the LTO.

Add the sauce

In place of the typical marinara or pizza sauce, Gray was looking for a better pairing for the stuffed pasta. He blended marinara and Alfredo—both already in inventory—for a creamy marinara that “marries well” with the dish. “I control costs by utilizing products that suppliers have and combining them in ways that make them new,” he says.

Layering flavors

Past baked pastas had a lot of extra toppings “like a supreme pizza,” Gray says. “But you can put too much on a pasta bake and end up losing the flavor profile.” To play up the sacchetti, he took a more minimalist approach, opting for caramelized Italian sausage, bacon and roasted fresh mushrooms. “Mushrooms are a favorite pizza topping, but fresh ones dry out when baked. So we toss fresh crimini [baby portobellas] with oil and
salt for moistness, then run them once through the oven to intensify flavor,” he says. 

Cheese, please

A blend of mozzarella, provolone, Asiago and fontina provides the gooey cheese dimension. “We tried a number of cheese blends,” says Gray. “The Asiago and fontina work especially well with the new Primo items, and provolone and mozzarella are signatures of our bakes.”

Next up

Now in test is a bake made with an existing pasta, a new sauce and “an interesting protein—a little outside of what we do at Fazoli’s.”

What didn’t make it

“R&D is a lot like baseball,” Gray comments. “There are going to be failures. Keep in mind that three out of five is Baseball Hall of Fame material.” When creating the Primo Pizza Baked Sacchetti, he “struck out” with a spicier sausage and a couple of sausage combos. The first didn’t work flavor-wise, and the second overwhelmed the dish and had a terrible look, he recalls. Salami also didn’t make it to first base; “it messed with the flavors.” Everything has to work operationally, too, Gray adds. “An LTO has to be easy to execute and not require extensive training.” 

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