12 December, 2009

Job Lot Pasta?

One of my favorite places to shop is a small New England chain of salvage stores calloed Ocean State Job Lot. True to their name, they carry a lot of closeouts and and bankruptcy lots, but over the years they've evolved into much more than a simple "job lot" store. They're pretty good at spotting open niches in the market and exploiting them. Take, for example, art supplies. For the past few years they've carried decent-quality canvas, paper, paints, sketchbooks, and so on at a relatively low price.

It's the same way with foods. Like many job lot stores, they carry manufacturer's closeouts and remainders and items from store bankruptcy auctions. But Ocean State Job Lot can be relied upon for specialty foods that might surprise you. For example, they carry a huge assortment of Bob's Red Mill Natural Foods products - one of the best selections anywhere - for much less than most "natural food" stores charge.

And so it is with pasta.

Pasta is made in a bogglingly huge variety of shapes. Most supermarkets don't have room for an eighth of what's available, so most people are only familiar with a few common types. Ocean State Job Lot brings in an unusual variety of imported pastas, many of them made by DeCecco, a leading Italian manufacturer. Along with the typical spaghetti and linguini types that you'd expect to find, though, Ocean State sells others that are less typical and offer some variety in shape and texture. And different kinds of pasta were designed with different sauces in mind, too.

Over the past few months, here are some of the great pastas I've gotten - usually for about $1.25 a package - at Ocean State:

Candele - These are eighteen-inch long pasta tubes that resemble candles. The first time I bought them, it was because they were so improbable and amusing to look at, and I wasn't really sure how I was going to cook them - whole? busticated? WAT DO?? Turns out you just break them roughly as you put them into the cooking water; the smooth tubular shape and the random edges are good with the kind of chunky meat sauces I grew up with.

Festonati - Tubes again, this time three-sided and embossed with scalloped ridges (festonati means "scalloped" in Italian.) This has quickly become one of my family's favorite shapes. The scalloped sides give it an interesting initial mouthfeel, kind of like a potsticker dumpling (which the scallops make it resemble. A little.) Those scallops also grab and hold on to sauces, and seem perfect with "slippery" sorts of veggies, like roasted eggplant and bell pepper, as well as with braised meats.

Pasta Misti (mixed pasta) - I joked with my wife about how the factory sweeps up all the broken bits from the floor and puts them in bags as mixed lots, but that's what pasta misti reminds me of. There are all sorts of little tubes, wavy bits, curls, and so on. Most of them really do look like broken pieces salvaged from under conveyor belts and off to the side of the packaging line. But they're very useful for soups and they make a decent base for homemade mac-and-cheese or tuna wiggle.

Fogile d'Oliva (olive leaves) - A kind of spinach pasta made to resemble leaves from an olive tree. The unusual shape makes it fun to eat, and like other spinach pastas it's good with cream sauces or pesto. I've seen it for sale in "gourmet shops" and online for $10 or more for a half-kilo bag (a little over a pound.) The Ocean State price for the same size: $2.00.

Orecchiette (little ears) - Round, shallow "cups" of pasta, often smooth on one side and textured from the manufacturing process of the other. This particular brand - Castellana - are made in a rainbow of colors provided by vegetable ingredients and are labeled as "arcobaleno" (rainbows) in honor of, I guess, the color instead of the shape. Usually orecchiette are great with chunky meat or veggie sauces, but the colors make these more interesting for pasta salad.

Bombardoni rigati - This was another shape that I originally bought more for the lulz than for practical cooking. They're huge rigati tubes, about an inch and a half in diameter, diagonally-cut on the ends like penne. I like it in baked casseroles. If you don't mind spending a little extra time, you can pre-cook them, pipe some ricotta into them, and bake them like manicotti.

Because I'm buying this stuff at a job lot store, it's costing me a fraction of what I'd have to pay at a specialty grocer. And the pastas are just the tip of the iceberg for Ocean State. If you live in Southern New England, you really should check them out, if only for the food.

Relevant Links:

Ocean State Job Lot's home page.

An online glossary of pasta types, brought to you by The Nibble.



Anonymous said...

Very interesting, never heard of any of these. The festonati looks especially good. The only "Job Lot" type store we have here in Upstate NY is Big Lots, and they never have anything that good.

zoe p. said...

I don't know the Job Lot ever gets anything as pedestrian as lasagna noodles, but deCecco makes a wonderful dried lasagna noodle. My favorite.

hawk krall said...

WOW $1.25 for oriechette? I pay 7 dollars for a bag of it at the fancy store (really good though) .

Dollar store near me has mexican stuff- things like Tapatia hot sauce and El Pico coffee for a dollar or two, but no pasta, that rules.

Guinnah said...

That sounds a lot like the Grocery Outlet chain we have here on the west coast. I get all kinds of cool stuff at great prices :-)

Anonymous said...

It's not just southern New England! We here in Bangor, Maine are lucky enough to have a Jobs Lots and the selection of everything from pasta to paper goods and carpet to clothes is really good. If you haven't checked out the Job Lots close to you - do it now!

Debi said...

Hi, Just stumbled upon your blog when I was googling "Bombardoni Rigati" to find a recommended way to prepare it. I bought this pasta at Ocean State. I recently discovered this store after my friend moved to Connecticuit and I always make sure to stop there when visiting her. I too love their food section especially their unusual pasta. We have "job lot" type stores here in NYC but I've never seen one with this variety of food. Thanks for your review and suggested uses for the Bombardoni Rigati! I'm going to bake it in a casserole with meat sauce and cheese.