• Old World sauce, fresh texture and flavor

After seeing lots of pizza operators grind whole plum tomatoes to get the coarse texture desired in their sauces, Rob Ragusa got an idea: He'd have his company, Violet Packing, do the grinding for them.

But Ragusa, president of the Williamsport, N.J., packer knew that was only half the challenge of earning those operators' business. He also had to make a sauce that was strong on fresh tomato flavor and could serve as a platform on which operators could build their own sauces. The result is Tutto Cosi, a brand-new ground tomato product cooked in an open kettle with basil and salt only: no additives or preservatives.

"It's as though we're saying, 'We'll give you fresh tomato flavor, and from there you can grow it the way you want to grow it,'" said Ragusa. "It's so adaptable it could be a marinara base, a pizza sauce base or a spaghetti sauce base."

Ragusa said the sauce is a brilliant red and bears "a bouquet that makes you want to smell it like a fine wine."

Lest you think he waxes poetic over mere tomatoes, he said one of his test operators was equally enchanted. "The guy opens the can, smells it, walks away to get a big spoon, comes back and starts eating it right out of the can. I figured that was a pretty good sign we were on the mark."

Devoted to Don

Claus Nielsen's Seasons Culinary firm serves not only picky business and industry clients, it hires equally demanding chefs to feed them. A chef himself, Nielsen knows the importance of giving his charges some latitude to choose some of the ingredients they want to work with, and he was intrigued when some of them insisted on Don Pepino sauces.

"One of my chefs swears by it and says he's used nothing else for 20 years — and this is a guy who's from the south of Italy," said Nielsen, whose company is in Alexandria, Va. "Personally, I feel the product carries a texture that, whether it be in a cold state or hot state, is better than many. The color is excellent, and it doesn't have an acidity level that often is detectable if you only just warm it up. To me, that's what I would call an old-school sauce."

Nielsen said it doesn't take rigorous testing to figure out whether a sauce is fit for his uses. It has to be paste-free for the right viscosity, its seasonings must smell fresh, and when it's added to other foods, it mustn't water out.

"Heating it up will tell you a lot about a sauce," he said. "If it becomes a puddle, that's not very appetizing. I'd rather have one that's closer to a pomodoro sauce, one that has tomato texture and a little broth."

Nielsen has yet to try Tutto Cosi, but he anticipates he and his chefs will like it. "I personally love textures over anything that's pureed or smooth. So that ground tomato texture ... will be a refreshing change from what you so commonly see."

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