Pantry Cooking: A Little Italy!


NOTE FROM JAMIE: Do we have any seasoned freezer-cooking chefs out there? I’d love to do a few segments soon about freezer cooking – and I was hoping we could pool our resources to make them some really “meaty” recipe roundups! If so, Please email me at time2saveworkshops@gmail.com with your recipe, name, and a couple tidbits about yourself! (Subject Line: Freezer Cooking)

We frugal foodies have unique challenges that normal shoppers don’t.  This little segment aims to help by offering:

  • Stockpile-cooking ideas
  • Clever Casseroles in which to hide your leftovers from the hubby & kids
  • Kitchen tips & tricks
  • Freezer-cooking recipes & planning
  • And really, everything but the kitchen sink!

Our very own “Deal Detective Kim” has generously offered to take the lead on this one (aspiring food writer that she is) – but start thinking up a recipe YOU often turn to, because we’ll be asking for some contributions to keep this new weekly segment running! 
And now, I’ll turn it over to you Kim!

Our trip around the world started in Mexico last week; this week, we’re going to ITALY!  OK, not really, but it’s fun to dream, right?  Italian is so much more than just spaghetti and lasagna.  So today I’ve got **3** recipes for Italian food that don’t involve pasta at all!

Eggplant Appetizer:

This probably has a fancy name, but I don’t know what it is!  I ate in an authentic Italian restaurant that served this as a daily special the day I was in there.  I ate the first one, then picked up a 2nd one and starting “deconstructing” it to try to figure out how to make it.  A couple of days later, I tried it out on my dinner companion, who pronounced it a perfect copy!
You will need 2 bowls or other flat-bottomed dishes with sides.
  • In the first one, break an egg and scramble it up.  If it’s a smallish egg or you’re making a lot, use 2.
  • In the 2nd one, mix about a cup of Italian-style breadcrumbs, some shredded Parmesan cheese (the fresh kind, NOT the Kraft in a can!), a teaspoon of Italian seasoning blend, and some salt and pepper.
  • Preheat the oven to 350.  In a large skillet, drizzle a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and bring it to medium heat.
  • Take an eggplant, cut off the top and bottom, and peel it.  (You need long, thin strips for this–I used my vegetable peeler lengthwise down the eggplant and it worked fine but you could also use a paring knife.)  Dip the strips in the egg and then in the breadcrumbs mixture, making sure both sides are evenly coated.
  • Lay in the skillet and brown on both sides.  Don’t get them too crispy, because they need to roll up!  When they’re done, take them out of the skillet and put on a plate lined with paper towels to drain for a minute.
  • Take some of that Pesto I told you how to make a couple of weeks ago, spread it on the strips, sprinkle with a little more cheese, roll them up and fasten with a toothpick.  Put all of them on a baking sheet and pop them in the oven for 5-10 minutes, just long enough for them to heat through and melt the cheese a little.

Italian Fried Chicken:

Just like with the appetizer, you will need 2 bowls or other flat-bottomed dishes with sides.
  • In the first one, break an egg and scramble it up.  If it’s a smallish egg or you’re making a lot, use 2.
  • In the 2nd one, mix about a cup of Italian-style breadcrumbs, some shredded Parmesan cheese (the fresh kind, NOT the Kraft in a can!), a teaspoon of Italian seasoning blend, and some salt and pepper, plus about a half cup of ground pecans.  You can take the halves or pieces and put them in a nut grinder, or you can buy what’s labelled “pecan meal” and use that…same thing.
  • Take one boneless, skinless chicken breast per person.  One at a time, put them in a quart size freezer bag with a little bit of water, zip it up, and use the flat side of a meat tenderizer, a rolling pin, or a heavy skillet (like cast iron) to flatten out the chicken breast.  You don’t want it too thin, maybe 1/2-3/4 inch thick but make sure it’s fairly even.  This does several things–it cooks faster and more evenly, PLUS it fools you into thinking you’re getting a much bigger meal than you actually are!
  • Take a large skillet and drizzle about a quarter inch of olive oil in the bottom, and heat to medium.  Dip the chicken into the egg and then the breadcrumbs, then fry until brown and crispy.

I can eat this with vegetables on the side, or it makes a really good chicken sandwich!  I’ve also cut the cooked chicken breast into strips and put on top of a salad.  Yum!!  If you want Chicken Parmesan, just heat some marinara sauce on the stove, pour it over the chicken and top with cheese.

Eggplant Parmesan:

I usually make this and the Eggplant appetizer together, because I’m normally cooking for one or two, and I can feed 2 people both dishes and use just one eggplant.  Plus the prep’s the same.
  • Use the same egg/breadcrumbs breading process, but cut the eggplant into circles about a half inch thick.
  • Fry them in the olive oil, drain on paper towels, then put them in a sprayed casserole dish, cover with marinara sauce (or a jar of pasta sauce you stocked up on), sprinkle with cheese, and bake in the oven at 350 until the cheese is nice and melty.  If you like your cheese to be more stretchy (like on pizza) use Mozzarella or an Italian blend instead of the Parmesan.
**Tip alert! If you’re trying to do the low-carb diet thing, or you’re cooking for a diabetic, Eggplant Parmesan is a really good choice.  It’s so hearty, you’ll never miss the meat and olive oil is a good heart-healthy way to cook.  Another good choice is Spaghetti Squash.  It’s not a recipe, it’s a VEGETABLE.  They should be plentiful in the produce section this time of year.  Take the squash, split it lengthwise, scoop out the seeds like you would a cantaloupe, and place the halves cut side down on a baking sheet.  Put a little olive oil on the outside (to keep it from scorching) and bake at about 400 for around 30 minutes.  When it’s done, the inside of the squash separates into strands that look JUST LIKE spaghetti.  AND it’s a vegetable, AND your family will never know if you don’t tell them.  I cooked this for a diabetic (now ex) boyfriend back in the day, fixed his plate, and didn’t tell him until he said it tasted just like it always did.  He was floored when I told him it was squash!  5 carbs instead of 45 per serving!!  Just scoop out the strands, put them on a plate, cover it with pasta sauce and cheese, I promise you they will not know!  (Remember to hide the squash rind in the garbage!)
Until next time,

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