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Bertolli offers freezer meals

By Lorie Hutson

As household budgets are trimmed, more shoppers are looking for restaurant taste without the restaurant price.

That’s where the makers of Bertolli Oven Bake Meals hope to come in.

The pasta manufacturer has rolled out a new line of freezer meals that bake in the oven, rather than simmer on the stove. They promise “restaurant quality and taste” with a homemade touch, according to the packaging.

The Spokesman-Review’s reader food panel thought the meals fell short, giving the Meat Lasagna Rustica and Chicken Parmigiana and Penne three stars out of five in a recent taste test – a “fair” ranking on our scale.

The Stuffed Shells in Scampi Sauce scored slightly higher with three-and-a-half stars.

Tasters complained that the meals were greasy, the pasta too firm and the fillings bland.

“The noodles are rubbery and the sauce is runny, probably due to the grease content,” Gabe Kohler said of the lasagna.

Tina Johnson agreed, although she liked the texture of the lasagna noodles.

“The pasta is al dente, which is nice, and there is plenty of sauce with meat,” she said. “It is rather greasy, though, and the orange grease is very unappetizing.

Peggy Kazanis almost liked it: “The pasta is pretty greasy, but the sauce has a good tomato flavor and the noodles are nicely al dente.”

The chicken parmesan dish didn’t win over Lindi Messenger.

“Breading on the chicken is soggy, the chicken mushy and without much flavor. The pasta (is) too firm and the sauce mild. Overall (it is) bland,” she said.

Marilyn Moore was not as generous with her assessment. “I’ve had a better Banquet TV dinner,” she said.

She wasn’t the only one that made that comparison. Larry Inman said he’s eaten less expensive frozen meals that would beat the Bertolli entrees for flavor.

“It tastes processed and prepared, like a TV dinner,” he said.

The bright spot of the night was the Stuffed Shells in Scampi Sauce, according to Skip Hubbard: “Rich and tasty. Large pasta shell generously filled with cheese and topped with tasty shrimp and butter sauce.”

Marcia Oranen also liked the stuffed shells with shrimp. “Nice pasta – al dente – and a very nice looking entrée. Actually, I think it is quite good and rich. … The shrimp are slightly chewy but tasty.”

Vicki Deschaine agreed: “A very good quick meal – just add a green salad and voila! I might add a few more shrimpies. Be careful though, it is kinda rich.”

Not everyone was wooed by the shrimp.

“Nice looking, but no flavor. The shrimp were OK, but small. This one is not as greasy,” said Nancy Robinson.

Bertolli Oven Bake Meals, Meat Lasagna Rustica

Price: $5.99 for 24 ounces, 2 servings

Nutrition per serving: 520 calories, 31 grams fat (13 grams fat, 54 percent fat calories), 26 grams protein, 35 grams carbohydrate, 60 milligrams cholesterol, 4 grams dietary fiber, 1,100 milligrams sodium.

Taste: • • •

Value: • • •

Comments: “Nice texture on the pasta. … Sauce tastes meaty. Very good, but slightly oily. It coats the fork and plate. Pretty tasty for a frozen lasagna.” – Marcia Oranen

“The sausage has a funky taste that water just won’t get rid of.” – Skip Hubbard

“Greasy. The pasta is OK … sauce and meat are mediocre.” – Andy Hoye

Bertolli Oven Bake Meals, Chicken Parmigiana and Penne

Price: $5.99 for 24 ounces, 2 servings

Nutrition per serving: 500 calories, 26 grams fat (4.5 gram saturated, 46 percent fat calories), 25 grams protein, 44 grams carbohydrate, 35 milligrams cholesterol, 5 grams dietary fiber, 1,000 milligrams sodium.

Taste: • • •

Value: • • •

Comments: “Wow! I got a nice piece of white chicken – real chicken. Get rid of the orange grease and this would be good.” – Tina Johnson

“This is a bit flat. The breading is soggy, the sauce is a bit pasty and the noodles are boring.” – Peggy Kazanis

“A chicken nugget soaked in grease. No thank you.” – Gabe Kohler

Bertolli Oven Bake Meals, Stuffed Shells in Scampi Sauce

Price: $5.99 for 24 ounces, 2 servings

Nutrition per serving: 590 calories, 33 grams fat (19 grams saturated, 51 percent fat calories), 21 grams protein, 40 grams carbohydrate, 120 milligrams cholesterol, 2 grams dietary fiber, 1,040 milligrams sodium.

Taste: • • • 1/2

Value: • • •

Comments: “Shrimp is chewy and the cheese has a strange chalk-like taste. Not very good.” – Larry Inman

“The pasta is cooked to the right tenderness, the filling is flavorful and creamy. Sauce needed more flavor – more butter and garlic.” – Lindi Messenger

“Overwhelming for me… Honestly, I’d be happy with just mac ’n’ cheese.” – Marilyn Moore

Products sampled by The Spokesman-Review’s reader food panel are prepared according to package directions. Panelists are not aware of a product’s brand name or price until after they have tasted it. Products are rated from one to five stars for taste and for value, based on quality compared to price.

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