A battle between two behemoths here. The ubiquitous high-street-killer Sainsbury’s, and the daddy of dehydrated snack foods, Batchelors – the company which bought us such culinary innovations as Cup-a-Soup and Savoury Rice. So which is the best? Only one way to find out. Food fight.
‘Do not purchase if open or torn‘
First up the Sainsbury’s Basics Pasta shells in a Tomato & Onion Sauce Mix
Number of ingredients: 15 including ‘flavourings’
Description: Simple recipe, same great snack
On the face of it this would seem to be an unfair comparison as we have chosen something from the economy Basics range. Like yellow and black stripes on wasps and other unpalatable insects, I have always viewed the bright orange band and handwritten font used on all Basics packaging as a handy visual warning of something best avoided. However, these snacks are just a pairing of cheap pasta and salty dust, so how sophisticated do they need to be? Perhaps here, less is more.
A quick scan of the back of the packet reveals that there are indeed only 15 ingredients none of which are particularly alarming, although the vague ‘flavourings’ could hide a multitude of sins. It is also a product which requires cooking in a pan (or microwave) for 12 minutes, so is not necessarily recommended for novice chefs or the impatient.
We followed these cooking instructions and ended up with pasta shells in a greyish wet sauce. The pasta was in fact the best we have tasted so far as it still had a slight bite to it, but the sauce was a huge insipid disappointment. The dominant flavour (apart from water) was dried basil and sugar with the tomato and onion noticeable by their absence.
This is not a pretty dish although with a little seasoning it could be made palatable.
Conclusion: Bland with a hint of herb.
Next the Batchelors Pasta’n’Sauce – Tomato, Onion & Herbs
Number of ingredients: 19 including E621 and E635
Description: Serves one as a snack or two as part of a main meal
Now this pasta’n’sauce sees itself as more than just a handy snack as it could (Batchelors suggest) be just one constituent in a larger, more lavish meal. Perhaps it would make a lovely accompaniment to your Ballotine of Foie Gras or maybe a playful companion for your Quenelles de Brochet. Or, if you follow their Top Tips, you could eat it with ham on toast.
We cooked our pasta as per the instructions, but in the interest of fairness, omitted the optional addition of 15g of butter or margarine despite the protestation that this would be ‘really tasty’. Mmmm, margarine.
Visually this is a better dish as the sauce is thicker and brighter and the pasta has retained it’s spiral shape. However a quick taste reveals this to be a much more processed product. The sauce is thick in an unpleasantly gelatinous way, it’s sweet, and has a flavour very reminiscent of tinned ravioli. Once swallowed you are left with the aftertaste of uncooked dried herbs.
Here we have to congratulate the flavour enhancers E621 and E635 because they have certainly fulfilled their job description – just not in a very pleasant way. Perhaps if we had stirred in the recommended tub of margarine this would have been transformed into a ‘really tasty’ delight … perhaps.
Conclusion: Buy tinned ravioli instead.
Winner: A very close fight although overall I would say the Basics wins on points, if only because it is so bland it could be made palatable with the addition of a good slug of Worcestershire sauce and a heap of melted cheddar. Any addition to the Batchelors would just make it more unpleasant.