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Apr 5, 2007 03:53 AM

Can’t get a Reservation at Babbo: Try Costco

WSJ reported yesterday on page B4 that the Poobah of Pasta Mario Batali has signed a licensing deal with General Mills for frozen pasta dishes to be sold in Costco, BJ’s and Wal-Mart. The suggested retail price is $10.99 (less than one app at his restos) and it is expected to feed 5 people. First to the plate are Gemelli and meatballs, and Orecchiette with Sweet Italian Sausage and broccoli.

And according to the article they will be sitting next to those other culinary treasures, Totino’s Frozen Pizza Rolls, and Pillsbury Frozen Biscuits (didn’t our parents tell us something about the company we keep).

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  1. Babbo's pasta is frozen. That's how they can offer 17.

    16 Replies
      1. re: Ozumo

        Yes, Bill Buford describes that in "Heat." They bag individual portions and freeze them.

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          Huh, weird, I always took Batali as a quality freak. Does he think that works better than fresh, or is he being lazy?

          1. re: Ozumo

            If I'm not mistaken, the "frozen" aspect of Babbo's pastas refers only to the pasta itself, not the sauces. It is pretty hard to tell the difference between freshly made pasta and freshly made pasta that is frozen (the ingredients are so simple and there isn't much variation in quality).

            1. re: Ozumo

              From Buford's description, Babbo is extremely short on space. The freezer may just be the only practical place to store it. In my experience, the texture suffers a bit, but it's a subtle difference.

              Only the pasta itself is frozen. It's cooked and sauced to order.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                I got the same impression. They also don't store the pasta for ages, I believe that make it weekly from something Batali said in an interview I saw. Its a way to expand offerings, too. The space isn't large enough to devote a fresh pasta making station and person full time it seems.

                We should write something off simply for having been frozen or microwaved. Certainly there are times where it does compromize quality but it doesn't do so automatically.

                1. re: ccbweb

                  I work for a pasta company. When you freeze fresh pasta nothing happens to it. And really, if you're making a pure product with just semolina and water (maybe eggs) you HAVE to freeze it if you want it to last. It will spoil--ferment. I've been to Babbo-I couldn't tell those delicious Beefcheek ravioli were frozen.

                  1. re: rachaels

                    You don't have to freeze pasta if you make it fresh the day you eat it, which is what Italians have been doing for centuries.

                    Whether freezing has a noticeable effect depends mostly on the filling.

                    You can dry almost any pasta, but that has a big effect (sometimes desirable) on the texture.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      yes. true. i was just merely defending the poohbah of pasta. i don't think it hurts his pasta to freeze it.

                    2. re: rachaels

                      Yeah, I've had really good frozen pasta dishes from Trader Joe's, so hopefully his are at least as good.

                      1. re: Ozumo

                        it also depends on how he freezes it...usually the problem in freezing stuffed pastas in a regular freezer, you have cracking of some of the pasta and you have to chuck it...but if you use a shock freezer to freeze the pasta, there is absolutely no difference between fresh and frozen...actually shock frozen pasta is better than fresh because anyone who has made fresh pasta knows that the texture and colour change even after 10 minutes; but if you make the pasta, shock freeze it immediately, and then cook from frozen, then you have the highest quality product there is.

                        1. re: icey

                          I've made fresh pasta and haven't noticed any such rapid changes.

                          Might be different in a really humid environment.

                        2. re: Ozumo

                          At the price of an entree at Babbo, it had better be a LOT BETTER than what you get at Trader Joe's.

                          1. re: Suzy Q

                            To clarify, it's less than the price of an appetizer at Babbo and it serves 5 for that price, so it's actually about the same as or cheaper per serving as the frozen pasta dishes at TJ's. Nonetheless, with Batali's name on it, it should be pretty good or they shouldn't be making it.

                            1. re: ccbweb

                              RE: the quality

                              Well, we'll see. I remember Batali used to have his own jarred sauce they sold at TJ's--and it was truly aweful. By moving into the frozen food realm at places like Walmart--Batali is more interested in building his food empire ($$) than quality.

                              1. re: kimie

                                I didn't try all of the Batali jarred sauces at TJ's but I know there was one that I actually quite liked. I also think it's fairly well established that Costco doesn't qualify as "places like Walmart" given their business practices and the way they treat their employees.

                                Unless one has eaten the product, I don't think one can say that anyone has put making money ahead of quality. Certainly he and others may have put making money ahead of quality (and I'm not sure what's wrong with that, actually, though it may result in food I don't want to eat) but perhaps they put them at the same level and feel they've made a quality product on which they can also make money.

          2. Why is this a bad thing? We can't complain on the boards about the state of food across the country, especially the midwest, and then slam progress. He makes quality food. I think it's great that people will be exposed to a better product for their families. Would you rather the families stock up on the artifical totino's?

            I also don't think you can compare the price. When something is made in bulk obviously the price goes down. I'm sure the pasta will be made on a machine and not by hand in the back of Babbo.

            4 Replies
            1. re: rachaels


              You are absolutely right and I apologize. If the frozen Babbo's is good and exposes good eats to people whether in the Midwest or anywhere else in this or other countries, that is a good thing. Thanks for posting to set me straight.

              1. re: jfood

                you're a cool cat jfood. :D that was a nice reply. i do think it was an interesting post, he tried to do fresh pizza for Whole Foods. i don't think it worked though, short shelf life.

                1. re: rachaels

                  thanks rach, but i think, given our avatars wrong specie, woof.

              2. re: rachaels

                right. we denizens of the midwest are withering away on our tawdry diet of local artisan cheeses, organic produce, and grassfed meats. save us, mario, with your frozen costco dinners, bring culture to our forgotten flyover land peoples! we can trade some maple syrup and hand-harvested wild rice for frozen orecchiette and steel rifles! yes, the light of civilization, formerly found only in nyc and the west coast, will become visible to every midwestern citizen. surely pseudo-italian frozen food at costco must be "a better product for my family" than the local vietnamese, german, mexican, or ethiopian delis can offer. i'll clear out the acorn-fed local pork, bison charcuterie, venison, and lentil wats from my freezer and stock it with mario's offerings straightaway!

              3. Despite loving to cook at home, I'm also single, travel a lot for work, and even when in town - find myself going out a frequently at the last minute. Thus it's always a challenge to shop for perishables. I've learned to make big batches of certain delish things that can be frozen in smaller servings... soups/stews, pasta sauces, etc. Similarly there are also some companies turning out nice frozen entrees and I welcome more selection in this niche. If done right, it can be good. I'll grant that a good chunck of frozen entrees look nothing like what's on the box - but if I can whip up a quick meal with something decent from the freezer - I'll be a happy camper.

                1. Years ago, Costco (maybe so long ago that it was Price Club) had excellent frozen lasagna (Sicilian-American-style with semolina noodles, sausage, and tomato sauce) from a company called Chicago Brothers. I was surprised at how good it was.

                  1. Was in our Costco yesterday and they now have Mario Batali's Orecchiette with sweet Italian sausage and broccoli, which I'll try later. They didn't have the Gemelli and meatballs yet.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Jeanne

                      What's the nutritional like on that? Is it clean label? Can you pronounce all the ingredients? :)

                      1. re: rachaels

                        I can't even prounouce "orecchiette" :)