No matter how you slice it, dice it or spiralize it, pasta has been taking on some incredible new dimensions. The days of ho-hum macaroni are long gone, and diners are digging into bowls of noodles made from starches like rice or soba (buckwheat). In addition, veggies are continuing their center-of-plate star-turn in the place once held by traditional wheat noodles.
“Diners want more plant-based options, and they’d like them to be as flavorful, on-trend and interesting as possible, so they are very receptive to vegetable-based ‘pasta’ choices,” says Amy Myrdal Miller, a culinary nutrition expert who is president of Farmer’s Daughter Consulting and manager of The Culinary Institute of America Healthy Menus R&D Collaborative. One reason for the uptick, she says, is the staying power of the Paleo diet, which continues to leave diners looking for new ways to reinvent traditional dishes. “People want food they can feel good about eating. Offering noodles made from zucchini, beets or carrots is a great way for them to ‘connect the dots’ and feel satisfied they’ve made a better choice.”
The vegetable noodle trend seems to be a win-win for everyone: Diners get a good-for-you meal that’s lower in calories and saturated fat, and operators get a popular entrée that’s easy on food costs. “A spaghetti squash costs pennies, but it plates up as an abundant entrée,” Miller says. “They’re a great option for culinary professionals as well as for their customers.”
Asked to point to any downsides of veggies-turned-noodles, she does note that operators will need to make a commitment to increased prep time. “For vegetables with higher water content, you’ll need to hold off on spiralizing until right before service,” she says. Miller suggests that operators interested in testing interest in this concept start with a special of seasonal vegetable noodles. “Add your own marinara sauce to spaghetti squash and top it with fresh mozzarella,” she suggests. Diners can order it as a veggie side dish or a full meal.”