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A QUICKIE TRIP TO ITALY

When you’re ready for another dinner from your store of goodies, prepare pasta with marinara sauce. This sauce will serve you well for one meal and always tastes better after a day in the fridge…so if you’re cooking ahead, this is a wonderful dish. If you prepare enough for 2 meals, different add-on veggies and protein will change it up.

A good idea is to start with the pasta, since the noodles can cook merrily along, while you’re working on the sauce. If you want to freeze pre-made pasta, to pull at a moment’s notice, the

most foolproof is macaroni such as rigatoni, tube, or flat noodle such as fettucine. Thawing out the pasta on the spur of the moment is simple…just run hot water from the tap until it’s thawed, ready to add to the sauce which is cooking in the pot, or simply place the pasta in the bowl to be covered with the sauce. Thin spaghetti, vermicelli or angel hair will tend to break apart when defrosting. Hint: If you’re cooking fresh pasta tonight, double the amount you need, so you’ll have the leftover for another night or for freezing.

Sliced onion, along with mushrooms, fresh or frozen, and vegetable or chicken broth gets this sauce under way. White wine may be used (the alcohol cooks away), adding an elusive extra dry touch to the flavor. If you’re really tight on time…add the raw (or frozen) onions and mushrooms directly to a can or jar of prepared sauce. They’ll soften while cooking. From this point you follow through with the rest of the procedure. You may sprinkle in garlic powder, to taste, if you’re a garlic lover. Place about 1 to 2 Tablespoons Mixed Italian Seasonings (depending on your taste buds). Place in the palm of your hand and mash with the heel of your other hand. The dry seasoning will lend a fuller flavor when crushed. Even if the sauce is already seasoned, the freshly mashed seasoning will enhance the sauce.

There are so many jarred or canned prepared marinara sauces out there from which to choose…some have added ingredients and some are just tomato sauce with seasoning. Look at the ingredients, choose your favorite, and have a jar or 2 at the ready for evenings like this.

If you decide to cook the sauce from scratch, it’s easy. The prep is quick, but the time the sauce must simmer is considerable. We’ll cover some “scratch” sauces is coming up in the next article.

Now the fun begins!

The pasta is awaiting addition to this aromatic, tomato based masterpiece! So, what should be added to the basic sauce to make it inviting? There are so many different tastes and textures you can add. We’ll start with artichoke hearts and/or capers from a jar; raw cod or other firm fish (cubed), raw shrimp (fresh or frozen), fresh chicken parts (especially the upper part of the wing), or short ribs; frozen veggies, such as green beans, frozen peas, frozen broccoli/cauliflower mix; beans, such as canned (rinsed and drained) cannellini (white kidney), garbanzo, dark brown kidney or navy; kale, asparagus tips, spinach (the spinach, added at the end and cooked until wilted will avoid melting the spinach). These add-ons take variable cook-times. The raw chicken and/or ribs must be added with enough time to cook thoroughly, and caution in these areas is imperative. Test the fleshy part of the meat to be sure. 180° is the recommended temp on the meat thermometer. Fish, of course is not as dense and cooks much faster and is ready when it flakes with a fork, while the shrimp is cooked through when curled and pink, a very short time, indeed. The kale requires longer cooking than the tips and the spinach is last minute. Hint: Leftover, cooked protein, such as fish, shrimp, chicken, beef or pork should be added before asparagus and spinach, with just enough time to heat through…a very good way to go, as long as the seasonings of the first rendition are compatible with your sauce.

Recently, we had leftover Vegetable Fajitas in the fridge and simply added this, along with spinach to the onions and mushrooms already cooked in the sauce and the results were mmmm, mmmm good!

Don’t forget! In the next article we’ll prepare marinara sauce from scratch.

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