I’ve never done a post specifically devoted to reviewing a gluten-free product, but I felt inspired by one I came across today- Udi’s Ziti & Meatballs frozen meals. I figured I’d start compiling a couple of these, especially as gluten-free products have become a lot more common in grocery stores.
I was at Whole Foods today and wanted to grab my weekly package of black bean pasta (which I realize I can also review). I also was looking for a late lunch and hit up their prepared food section. Generally in Whole Foods I like to get in and get out as quickly as possible, because I know browsing for too long can mean a lot more things in my basket. I was pretty impressed as I went by the macarons, the gluten-free refrigerated dough (cookies, cinnamon rolls, etc.) case, and the pao de queijo cheese bread at the Brazilian grill without getting any of them. I went down the frozen food section, which ends in a case with multiple decadent gluten-free frozen cakes…I’ve been waiting for a day where multiple of my gluten-free friends are assembled to justify buying one, because I can’t let myself get one just for myself. The calories in one could probably sustain a family for a week.
Luckily/unluckily that special day was not today. Somehow I’ve exhibited insane self-control in not getting them over many many visits to Whole Foods. I did however randomly see the frozen Udi’s meal bag for the ziti and meatballs. I was surprised to see it, because I had never seen it before and it kind of seemed out of place with the things around it. Most trips I scan the frozen food freezers for this reason- double checking if there are any new gluten-free products. A few times I have discovered some things (like gluten-free egg rolls), but now that Whole Foods has been open four months, I had been expecting this to happen less. I then thought about my week and how I might need a lunch for tomorrow, so I got the ziti and meatballs.
At the checkout line the zit and meatballs were not scanning. A tinge of frustration hit, because last night I had wasted quite a bit of time at another grocery store with an item that wouldn’t scan. The bagger wrote down the bar code and name and I expected to have to wait for them to go look it up. Instead the cashier told me that since it didn’t scan I get it for free! That was awesome. Not that I don’t enjoy getting something for free, but what I loved the most was just the time saved and no extra frustration.
I took the pasta home and something about it made me want to try it then. It supposedly does two servings, so I decided to make it all now and save half to reheat for lunch tomorrow. There was a stove top option or a microwave option for making it. I rarely decide to go for the stove top option (only baking or microwaving where I can leave it for a while), so I did the microwave one. I did this despite knowing I might sacrifice some taste and quality.
I poured the contents into the bowl and at first wondered whether I should re-consider the stove top option. There were the frozen meatballs and pasta, plus frozen red chunks of I thought tomato sauce. The bag mentioned fire roasted tomatoes, so I thought the chunks might be that too (maybe covered in sauce). I wish I had taken a picture. But it made me question what the quality of the dish would be after it came out of the microwave (relative to doing it stove top). The lazy side of me won out though and I still put it in the microwave covered for five minutes.
I was excited when I took it out to mix all the ingredients. The red chunks had been tomato sauce and cheese and had melted easily. The pasta also looked in good shape- not falling apart or limpy. My earlier concerns about quality weren’t as bad now. I stirred the ingredients and put it back in for four minutes. Then I let it sit and cool down for a minute or two.
I took a bit of the pasta and was instantly a big fan of the sauce. I didn’t really see fire-roasted tomatoes, so think they are small and mixed in the sauce. The sauce reminds me of a cross between a tomato sauce and a pizza sauce. I’m not sure if the fire-roasted tomatoes are supposed to add a kick or not. I thought there was really great flavor, but it wasn’t spicy to me (I have a relatively high threshold for spice though).
I then went from very happy with the dish to obsessed after a bite of the meatballs. I think similar to the sauce it’s a delicious combination of relatively “fresh” for frozen food, but with some “traditional” frozen food taste. Potentially could be described as “artificial”, but not in a bad way and I know Udi’s is pretty committed to the quality of its ingredients. I take it as a good thing, because I associate that taste with “guilty” gluten foods. The sauce kind of reminded me of the tomato sauce in Hot Pockets that I would have when I was younger and broke my diet to get sick.
The meatballs reminded me of a series of dinners at my church as a kid. My church puts on a comedy play every year to raise money for a community summer and after school program that takes place in the church basement. Each performance has a dinner or Sunday dessert component. One year it had a Scandinavia theme and the main dish was Swedish meatballs. Somehow I knew I couldn’t have them, but I didn’t really see what was the harm in meatballs. They were just meat in sauce right? Not bread or anything… I was probably 11 or 12, so there were some performances where I would help when my parents weren’t there. So I tried some of the meatballs and I was obsessed! I had so many dang meatballs that season, which was so so bad for me… I’m sure given the quantity of food each performance required that the meatballs were probably packaged and then the Swedish meatball sauce was homemade (as we had tons of members of Swedish and Norwegian descent). These meatballs in the Udi’s dish reminded me of those meatballs I was obsessed with many years ago. Good flavor and texture all around. Needless to say I was a big fan!
Back at the beginning when I poured out the ingredients from the bowl and questioned cooking it in the microwave, I was probably most concerned about the pasta. In general gluten-free pasta can fall apart or have flimsy texture. And then microwaved pasta dishes (with gluten) can have similar issues or turn out sub-par. I was very happy with this gluten-free ziti even after the microwave. It wasn’t like fresh-baked pasta, but it kept up well and had decent texture for microwaved, gluten-free pasta. And added with the sauce and meatballs it was delicious! Udi’s really did a great job with this dish! I’m guessing it might be even better on the stove top. I probably won’t ever know for sure though, because I am more than happy with how it turned out in the microwave. So I won’t have a reason to overcome my laziness and do it on the stop top…
For gluten-frees I highly recommend keeping a look out for the Udi’s Ziti and Meatballs. I found it at Whole Foods and am going to look for it at Target (since they have the partnership with Udi’s and have a lot of its products). I’d go with saying this is my favorite gluten-free frozen food product I’ve found in stores. Some may consider ordering it online from Amazon or something. Hope you love it as much as I did! Oh I also forgot to mention that I ate it all this sitting… Will have to figure out something else for lunch tomorrow!