What’s a Director To Do with Too Much USDA Whole Wheat Dry Rotini?

Tossing a Challenge to the Staff

by Brenda Lightfoot-Handy, Director of Food Service, Cutler-Orosi Joint Unified School District

Cutler-Orosi JUSD is the proud owner of several hundreds of cases of USDA Whole Wheat dry rotini, a great product, yet we were not achieving the quality we wanted to serve to our students. The product is used for a cold pasta salad on our Fresh Fruit and Veggie Bars and enhanced our menu while working on the USDAHealthierUS School Challenge (HUSSC). After preparation and holding the entrée at 135 degrees in a warmer before service, the product was literally falling apart.

Not exactly the visually appetizing entrée students want to eat. After speaking with the staff, I realized that the multiple cooking methods that were being used were really geared for short cooking “white” pasta and rice products. I explained to the cooks, who had never really cooked with whole grain products before, that whole grain products usually take a bit longer to cook, but no product can endure being boiled, baked, and held for service without eventually breaking down the integrity of the ingredients. So, I decided to toss this challenge to our capable Golden Valley Elementary cooks – a couple of them have been profiled in this series of articles.

The decision was made to try another cooking method and the results were fantastic. Two years ago, I installed 2 combi-ovens (dry heat and steam capable) in the Golden Valley kitchen.  Instead of pre-cooking the pasta in boiling water and then baking the pasta in sauce, it is now cooked dry (not pre-cooked separately) with the sauce in the combi ovens. The results were perfect pasta every time! [Jesse Valasquez, Site Lead, pictured left next to the combi ovens.]There are fewer steps in the recipe and the entrée is served from the same pans it is cooked in.  I bet you would agree that we all love not having to wash so many big pots and pans!

Occasionally, a product will come along that contains a high nutritional value with low cost, creates the means to serve a large quantity- from scratch product- but can lack high quality results. At which point, it is important to talk with our staff, look around our kitchens and try something new, before we take it off the menu. I realize this can be very scary for cooks that have been using one cooking method or technology for years. However, trying a different cooking method or mastering how to use a “high tech” piece of cooking equipment can make all the difference in the world. So, talk about how you might change the outcome of one of your recipes, change the flavor and texture profile and have fun!

This recipe is based on a serving a site with 743 students.

Meat Sauce

Ground Beef, 80/20 Raw to cook (or pre-cooked beef crumbles)  128 pounds +  3 ounce

Onions, Dehydrated 5 pounds + 9 ounces

Garlic Powder 1 1/3 cups + 1 TBSP

Brown ground beef. Drain. Continue immediately. Add onions. Cook for 5 minutes.


Black Pepper,                                                  1/3 cup + 2 TBSP

Tomatoes, Diced, Low-Sodium, Canned        10- #10 cans

Tomato Paste, Low-Sodium, Canned              3 ¾- #10 cans

Water, Tap,                                                      5 ½ gal + 1 cup

Parsley, Dried,                                                 ¼ cup

Basil, Dried,                                                    1 ½ cup, ground

Oregano, Leaves, Dried                                  1 ½ cup, ground

Marjoram, Dried,                                            1 ½ cup

Thyme, Dried                                                  1/3 cup, ground + 2 TSP, ground

Salt,                                                                 2 cups

Sugar, Granulated,                                          2 cups

Add pepper, tomato, water, and seasonings, Simmer about 1 hour.

CCP: Heat to 155 degrees or higher for at least 15 seconds.

45 and ½ pounds, of WW Rotini

Prepare eight, 4” hotel pans with non-stick cooking spray.  Divide pasta and fill each pan half full, with dry whole wheat rotini. Pour one-half gallon of sauce and one-half gallon of water over the dry rotini. Spray foil wrap with non-stick cooking spray and cover the sauce and pasta mixture. Using the “lasagna setting” on the *combi-oven, the product will cook for approximately 30-35 minutes. When finished give a quick stir    CCP: Hold for hot service at 135 degrees.

Serve with a 1 oz. whole grain breadstick.

*Lasagna Setting-based on a Rational Cooking Center, check with the manufacturer recommendations for specific equipment.

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