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Michael Angelo's Italian-Style Pies

Chicken Sausage & Spinach and Beef & Vegetable Gnocchi

Michael Angelo's has a really good track record here at Dr. Gourmet. Their pastas are always flavorful and even their "Pocket Calzones" (read: Hot Pockets) are surprisingly good. Yet it's been a while since we've been able to review anything from them - they have a limited line of foods and we've covered pretty much everything that meet our criteria for frozen meals.

So of course I was pleased to find some new varieties - so new, in fact, that they don't even have these varieties listed on their Web site. They can only be cooked in the oven, which I didn't realize until I got them home.

Michael Angelo's Chicken Sausage & Spinach PieUpon sliding our two varieties out of their respective boxes, I was a little disappointed. The boxes these meals come in are 7 inches long and about 5 inches tall as they stand on the shelf in the grocery store. The meal itself, however, is only 4 and a half inches across. A little misleading - and it explains how both meals are under 310 calories.

After 35 minutes in a 350° oven, however, they smell great. They're "Italian-Style Pies," but what that really means is that they have a whole wheat crust over the top of the meal. The crust is billed as "whole wheat garlic" and it certainly is that - crisp on the top, a little chewy, good whole wheat and light garlic flavor. They even have actual spices sprinkled on the crust.

First, the Chicken Sausage & Spinach. This has a good, thick cream sauce with a nice hit of garlic to it, and the chicken sausage is, I must say, excellent. This is Italian sausage to make any Italian sausage-lover happy. It's been crumbled so that it's distributed throughout the meal, mixing well with the spinach, which also retains a good spinachy flavor - it's not cooked to death.

Michael Angelo's Beef & Vegetable Gnocchi PieWhat I did find a little surprising were the gnocchi, which are in both varieties we tested today. They're very good for frozen gnocchi: soft and not too chewy, good potato flavor, I have no complaints. But why are they in these meals when there's already a starch component in the whole wheat crust? In all, there's maybe two-thirds of a cup of filling, with half that volume taken up by gnocchi. Too bad - the sausage and spinach in the cream sauce is really good and more would be even better. The numbers here are pretty good: 310 calories, 600 milligrams of sodium (not too bad for a frozen meal), with 5 grams of fiber.

The Beef & Vegetable Gnocchi is just that, and that's just fine. The same whole wheat crust appears here but is a little softer due to the more liquid broth inside. The beef has a good flavor and appears in actual chunks - and I didn't find any gristle, which is sometimes the case with frozen beef products. (Manufacturers seem to try to get away with the cheapest beef they can get. Not so with Michael Angelo's, apparently.) The vegetables - broccoli, carrots and peas - have a bright and assertive flavor and overall the dish doesn't taste too salty (it has 540 milligrams of sodium with 300 calories and 6 grams of fiber). The gnocchi are the same as in the chicken dish, and again I wish there were no gnocchi and more filling. Aside from that quibble, another good dish.

Both of these are definitely something to keep in the freezer for those nights you're too tired to cook, but have 35 minutes to bake something. Serve it with a salad to round out the meal.

Reviewed: February 25, 2011