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PASTA AND SAUCE IN A SINGLE, STRESS-FREE POT

Any time dinner is just 20 minutes away and there's one less pot to wash, it's cause for celebration. So we wondered: Does cooking the pasta in the same pot along with the sauce really work?

In many cases, yes.

One of our readers, who happens to work for a pasta manufacturer, suggested we try this technique for the simple reason that it eliminates that big pot from the dirty-dishes lineup. One-pot meals with the meat, vegetables and starch combined are the backbone of our Desperation Skillet Dinners. But usually we rely on rice and potatoes for the starch. The idea that we could combine the simplicity of pasta with the convenience of a one-pot meal really excited us.

In the past, we shied away from this technique because the starch from thicker pastas mixes with the sauce and changes texture and flavor. The trick to avoid that, we found, is to use small, quick-cooking pasta, such as elbow macaroni, egg noodles or orzo.

The secret to cooking a pasta dinner as a one-pot meal is getting the right amount of liquid. There must be enough liquid to cook the pasta without watering down the sauce.

Today's recipe is a terrific example of the simplicity -- from cooking to cleanup -- of a one-pot pasta dinner.

Menu One-Pot Pasta with Italian Chicken

Iceberg lettuce wedges with bottled Italian dressing

Heat-and-serve sourdough rolls

ONE-POT PASTA WITH ITALIAN CHICKEN

1pound chicken tenders, fresh or frozen

1/2 teaspoon olive oil

1large onion (for one cup chopped)

1package (8 ounces) already-sliced fresh mushrooms

1teaspoon bottled minced garlic

1teaspoon dried Italian seasoning

1/2 cup white wine

1can (14 1/2 ounces) Italian-style stewed tomatoes

1can (14 1/2 ounces) fat-free chicken broth

1/2 cup water

8ounces yolk-free egg noodles

salt to taste
If the chicken tenders are frozen, run them under hot water to remove any packaging. Place the tenders, uncovered, on a microwave-safe plate and microwave 2 minutes at high to begin defrosting.

While the chicken defrosts, heat the oil over medium heat in an extra-deep, 12-inch non-stick skillet. Peel and coarsely chop the onion, adding it to the skillet as you chop. Add the mushrooms and garlic. Add the chicken tenders and Italian seasoning to the skillet. Raise the heat to high. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the wine and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.

Add the tomatoes, chicken broth, water and noodles. Bring the mixture to a boil, and press the noodles down into the liquid. Cover, reduce the heat to medium-high and continue to cook at a moderate boil until the noodles are tender, about 7 to 9 minutes. Stir once halfway through cooking. Season with salt to taste. Serve at once. Serves 4.

Note: Choose a brand of egg noodles that cooks in 7 to 9 minutes. We tested this recipe with the Mueller's brand.

Approximate values per serving: 432 calories (9 percent from fat), 4 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 63 milligrams cholesterol, 37 grams protein, 54 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams dietary fiber, 382 milligrams sodium.

Send us desperate tales of woe or everyday success stories and your favorite quick recipes to Desperation Dinners, c/o United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016; or e-mail: ddinners@aol.com.

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