Whenever called on to feed her two hungry teenagers and their friends, Nancy Beaule knew she could count on pizza and lasagna.
In fact, those dishes were so dependable — and so often was she called on to make them — Beaule started wondering what would happen if she combined those two staples of American-Italian cuisine.
And so two years ago in remote Rockwood, Maine, was born Pizzania, a why-didn't-I-think-of-that? marriage of pizza and lasagna that could be coming to a cafeteria, convenience store or freezer case near you.
Pizzania, a name she made sure to trademark, begins with a bottom layer of thin, soft crust covered with a sauce of tomatoes, ground beef, sausage, garlic and onions. Cheese, largely mozzarella, then goes on top.
Repeat the process with second layers of crust, sauce and cheese, pop it in the oven, and the dish is complete.
Confident she'd hit on a winner, in 2007 Beaule took her creation to Sysco, the Houston-based food service giant. By spring, the company was offering Pizzania to restaurants, schools, caterers and nursing homes around the state.
To keep up with demand, Beaule lined up a commercial kitchen in Bangor to make, freeze and package Pizzania in 5 1/2-pound half-sheet pans, each of which serves a dozen people.
"Customer response has been positive," said Marc Smith, merchandising sales specialist for Sysco in Northern New England, who expects sales to increase once a veggie version is introduced. "People like the product."
And Beaule, now a 53-year-old empty nester, hopes that's just the beginning. She is developing single-serving, microwave-ready packages for sale in delis and convenience stores, as well as the veggie version, and maybe even a low-fat one.
"We've been focusing on the big pans for the first six months, but the most common question I get is 'Where can I buy this? I'd like it at home," she says, adding that the individual size pans will hit the market in early 2009.