Everyone has staple pantry items they keep on hand at all times. You know like butter, olive or vegetable oil, usually some sort of bread. My parents always have sliced American cheese, deli turkey, mayo, and white bread, so you can always make a sandwich when you’re there. Some people keep pasta and a jar of sauce on hand, for others it’s peanut butter and jelly.
Me? I always have white rice, frozen salmon fillets, and Italian dressing. ESPECIALLY always the Italian dressing.
I’m sure you’re probably thinking a few things. 1) EW frozen salmon, 2) those are so random why those things?, and 3) what’s so special about Italian dressing?
First off, let me set your mind at ease about the salmon. It really is not that bad. I mean like it or not, unless you are really lucky and going somewhere really fancy, all the fish you buy from the grocery store has been previously frozen too. It’s true! Look it up. Mine is just still frozen when I buy it. Also if you cook it correctly (which I will get to in a minute) it can taste just as good as fresh. Trust me, I’ve had people challenge me on this one before and made all of them believers.
The reason I always have those three things on hand dates back to my college days…
When you’re in college you’re always a little strapped for cash, which can make eating healthy a bit difficult. Especially when you haven’t really learned yet how to plan out meals in a way that you eat fresh food before it goes bad. My solution was frozen salmon and rice. Rice is extremely inexpensive, so I didn’t feel bad splurging a little on the salmon… usually around $12 for a 2lb bag. The salmon stayed good for months, as did the rice. So I always had something on hand to make as a meal when I hadn’t properly planned out my grocery shopping. I mean, it’s better for you than frozen pizza, right?
But how do you take plain rice and frozen salmon and make it actually tasty and have flavor?
Enter Italian dressing.
This stuff is my secret ingredient in everything, I swear. You don’t even need to season your food if you use Italian dressing. Any time I roast vegetables? Toss them in a little Italian dressing. Pasta salad? Add some Italian dressing. Frozen salmon and rice? You guessed it! Cook them in Italian dressing.
This, my friends, is the secret to making frozen salmon amazing. While the rice is cooking, I heat up a pan, add Italian dressing so it just barely sizzles and bubbles, then throw on the still frozen salmon. Cover the pan, let cook about 7 minutes (to be honest I never timed it). Flip and let continue cooking until it’s all heated through. The beauty is the Italian dressing keeps the fish moist as it cooks while also seasoning it, and it reduces down to a thick glaze that is just delicious. Serve over the rice and boom you have yourself a delicious, healthy meal that you’ve already had the ingredients waiting in your kitchen for a few weeks.
I mean think about it, all Italian dressing really is is oil, vinegar, and seasonings. All things you’d use to cook your food anyway, just premade for you!
So when I say the secret of taking this one dish chicken pasta from ok to amazing is Italian dressing, believe me! You don’t even need to season this meal and it’s packed with flavor.
So now that I’ve let you in on my little secret, what else will you make using Italian dressing?
3 tablespoons Italian dressing
2 small chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
8 ounces rigatoni pasta
1½ cups marinara sauce
2 cups water
½ cup mozzarella, shredded
½ cup parmesan, grated
salt & pepper, to taste
fresh basil, to garnish
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
1. Heat the bottom dish of the tagine on the stove over medium-high heat.
2. Once heated for a few minutes, add in the Italian dressing and chicken.
3. Cook the chicken while stirring frequently until browned and just cooked through, about 7 minutes.
4. Add in the pasta, marinara, and water. Carefully stir the mixture to combine and make sure the majority of the noodles are submerged.
5. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the temperature to medium.
6. Place the lid on the tagine and cook for about 17 minutes or until the pasta is all cooked through.
7. Add half of the cheese to the pasta and stir thoroughly to melt and incorporate.
8. Top the pasta with the remaining cheese. Place the lid back on and cook for an additional 3 minutes until the cheese is fully melted. Or, if desire, move the tagine without the lid to the oven and broil for 4 minutes.
9. Remove from heat, top with basil and serve.
Recipe inspiration from The Cookie Rookie