Well-seasoned cuisine: Fresh is best when it comes to vegetables and greens

Chicken milanese is lightened up by pan frying it with a light batter and serving it with an arugula salad dressed with lemon juice and olive oil.

Pasta e fagioli is a great Italian dish that is kind of a mix between a soup, a stew and a hearty pasta dish. As with a lot of Italian dishes, it can be made with a variety of different additions, from various herbs to vegetables to meats. The main two ingredients remain the same – pasta and beans. I enjoy making the dish with ditalini, the type of macaroni that my family uses when we make macaroni salad. It’s a small pasta that leaves room for all the other ingredients in the pot. I also like cannellini beans, which are like a white kidney bean; but any beans can be substituted in. The recipe below calls for pancetta, but bacon can be used instead. Or it could be left out all together to lower the fat content of the dish. The fresh herbs and vegetables are really what makes the dish taste great. They add a lot of flavor to the sauce/broth that elevate the recipe beyond a typical pasta dish.

The chicken Milanese recipe also offers a touch of freshness with an arugula salad on the side. I’ve purchased arugula before at a few different stores and it is best when it is fresh. It has a light, peppery flavor that pairs well with the onion and fennel in the salad below. Local stores carrying arugula from Earthbound Farms (See the Free Lance’s Pride section April 3 for a feature on Earthbound Farms) and that brand is some of the best I’ve tried in recent weeks. A homemade dressing of lemon and olive oil makes the salad. The chicken Milanese, too, was flavorful with some fresh chopped parsley mixed into the bread crumb crust.

Pasta e fagioli

(pasta and beans)

Recipe courtesy of Rachael Ray

2 tbsp. (2 turns around the pan) extra-virgin olive oil

1/8 lb. (about 3 slices) pancetta, chopped

2 (4 to 6-inch) sprigs rosemary, left intact

1 (4 to 6-inch) sprig thyme with several sprigs on it, left intact

1 large fresh bay leaf or 2 dried bay leaves

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 small carrot, finely chopped

1 rib celery, finely chopped

4 large cloves garlic, chopped

Coarse salt and pepper

2 (15 oz.) cans cannellini beans

1 c. canned tomato sauce or canned crushed tomatoes

2 c. water

1 qt. chicken stock

1 1/2 c. ditalini

Grated Parmigiano or Romano, for the table

Crusty bread, for mopping

Heat a deep pot over medium high heat and add oil and pancetta. Brown the pancetta bits lightly, and add herb stems, bay leaf, chopped vegetables, and garlic. Season vegetables with salt and pepper.

Add beans, tomato sauce, water, and stock to pot and raise heat to high. Bring soup to a rapid boil and add pasta. Reduce heat to medium and cook soup, stirring occasionally, 6 to 8 minutes or until pasta is cooked al dente. Rosemary and thyme leaves will separate from stems as soup cooks. Remove herb stems and bay leaf from soup and place pot on table on a trivet. Let soup rest and begin to cool for a few minutes.

Ladle soup into bowls and top with lots of grated cheese. Pass crusty bread for bowl mopping.

SERVES 6; Calories: 365; Total Fat 10 grams; Saturated Fat: 2 grams; Protein: 18 grams; Total carbohydrates: 50 grams; Sugar: 8 grams Fiber 9 grams; Cholesterol: 13 milligrams; Sodium: 1,101 milligrams

Chicken Milanese with arugula salad

Recipe courtesy of Weight Watchers

1 1/2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

1 tbsp. olive oil

1/4 tsp. table salt

1/4 tsp. black pepper

2 bunches arugula

1/2 medium uncooked fennel bulb, very thinly sliced (about 1 cup)

1 c. (sliced) uncooked red onions, thinly sliced

1 c. grape tomatoes, quartered

1 lb. uncooked boneless skinless chicken breast, four 4 oz pieces

1 tsp. table salt

1/2 tsp. black pepper

2 tbsp. all-purpose flour

1 large egg

3 large egg whites

1/4 c. parsley, fresh, minced

1/2 oz. romano cheese, grated (about 1/4 cup)

1/3 c. dried plain bread crumbs

4 sprays cooking spray, divided

1 tbsp. regular butter, divided

2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice, or to taste

In a small bowl, whisk together first four ingredients; set aside.

In a large salad bowl, combine arugula, fennel, onion and tomatoes; set aside.

Place chicken between two sheets of wax paper; pound until 1/3-inch-thick. Rub

salt and pepper into both sides of chicken.

Place flour in a shallow bowl. Place bread crumbs in another shallow bowl. In a third shallow bowl, whisk together egg, egg whites, parsley and cheese.

Dip a piece of chicken into flour; turn to coat and shake off any excess. Next, dip chicken into egg mixture; turn to coat. Lastly, dip chicken into bread crumbs, shaking off any excess ingredients. (You want to coat the chicken very lightly, not cover it with a heavy crust.) Set aside and repeat with remaining chicken.

Coat a large skillet with cooking spray; place over medium-high heat. Melt half of butter in skillet (do not allow it to burn); add two pieces of chicken. Cook chicken until coating is golden, flipping once, about 7 minutes; remove to a paper towel and cover loosely to keep warm. Off heat, recoat skillet with cooking spray; place over medium-high heat. Melt remaining butter in skillet; cook remaining pieces of chicken.

Toss salad with dressing. Sprinkle chicken with lemon juice and serve topped with salad. Yields 1 piece of chicken and 2 cups of loosely packed salad per serving.

The chicken can be battered and stored in the refrigerator ahead of time. When you’re ready to eat, simply sauté the chicken as directed.

This lightened up classic can be served on its own, over a bed of steamed spinach or with a salad like the one we’ve done here.

Serves 4; Calories: 343.1; Total Fat: 11.0 g; Sodium: 427.5 mg; Total Carbohydrate: 24.8 g; Dietary Fiber: 3.4 g; Protein: 36.7 g

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