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Feta provides tang for Greek pasta dish

Thursday, June 13, 2002

By Nancy Anderson, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

With today's recipe for Greek Pasta, Mary Mannella becomes a seven-time Countdown To Dinner winner, an honor that surprised not only the staff but also the "Queen of Countdown" herself.


From Marmalade Chicken on Feb. 18, 1999, to today's quick and flavorful pasta entree, Mary's recipes have proven to be the epitome of Countdown simplicity -- fast, tasty, family-pleasing and with few ingredients.

And they're her own creations.

"We all like feta and I had the rest of the stuff in the pantry, so I just threw it together," the Penn Hills resident said. "It wasn't a complicated thing."

It was indeed easy but boasted a lot of flavor and substance in the process. We agreed that feta makes the dish extra good.

She's made the recipe with and without spinach and either way is good.

"Christopher [her 10 1/2-year-old son] doesn't like spinach very much so, when I make it with spinach, I pick it out for him," she said.

A happy, stay-at-home mom, Mary mentors third- and fifth-graders at Dible Elementary School, where Christopher will be a fifth-grader, helping students with reading and math on Monday afternoons.

An avid gardener and cookbook collector, she took up making dolls at the Porcelain Doll Shop in Penn Hills two years ago.

"I love doing that and have made about 12 dolls so far," she said. "I've started giving them away as presents because I ran out of storage space."

Because of her husband's job as regional director of finance for Clear Channel Entertainment (formerly DiCesare Engler), they get to enjoy all the concerts at Mellon Arena.

(Besides Marmalade Chicken, Mary's other Countdown recipes have included Angel Hair with Tomatoes and Herbs, Quick Vegetable Beef Soup, Honey Sweet Marinated Chicken Breasts, Quick Bean and Bacon Soup and BBQ Chicken Pizza.)

Greek Pasta

2 (14.5-ounce) cans Italian-style diced tomatoes
1 (19-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
10 ounces fresh spinach, washed and chopped (optional)
8 ounces penne pasta
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until done.

Combine tomatoes and beans in a large non-stick skillet. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Add spinach (we used half a 10-ounce bag) and cook for 2 minutes or until spinach wilts, stirring constantly.

Pour sauce over pasta, and sprinkle generously with feta.

Tester's note: This dish can easily be turned into an elegant entree with the addition of 1/2 pound each of shrimp and scallops.

Do you have an entree, salad or vegetable side dish recipe (no desserts, please!) that can be made in 30 minutes or less from six ingredients or fewer (not counting water, salt and pepper)? Share it with Countdown to Dinner.

The PG tests all recipes and if we select your recipe for publication, you'll receive a free selection from our cookbook grab bag of current releases.

Send your recipe to Countdown to Dinner, Post-Gazette Food, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222, or fax to 412-263-1313. Please include your name, neighborhood and daytime phone number. Or e-mail to: nanderson@post-gazette.com Questions? Call 412-263-1760.

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