Gluten-free pasta with chicken and vegetables is not only tasty but easy to whip up on a busy week night.

Gluten-free pasta with chicken and vegetables is not only tasty but easy to whip up on a busy week night.

Kitchen Wit & Wisdom: Just like Grandma used to make

Cathi Litzenberger encourages readers to make it at home for good health

So we’ve managed to bypass the fast food joint and have instead purchased foods that are processed and ready to cook up when we get home from work or are rushing to the many activities our kids are involved in. But are they really healthy? All you have to do is read the labels to realize they are full of additives used extensively by the food industry to protect food from microorganisms, oxidation, and as antioxidants to prolong the original colour of some foods so they’ll appear more attractive and fresher.

One common additive is hydrolyzed vegetable protein, a common additive flavour enhancer used in processed foods. HVP is produced by boiling foods such as soy, corn, or wheat in hydrochloric acid and then neutralizing the solution with sodium hydroxide. Sound delicious? The acid breaks down the protein in vegetables into their component amino acids, one of which is MSG — not good for us!

You could also find a wide variety of sulphites (food preservatives) listed, with many of these salts formed from sulfurous acid. Yuck. I also found something called propylene glycol listed on an ice cream (frozen dessert) container. It’s a component in newer automotive antifreezes and de-icers used at airports; apparently it helps keep the ice cream frozen at a certain consistency. Food dyes like  tartrazine, a synthetic lemon yellow azo dye, and red dyes FD&C and carmine (made from squashed cochineal beetles) are just a few of the hundreds of additives to be aware of.

The healthiest way to eat is to prepare from scratch or if you can, get Grandma to cook for you. Cooking basic fresh foods doesn’t necessarily take a lot of time and our family’s health is worth the effort. If you want something different from a piece of meat, spud, and veggies, try the ideas below.

Pasta With Slow-Cooker Pork Ragù

1  large carrot, chopped

1  medium onion, chopped

2  cloves garlic, chopped

2  tablespoons  tomato paste

1  teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried oregano

3/4 tsp. Kosher salt

1/4 tsp. black pepper

1 – 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes

1-1/2 pounds boneless pork shoulder or butt, trimmed and cut in half

3/4 pound fettuccine, or pasta of choice

Grated Parmesan, for serving

In a 4 to 6-quart slow cooker, combine the carrot, onion, garlic, tomato paste, thyme, oregano, salt, and pepper. Add the tomatoes (and their juices); add the pork and turn to coat. Cover and cook until the pork is very tender, on low for 7 to 8 hours or on high for 5 to 6 hours (this will shorten total recipe time).

Twenty minutes before serving, cook the fettuccine according to the package directions; drain and return it to the pot.

Meanwhile, using 2 forks, shred the pork and mix it into the cooking liquid. Toss pasta with the ragù and sprinkle with the Parmesan.

Gluten-free Pasta

with Chicken and Vegetables

1 (16 oz.) package dried gluten free pasta

5 tbsp. olive oil, divided

2 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cut into cubes

Garlic powder

Salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup chopped onion

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth

1 bunch slender asparagus spears, trimmed, cut on diagonal into 1-inch pieces or use broccoli, or 1-1/2 cups mixed vegetables of choice

1/4 cup butter, melted (I substituted 3 tbsp. olive oil)

1 cup Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to boil. Add pasta, and cook until al dente, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain, keep hot and set aside.

Warm 3 tbsp. olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in chicken, and season with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Cook until chicken is cooked through and browned, about 5 minutes. Remove chicken to paper towels.

Add remaining olive oil to skillet, add onion and cook for 3 minutes; add garlic and cook 2 minutes.  Pour chicken broth into the skillet. Then stir in asparagus or other vegetables, salt, and pepper. Cover, and steam until the vegetables are just tender, about 5 minutes. Add butter.

Chop chicken and return chicken to the skillet, and warm through. Place pasta in large mixing bowl. Add parmesan cheese, then hot chicken mixture; mix well to distribute all ingredients, and melt cheese. Stir chicken mixture into pasta, and mix well.

Ham and Broccoli Quiche

1/2 pkg. (425 g) Refrigerated Pillsbury* Pie Crusts (1 crust)

2 tsp. Dijon mustard

4 eggs, slightly beaten

1 cup milk

1/2 tsp. dry mustard

1/4 tsp. thyme

1/8 tsp. pepper

1/2 cup cubed cooked ham

1 pkg (227 g) Swiss or Gouda cheese, grated (2 cups)

2 cups Green Giant* Frozen Cut Broccoli, thawed, well-drained

Adjust oven rack to lowest position. Heat oven to 425 F. Prepare pie crust according to package directions for One Crust Filled Pie using a 9-inch pie plate or quiche pan (refrigerate remaining crust for later use or make two and freeze one for later). Brush pie crust with Dijon mustard.

In large bowl, combine eggs, milk, dry mustard, thyme and pepper; set aside. Layer ham, 1 1/2 cups cheese and broccoli in pie crust-lined pan. Pour egg mixture over top. Bake at 425 F for 15 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese. Reduce heat to 375 F and bake for an additional 35 to 40 minutes or until knife inserted in centre comes out clean.

Good for brunch or dinner, just add a salad.

Skillet Gnocchi

with Chard and White Beans

1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 16-oz. package shelf-stable gnocchi

1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup water

6 cups chopped chard leaves, (about 1 small bunch) or spinach

1-15-ounce can diced tomatoes with Italian seasonings

1-15-ounce can white beans, rinsed

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

1/4 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese

Heat 1 tbsp. oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add gnocchi and cook, stirring often, until plumped and starting to brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

Add the remaining 1 tsp. oil and onion to the pan and cook, stirring, over medium heat, for 2 minutes. Stir in garlic and water. Cover and cook until the onion is soft, 4 to 6 minutes. Add chard (or spinach) and cook, stirring, until starting to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes.

Stir in tomatoes, beans and pepper and bring to a simmer. Stir in the gnocchi and sprinkle with mozzarella and Parmesan. Cover and cook until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling, about 3 minutes.

Tip: Look for shelf-stable gnocchi near other pasta in the Italian section of most supermarkets.

Cathi LItzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist, appearing every Wednesday and one Sunday per month.