Reviews you can trust.See why.
Is store-bought tortellini any good?
Published Apr. 1, 2012. Appears in Cook's Country April/May 2012, Cook's Country TV Season 6: Italian Made Easy
Top PicksSee Everything We Tested
What You Need To Know
Tortellini, a stuffed ring-shaped pasta filled with meat, cheese, vegetables, or a combination of the three, is traditionally made by hand. And gently tucking it into shape is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon—a very long afternoon. But if we want to eat tortellini more than once or twice a year, we needed to find a supermarket brand that we like. We gathered seven widely available prepared brands of cheese tortellini: two refrigerated, two dried, and three frozen. Then we called 21 editors and test cooks to the lunch table for a blind taste test.
Supermarket tortellini is formed by a machine that rolls and slices pasta dough into flat squares and then fills the squares and folds them into rings. Whether handmade or commercial, tortellini has two basic elements: the pasta wrapper and the filling. Their ratio is important. Too much filling and the little pouch will burst. Too little, or too mild, and all we taste is pasta. The thickness of the pasta wrapper is also important. It must be sturdy enough to hold the filling and withstand boiling but not be so thick that it becomes doughy, especially with its folded over and doubled edges. We sought both great flavor and a delicate pasta package.
To begin, did it matter whether the pasta was refrigerated, dried, or frozen? Many pasta fanatics insist that fresh is better than dried or frozen. While we had no fresh pasta in our lineup, we did include two slightly pricier refrigerated brands. Surprisingly, one finished third, behind a dry and a frozen brand, and the second dead last. The third-place finisher earned praise for its “firm and chewy” pasta, but its faint filling left something to be desired. Weak flavor also accounted for the last-place finish of the other refrigerated pasta. Our winner was a dried tortellini. A cheese filling that sits on the shelf may seem suspect, but companies use a special drying procedure to ensure a safe product: After the tortellini are formed, they’re run through a steam pasteurization machine until their centers reach a safe temperature. Then they are dried, stabilized, and packed for distribution. Cooking reconstitutes the dried tortellini.
A flavorful filling proved much more important than the type of pasta. We flipped over each package and perused the nutrition label for clues as to what makes for great filling. The winner was stuffed with a mixture of ricotta, Emmentaler, and Grana Padano cheeses. Tasters described it as “creamy,” “pungent,” and “tangy.” Salt, of course, also has a big impact on flavor, so we cooked and measured out 100 grams of each tortellini and sent them to an independent laboratory for sodium analysis. As is ofte...
Everything We Tested
Although dainty, these tortellini packed a punch. Said one taster, “I like the small size, which makes the immodest taste (big, cheesy, robust, assertive) a pleasant surprise.” The filling was a bold and generous combination of ricotta, Emmentaler, and Grana Padano cheeses. The wrapper was a hit, too: “Pasta is great—tender and delicate.”
Tasters praised these frozen tortellini for their “good filling-to-pasta ratio.” The wrapper was “firm but pliable” and “pleasant to chew.” The filling, a combination of mild ricotta and sharper Parmesan and Romano cheeses, pleased us, too. “Filling is both creamy and full-flavored like aged cheese,” said one taster. “Nutty, rich, pleasantly just sharp,” another wrote.
Tasters liked the “delicate” and “tender” pasta in this brand of fresh tortellini. It was “fluffy and nice to chew.” But we were disappointed with the filling: “Cheese is super mild—why bother?” one taster asked rhetorically.
A few tasters liked the “firm, meaty bite” of this brand’s thicker pasta; others compared its texture to Play-Doh. But the filling was criticized as “dry” and “powdery.”
Even the comparably high sodium level couldn’t save these tiny tortellini. Their downfall was the filling—a mixture of Parmesan cheese, grated breadsticks, sunflower oil, and spices. The “crunchy” and “gritty” breadsticks made for “weird lumps of filling” that “resembled wood pulp.”
Tasters struggled to eat this “too thick and chewy” pasta. “Hard to get your teeth through,” complained one. Another compared its texture to “a leather handbag.” The filling, made of ricotta and Parmesan, was no better. “The filling is like a blob of cotton,” one taster commented. A second panned it as “a bland wad of nothingness.”
We were shocked to see this “chef-crafted” fresh brand at the bottom of our ratings, but tasters found themselves in “Bland City.” “Barely detectable cheese. Scant, dry filling.” The only praise (of sorts) for this “flavorless” pasta concerned its shape. After noting the “fancy ruffles,” one taster added, “Reminds me of my bathing suit when I was five.” That won’t earn it a spot on our table.
Reviews you can trust
The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing.