Italian Cooking for the Budget Smart Cook

Monday was Columbus Day and that meant many food companies and restaurants were promoting Italian food and cooking. And it just so happens to be one of my favorite cuisines. I not only love it because of the great tasting dishes, but also because most Italian recipes are budget friendly too. Pasta is one of the least expensive foods at the supermarket. Grocery stores always seem to have sales on pasta sauces. And then there’s pizza, easy to make, easy on the budget and you can add just about anything you want. And an added plus, is pasta and pizza are some of the easiest and least time consuming dishes to put together.

Cooking Sites
I always like finding great cooking related Web sites and here are some of the best. If you’re looking for tips on anything even remotely connected to Italian cooking, check out these three sites-

www.tuscanytonight.com This site has tips, recipes and even a section on wine.

www.Italiancook.ca You can easily spend an hour or more on this site. Check out the various regions of Italy and their corresponding recipes.

www.barillaus.com This is the site of Barilla pasta products. And I have to say that when Barilla pasta and sauces are on sale, I buy a good supply.

And here are a couple of my favorite Italian recipes-
The first one is a soup that I adapted from a recipe for Minestrone Soup. It serves 4-6 and makes a meal in itself if you add Italian bread and a generous serving of Parmesan cheese.

Old World Italian Soup
3 tablespoons oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves of crushed garlic
1 cup minced celery
1 cup cubed carrots
1 cup cubed zucchini
1 cup chopped green pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon basil
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 ½ cups of peas or chickpeas, your choice
1 cup chopped tomatoes
2 cups tomato sauce
3 ½ cups water

1. In a stock pot, saute the onions and garlic in the oil until the onions are soft and translucent.

2. Add the salt, carrots, celery and zucchini and mix well.

3. Add the basil and pepper and cover and cook the mixture over a low heat for about 8-10 minutes.

4. Add the green pepper, water, tomato sauce, beans/peas and cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

5. Add the tomatoes and season to taste, adding more salt and pepper if necessary.

6. Simmer for about ten minutes and then serve.

Italian Fall Vegetable Stew
(Serves 4 as a Main Dish or 6 as a Side Dish)

This one’s for the slow cooker and it’s ideal for a chilly fall day and really welcoming after an afternoon of raking leaves. You can serve it as a vegetarian dish or alongside a grilled chicken breast or pork chop. Either way, serve some bread on the side to soak up all the sauce.

1 ½ cup dried lentils
3 cups of water
2 cups chopped butternut squash
1 cup chopped sweet potato
1 26 oz. jar of Classico Fire Roasted Tomato and Garlic pasta sauce
1 small onion, chopped
1 cup chopped zucchini
1 15 oz. can garbanzo beans
½ teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon dried thyme

1. Rinse the lentils and place them in a 3-quart (or larger) slow cooker. Add the water. Add the squash, sweet potato, onion, pasta sauce, basil and thyme and stir together.

2. Cover and cook either 8-10 hours on high, or 4-6 hours on low. About an hour before serving stir in the chopped zucchini and just before serving stir in the garbanzo beans. Fresh chopped basil is a nice addition sprinkled on top when the dish has finished cooking.

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