Comfort food perfect for summer, too

It’s summer time at last! The bright, sunny days that have been so long overdue are back. This is my favorite time of the year: picnics and barbecues! And for summer, there is nothing more perfect than a light and refreshing dessert to add to the meal. I recently sampled such a dessert, called “Lemon Lush,” and it was so delicious that I was all set to prepare it for my next featured recipe.

A few weeks after that, I was watching Rachael Ray on Food Network and she was making an Italian stew. It looked so good, that it inspired me to feature the stew for this article and put the dessert on hold for another time.

I love that you can find so many bright and delicious fresh vegetables at the farmer’s markets come summer. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to peruse the newly opened vegetable stands for the perfect ingredients.

Rachael’s version of Italian stew was basic with potatoes, green beans and meatballs. Reviewing the recipe, I couldn’t wait to tweak this stew to make it unique and my own culinary creation. After giving it some serious thought, I decided to add fresh carrots, zucchini and squash to add a variety of color. To kick up the flavor, I added mild Italian sausage. If you like it hot and spicy, by all means use the hot Italian sausage.

When it came to the meatballs, I used my mother’s recipe (sorry, Rachael). My mom always made homemade spaghetti and meatballs, and her recipe is one of the best that I have come across. I did find that Rachael’s method of baking the meatballs in the oven was quite helpful. It was so much quicker, easier and less of a mess to clean up.

This stew can be made in a Dutch oven or soup pan, but I found it to be a breeze to prepare in my six-quart crock pot. (It makes quite a bit!) Instead of adding chopped onions, I substituted frozen pearl onions. I pre-cooked my meatballs and Italian sausage the night before, which made putting my stew together much quicker. I waited to add my cannellini beans and meatballs to the stew about 45 minutes before I was ready to serve it. I also added my pre-cooked pasta at this time. (I used rotini, but you can use any type of pasta you prefer.)

The aroma in the kitchen as this stew was cooking was amazing. My mouth was watering in anticipation for the finished product. And when I tasted it, it was love at first bite. I love the fact that my options for this stew are endless. Simply add vegetables to satisfy your own individual taste. There is such an array of vegetables to choose from at your local farmer’s market. Pick your favorite pasta to add in and make it your own creation.

This stew is a satisfying, nourishing and healthy meal. I rate it high on my list of comfort food. Take it to your next picnic and I assure you, it will be a hit.

As Rachael Ray would say, “Yum-O”!