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One-pot, semi-homemade meals are cook's survival strategy

It’s a tough call whether cooking without power or without water is more difficult.

Over the past few years, I’ve had occasion to muddle my way through both outages. When the power was out for several days two winters past, I voiced my gratitude every morning for a gas range that, absent the electric igniter, needed only a burning match to function as always. The dishes I allowed to pile up until the dishwasher was back in action.

Now with a broken water line awaiting repair, the dishes again are piling up. And I’m filling cooking pots and tea kettles from gallon jugs of water borrowed from my neighbor. The best way to conserve is simply to minimize slicing, dicing, handling raw meat and, generally speaking, any activity that dirties hands, utensils and surfaces.

All that’s to say the one-pot, semi-homemade meal has become my survival strategy. Tonight, I’m even forgoing the water to cook pasta by boiling mini tortellini in homemade stock squirreled away in the freezer for just such emergencies. Adding any sliced or diced garden vegetable to the pot and topping the whole thing with grated Parmesan cheese produces a meal that my kids will appreciatively polish off.

I think of it less as dumpling soup and more as a very thinly sauced pasta dish. Yet it offers plenty of savor and richness from the stock.

In the same vein is this dish packaged with other easy meals on those evenings when cooking just isn’t in the cards. Maybe it’s just what the doctor ordered on this busy day when so many kids, mine included, are just back in school. Thank St. Louis Post-Dispatch food writer Daniel Neman for picking the brains of his colleagues, including Valerie Schremp Hahn, who lends her name to this simple pasta with broccoli and chicken.

Infuse more flavor into this dish by cooking in stock instead of water. And if you lack precooked meat, just drop chunks of boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, or little balls of ground sausage, or even peeled and deveined shrimp into the simmering stock to quickly poach once the pasta is almost tender.

If you prepare this recipe as directed, consider swapping cooked chicken with canned tuna for a no-bake take on tuna-noodle casserole.


1 pound bowtie pasta, shell pasta or fusilli

Florets from 1 head broccoli, chopped into bite-size pieces

2 to 3 cooked chicken breasts, diced

Garlic salt, to taste

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Cook the pasta according to package directions. During the last 2 to 3 minutes of boiling, add the broccoli. Drain. Add the chicken, garlic salt, butter and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Toss. Serve on pasta plates, bowls or regular plates, and tell your family to be happy about it.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Tribune News Service photo