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Back in 2009, Schwan's approached the telegenic cooking family about replicating dishes from their Midtown eatery for its customers. "So the conversation starts, 'We could really use a Fresco in Minnesota.' And we're like, no way, too cold for us," Elaina Scotto explained, perhaps eating her words a bit today. "So they said, 'What about doing your great dishes, in a frozen food format, and we can ship it anywhere in the United States?'"

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After a year and a half of product development, which included sending Fresco sous chefs out to Marshall, Minnesota to oversee Schwan's production, the collaboration (a first for the Scotto's) resulted in heat-and-eat dishes like fusilli with seasonal vegetables, lasagna with meatball sauce and penne gratin. While issues of scale necessitated certain ingredient adjustments, both the Scotto family and Michael Gunn, Schwan's Director of Culinary Services, indicated that every effort at verisimilitude was made.

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"We really work to make sure the recipe is authentic to what we serve here at the restaurant," says Rosanna Scotto.

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Sitting down with a healthy bit of skepticism -- this was frozen food, after all -- I tasted the dishes as family matriarch Marion Scotto, perhaps sensing that my own Italian mother was a state away, made sure my plate stayed full.

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Retailing from $10.99 (for a 24-ounce tray) to $19.99 (for the 5-pound lasagna), Schwan's Fresco by Scotto dishes might not replace your favorite Italian restaurant, but they do provide a convenient alternative, especially since they deliver right to your door.

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