Prepared Foods talks about pasta and sauce entrées with Tessa Stamper, RD, executive chef and director of culinary for Noodles & Company, a fresh, made-to-order restaurant chain. Founded in Boulder, Colo., it now has as many 339 company-owned and franchise units in 25 states.
PF: What are a few of your favorite new pasta entrées? 
Stamper: I love our new seasonal items. Garden Pesto Sauté is beautifully loaded with three servings of vegetables and introduces our new, gluten-free fusilli noodle. It is tossed in a basil pesto with fresh squeezed lemon juice and topped with feta and pecans, to round out the flavor and texture. It will truly make your taste buds dance. I also love our Truffle Mac & Cheese, which we call “Fancy Pants,” as it’s sautéed with baby portabella mushrooms and topped with Parmesan cheese and homemade breadcrumbs.
PF: In what ways is this year’s menu different than last year?
Stamper: Our menu has certainly evolved. We introduced one of my favorite ingredients, a new naturally raised pulled pork that was received very well by our customers and fans. It was featured in two of our delicious, limited-time offerings: the BBQ Pork Mac and the Peppery Pork Sandwich. 
It was the first time Noodles & Company offered pork as an add-on to our menu. It also recently won a Nation’s Restaurant News MenuMasters Award for best line extension—and we were blown away. It was quite the honor to be recognized among other industry leaders. The Gluten-Free Fusilli Noodle is another example of how we are offering variety. We’ve listened to guest feedback to meet their needs.
PF: Noodles & Company competes with other Italian, Asian and homestyle-comfort food restaurants. Yet, what makes a certain dish a “Noodles” product? 
Stamper: We have strong global representation across our menu.  Our dishes are inspired by the individuality, creativity and cultural heritage of cuisines from around the world—from our Japanese Pan Noodles to Wisconsin Mac & Cheese.
Our menu is created with authentic, well-sourced ingredients, and we take classic flavors from a region and put the official “Noodles twist” on it—offering our customers a satisfying variety. Another recognizable difference is that Noodles makes everything fresh, made-to-order and customizable—with no use of microwaves.
PF: What’s new when it comes to Italian/European-style ingredients or sauces? 
Stamper: Right now, I am most intrigued by any herb-based sauce, like pesto, arugula, sun-dried tomato, sage and cilantro, because there are so many variations to work from.  Or, all ragu sauces, such as pork, lamb, duck and mushroom.
PF: What about Asian-style pasta dishes or dishes from other regions?
Stamper: Since we talk about Noodles & Company as “Your World Kitchen,” I am going to go global with this answer and say North African Charmoula (or chermoula). There aren’t many herb-based sauces that disappoint, and this is one no exception. A North African (Moroccan) sauce is made of cilantro, parsley, paprika and cumin, so the flavors just explode in the mouth. It is typically used to flavor fish, seafood, vegetables and meats, which is why it also is great with pasta.
Another is the Korean Bulgogi, a Korean marinade made of soy sauce, sesame, garlic, onion, brown sugar and, sometimes, pear. It makes a great flavoring for beef, paired with rice noodles, carrots, spinach and fresh cabbage.
PF: What types of pastas; what forms or ingredients most intrigue to you at the moment? Why?
Stamper: I love a good orzo pasta. Among the trends currently piquing my interest is the demand for healthier items. As a registered dietician, it makes me happy that healthy items are in demand and getting real space on the menus out here. In fact, Noodles & Company has an info-graph that shares all the dozens of ways a guest can create a meal in 500 calories or less.
PF: If you spoke our readers—food and beverage R&D officials, executive research chefs, and heads of health and nutrition—what advice would you offer?
Stamper: Don’t stop with the “okay” taste-test. Even if it’s the hundredth taste of a sauce, you’ll know it as soon as you try it, it’s the winner.