Adding zest, and ease, to daily family dinners _ ottawa citizen

With a graduate degree in politics, Val Iannitti had no trouble managing international development projects with staff spread across four African countries. Emeril italian sausage recipe And when her husband’s job took them to Abu Dhabi, she sailed through getting an MBA, with honours, at the same time as having two babies.

So, a year ago, Iannitti began applying her MBA know-how to the problem of planning daily dinners. Spicy italian turkey sausage recipe After 12 months of research and pilot projects, her new company, Zestible, was born in June.

“Food comes really naturally to me,” says Iannitti, who grew up in Ottawa. Recipe italian sausage “I come from an Italian family where food was the centre of our lives. Italian sausage pasta recipe food network But it’s so hard to do all the planning and preparation and to get dinner on the table quickly every day.”

With Zestible, you go online to choose individual dinners or a “pod” of two to four meals. Best italian sausage recipe You can also order add-ons such as fresh bread, an extra cooked chicken breast or the frozen ingredients ready to whirl into a smoothie. Italian sausage recipe with pasta You order by Thursday noon and by the next Tuesday, an insulated chilled bag containing all the ingredients and recipes for the week is delivered to your door.

“Zestible is a meal-planning service, but it’s so much more than that — it’s meant to be a family saver,” says Iannitti. Homemade mild italian sausage recipe “The service is about getting people back into the kitchen and cooking, but it saves you a ton of time since you’re not having to plan or shop or prep your meals.”

What differentiates Zestible from some similar services is that most of the cooking had been done in advance, but fresh ingredients are always included for last-minute steps.

Order the chicken tacos, for example, and the chicken breasts have already been cooked sous-vide to juicy, pink perfection and the mango for the salsa has already been peeled, chopped and seasoned with olive oil and cumin.

It took me just 10 minutes to slice and sauté the chicken, heat the tortillas, and complete the lively salsa by chopping the provided fresh cilantro, green onions and radishes and zesting and juicing two limes. Italian pork sausage recipe (The delicious smoothie I ordered also involved zesting and juicing a lime — Zestible foods really are zesty.)

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed having almost-ready meals on hand. Italian sausage pasta recipes food network On a busy Saturday, I reached into the fridge and had a delicious smoked trout salad with fennel and white beans ready in minutes. Johnsonville mild italian sausage recipes While it was billed as serving two, there was plenty for three light meals.

I also enjoyed being nudged to make dishes out of my usual repertoire. Recipe using italian sausage and pasta I make smoothies, but hadn’t tried including chia seeds, hemp hearts, frozen peaches and coconut milk, and loved the Zestible one. Ground mild italian sausage recipe I’ve made blue cheese burgers, but not thought to put peach Sriracha jam on top. Beef italian sausage recipe I was impressed with the recipes, all developed by Ottawa chef Eva Bee.

Clearly, help with home meals is a trend whose time has come. In the time that it took Iannitti to get her company up and running, two similar companies — one based in Montreal and another from Toronto — moved into the Ottawa market, then, on June 21, a global company based in Berlin called Hello Fresh launched across Ontario, including in Ottawa.

Iannitti didn’t anticipate the onslaught of so much competition just as she began her business, but hopes that Zestible’s special features will set her business apart.

“We offer things that others do not,” she says. Baked italian sausage recipe “For one thing, we do not force a subscription. Italian sausage soup recipes Second, we offer a choice of meals. Italian sausage zucchini pasta recipes Third, we offer vegetarian options. Italian turkey sausage recipe Finally, none of the competition offers the preparation that we do. Recipe ground italian sausage We sous-vide our meats and chop the veggies.”

And while most companies will, by necessity, pick up ingredients in the markets they serve, Iannitti stresses that hers is a truly local company.

“We support local farms and are run by local women.” She gets greens from Rideau Pines Farm near North Gower, tomatoes and cucumbers from Suntech near Manotick, meats from Lavergne near Navan, fish from Whalesbone and eggs from Bekings near Oxford Station.

“We really wanted to make a high-quality, fresh product,” says Iannitti. Italian sausage bow tie pasta recipe “We’ve developed 60 to 80 recipes for beautiful meals, many of which you couldn’t make in a day, but because we’ve done so much of the prep, you can make them in half an hour or less.”

What: A new Ottawa-based meal planning, shopping and prep service. Italian sausage pasta recipes Each dish’s ingredients are packaged up in individual bags and your whole order is delivered in an insulated bag lined with a large reuseable ice pack. Italian sausage recipes food network Recipes with step-by-step photos are printed on cardboard pages.

How much: Meals range from $9 to $17 per serving; a marinated cooked chicken breast is $4.50. Italian sausage soup recipe olive garden Delivery is free in the core; $9 for outlying areas.

We asked Val Iannitti to share a recipe from her new service that readers could make at home from scratch (as a result, it’s more labour-intensive than most Zestible meals). Sweet italian sausage soup recipe If you order this dish from Zestible, the aioli will arrive already prepared, but the recipe is adapted so readers can mince garlic and stir it into their favourite mayonnaise. Potato and italian sausage recipe This dish will be featured on the Zestible menu next week, with orders accepted until Thursday at noon.

2. Italian sausage meat recipe Cut the tips off both ends of the green beans. Italian sausage recipe ideas Blanch in a large pot of boiling salted water until they turn bright green (about 3 minutes). Italian sausage skillet recipe Drain when tender.

3. Hot italian turkey sausage recipe Place blanched beans, cherry tomatoes and olives in a bowl. Italian sausage recipe homemade Pick the basil leaves from the stems and add to the bowl. Pasta with italian sausage recipe Toss with 2 tbsp (30 mL) olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper.

4. Spaghetti italian sausage recipe Give the salmon a quick wash under a tap and pat dry with a paper towel. Homemade italian sausage recipe Squeeze juice of half a lemon over salmon and season both sides with salt and pepper.

5. Sausage italian recipe Lay salmon steaks on one side of the prepared pan and drizzle with a bit more olive oil. Italian sausage pasta recipe Spread out the anchovies on the other side of the tray, place the bean-tomato-olive mixture on top of the anchovies.

8. Italian sausage hoagie recipe To serve: Place a bed of arugula on each plate. Italian sausage recipe food network Top with salmon and roasted vegetables. Italian sausage recipe with rice Garnish with crispy baked basil leaves. Italian sausage pasta recipe white sauce Serve with garlic mayo and lemon wedges.