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Quick and Healthy Italian Meals

When the weather outside is frightening and the family needs something delightful, a home cooked meal can be a fast, healthy alternative to pizza or fast food.

The three meals presented here are favorites that can be adapted when fresh ingredients are available or when canned or frozen goods are the only option. These dishes have been stretched to feed twenty, and prepared for one.

Beyond the basic ingredients, there are no hard and fast requirements for special herbs or flavors, so these ideas can be modified, based on what’s in the pantry. And levels of flavor can be built to please even the pickiest palate!

FASTER E FAGIOLI: The “Fagioli”, are beans which can be cooked ahead of time in the crock pot. Canned cooked beans can be used, but they will not have the rich flavor that slow cooked, dried beans take on.

Pasta e Fagioli is a popular Italian bean soup that is so easy to do when cooked beans are on hand. Cannelli beans are the traditional variety, but red, pink, pinto, or navy beans are just fine as substitutes.

Pantry items: Cooked beans, chicken stock, canned tomatoes, lean smoked meat, macaroni, garlic, onion, Italian Parsley and other Italian herbs that are available.

Half of the beans are mashed, then mixed with the whole beans. Add chicken stock until the desired thinness is reached, and the canned tomatoes. Add cooked, diced lean smoked pork or smoked turkey. Cook 3-4 cups of macaroni and add to the soup. Viola! Pasta e Fagioli! Serve with steam-in-the-bag veggies and crusty french bread with your favorite healthy butter spread for the best in fast and healthy dinners!

Other vegetables and herbs can be added to Pasta e Fagioli: Celery, any color of bell pepper, and roasted garlic instead of fresh.

Bay leaf (make sure to never leave the leaf or pieces of the leaf in the soup. Bay leaf does not break down and can cut the esophagus and digestive tract.)

Whole Rosemary sprigs, chopped Oregano, Basil, and Italian Parsely are excellent herb choices that will add even more flavor and nutrition.

LEMON CHICKEN NUGGETS: A saute pan with a metal handle that can brown and saute on the stove top, then pop right into the oven to finish the dish is the best thing to have for whipping up fast dinners. And cleanup is easy with one pan.

Pantry items: chicken breasts, canola or olive oil, paprika, chopped onion, minced garlic, chicken stock, sliced mushrooms, herbs, lemon juice and zest, Italian parsley and basil.

The breasts are cut into fillets that are about 3/4 inch thick, then cut into nuggets. Season with salt, pepper, lemon juice, and paprika. Brown in oil, then remove and set aside. Brown the sliced mushrooms, then add chopped onion, minced garlic, chicken stock, Italian parsley and basil. Top with chicken, sprinkle on lemon zest, and pop into a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Serve with choice of potatoes, and green beans cooked with turkey bacon and onion.

Lemon Thyme is a wonderful herb for this dish. It gives a true lemon flavor without the acid, and it grows easily. White wine also adds a fresh and lively flavor.

DOUBLE BUMP SPAGHETTI SAUCE: This sauce is a rich, chunky gem of a sauce! Fresh meat and veggies are added to prepared sauce to create a delightful home cooked meal that does not require a lot of simmering.

Pantry: Jar spaghetti sauce, lean ground beef and/or lean ground pork. Diced bell pepper, sliced mushrooms, fresh chopped tomatoes, onion, garlic, spaghetti, fresh basil and oregano, parmesan cheese.

Saute diced bell pepper, mushrooms, onion and garlic. Add the meat, chopped basil and oregano. Add the prepared spaghetti sauce and simmer for 10 to 20 minutes. Serve with salad, steamed spinach with a dash of lemon and a pinch of lemon zest, and garlic bread. This recipe freezes well if any is left over.

For a classic Pasta e Fagioli, See Giada De Laurentis’ recipe at Food Network

Baked Chicken Nuggets

How to make and can your own spaghetti sauce at “Pick Your Own.Org”.