Just in time for "National Pasta Month," ConAgra Foods' Marie Callender's brand has teamed up with award-winning Italian-American chef, Food Network host and Top Chef Masters contestant Michael Chiarello to help Americans create a full, authentic Italian dining experience at home.

ConAgra says a recent Opinion Research Corp. survey shows that seven out of 10 Americans enjoy authentic, home-cooked Italian meals, but nearly half don’t have the time or energy to prepare one. Addressing that issue has been ConAgra's Marie Callender’s Pasta al Dente line, which debuted last March with six microwavable steam-and-cook varieties. Now the brand is introducing four more flavors.

“Whether you’re preparing a homemade Italian meal from scratch or enjoying the convenience of Marie Callender’s Pasta al Dente varieties, a few simple tricks can transform your home into the Italian countryside for an evening,” said Chiarello. “Gourmet hors d'oeuvres, colorful sides, a mouthwatering entrée, decadent desserts, wines and lots of ambiance can really round out the Italian experience.”

For its part, ConAgra Foods says it "saw a major opportunity" to deliver a distinctive new product in the frozen aisle with Marie Callender’s Pasta al Dente.

"We conducted extensive research prior to launching Marie Callender’s Pasta al Dente to find out what consumers were looking for in a frozen meal. We learned they were disappointed in the quality of many frozen pasta meals, which were often soggy or mushy. Consumers wanted something better, so we created Marie Callender’s Pasta al Dente to meet that need," said Rob McCutcheon, vice president and general manager, Marie Callender’s. “We’re so confident that these meals will shatter consumers’ expectations of what frozen meals can be that we’re backing it up with our Perfect Pasta Promise – your meal steamed perfectly every time, or your money back.”

All Marie Callender’s Pasta al Dente varieties utilize a patented SteamCooker™ technology, which separates the ingredients from the sauce with a two-tray, steam-cooking system that steams the meals in your microwave in five minutes or less. The innovative technology used to prepare Marie Callender’s Pasta al Dente entrées is the same method used in Healthy Choice® Café SteamersTM, recognized as the best-selling new food product in 2008 by Information Resources, Inc. (IRI).

The line of 10 Marie Callender’s Pasta al Dente meals was developed from classic Italian recipes and traditions that use fresh Italian herbs and spices and include:

    * (New) Penne Chicken Piccata with lemon and white wine butter sauce, spinach and capers
    * (New) Chicken Carbonara with uncured bacon and peas
    * (New) Chicken Pesto Parmesan with Roma tomatoes, broccoli, and Parmesan cheese
    * (New) Beef Bolognese Rigatoni with hearty vegetables and rich Parmesan cheese
    * Rigatoni Marinara Classico with meatballs and Italian sausage
    * Tortellini Romano with fresh basil and real Parmesan cheese
    * Penne Garlic Chicken with chunks of artichoke hearts and Roma tomatoes
    * Creamy Basil Chicken with crushed pesto and fresh zucchini
    * Fettuccini Chicken Balsamic with crimini mushrooms and balsamic vinegar from Modena, Italy
    * Shrimp Rigatoni with shrimp in lobster cream sauce

Marie Callender’s Pasta al Dente meals are available at grocery stores nationwide with a suggested retail price of $3.49 for a 10- to 11-ounce meal.