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Italian food is irresistible to audience of kids and adults

It hasta be pasta! Italian food is both nutritious and satisfies taste buds.

By Linda Smith /For the Enterprise - We’re fortunate to have several excellent restaurants in our area to engage our love affair with Italian food. However, for those of us who love to cook or whose budgets make eating out a special occasion, we’re always on the lookout for new and delicious ways to expand our cooking knowledge. I always think there is something extra-special about the aroma of Italian spices wafting from the kitchen. A bottle of your favorite red wine, a beautiful salad, a loaf of bread, your Italian creation and an evening with family or friends creates the recipe for a perfect occasion.

Italian Spaghetti Sauce

1 1/2 lbs. lean ground beef

1 lb. ground Italian sausage

1 onion, diced (approximately 1 c.)

4 (8-oz.) cans tomato paste

5 quarts water

6 T. grated Parmesan cheese

1 T. garlic salt

4 T. granulated sugar

1 T. oregano

1 T. basil

1/2 t. pepper

2 cloves garlic, minced

Brown ground beef, ground sausage and diced onion. Drain off half the grease; discard. Add remaining ingredients. Stir until tomato paste is well blended. Cook over low heat (slow bubble, but not spatter out of the pot) for 3-4 hours, to desired thickness. Freezes well. Yields 12 (1-cup) servings.

Don’t Cook the Pasta Manicotti

1 lb. ground beef

1/4 t. garlic powder

4 c. tomato juice

6 oz. tomato paste

2 t. oregano leaves

1 t. white sugar

1 t. salt

1/8 t. pepper

4 c. grated Mozzarella cheese

10 oz. pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained

2 eggs

1/2 c. Parmesan cheese

1/2 c. Romano cheese

8 oz. manicotti shells (sometimes I need more than 1 box)

15 oz. ricotta cheese

1/2 c. chopped onion

Brown meat, onion and garlic. Drain. Stir in 2 c. tomato juice, tomato paste, oregano, salt, sugar and pepper. Simmer. In a bowl, combine 2 c. Mozzarella cheese, ricotta cheese, spinach, eggs, grated Parmesan and Romano cheeses. Mix well. Stuff shells. (If you have one, a pastry bag to fill the shells really speeds up the job.) Arrange in a 9- x 13-inch pan. Pour meat sauce over shells. Pour remaining tomato juice over that. Cover with foil or pan lid and bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees. Remove cover, top with remaining Mozzarella cheese. Let stand 15 minutes before serving. Note: If you make this the day before you serve it, it has more flavor. Wait to put the 2 c. Mozzarella cheese on top until you’re ready to rewarm the dish. Warm, covered, at 350 degrees. It will take at least 1 hour to get the center hot.

Vegetable Lasagna

2 medium zucchini

1 pt. sliced mushrooms

2 large carrots, chopped

2 large onions, chopped

4 t. minced garlic

1 pkg. frozen spinach, thawed with all water squeezed out

3 c. purchased marinara sauce

1 t. dried basil

1/8 t. pepper

1 1/2 c. shredded Mozzarella cheese

1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese

1 (16-oz.) pkg. lasagna noodles, dry

Trim ends off zucchini, thinly slice zucchini lengthwise. Place in a single layer on a lightly greased baking dish or pan brushed with oil. Broil for 5 minutes, or until crisp-tender; turn once. Let cool before handling. In a saucepan, heat 2 t. oil (olive if possible). Add carrots, onions, mushrooms, garlic and spinach. Cook and stir for 5 minutes. Add marinara sauce, basil and pepper. Bring to boiling and then reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. In a small bowl, toss together the Mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses; set aside. In a greased 2-quart square baking dish, arrange noodles. Spread with a third of sauce mixture, top with a third of the zucchini, sprinkle with a third of the cheese mixture. Repeat layering, alternating directions of the zucchini in each layer, finishing with the zucchini. Set remaining cheese aside. Bake, covered, at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. Uncover and sprinkle with remaining cheese mixture. Bake, uncovered, about 20 more minutes, or until the lasagna is heated through. Let stand for about 15 minutes before serving.

Italian Chicken and Pasta

1 (9-oz.) pkg. frozen Italian-style green beans

1 c. fresh mushrooms, quartered

1 medium onion, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices

12 oz. skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 (14.5-oz.) can Italian-style stewed tomatoes, undrained

1 (6-oz.) can Italian-style tomato paste

1 t. dried Italian seasoning, crushed

2 cloves garlic, minced

6 oz. spinach or whole wheat fettuccine, cooked according to package directions and drained

3 T. finely shredded or grated Parmesan cheese

In a 3 1/2- or 4-quart slow cooker, combine green beans, mushrooms and onion. Place chicken on vegetables. In a small bowl, combine undrained tomatoes, tomato paste, Italian seasoning and garlic. Pour over chicken. Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 5 to 6 hours or on high-heat setting for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Serve over hot cooked fettuccine. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.