It's time to take another look at store brands. When we did a side-by-side comparison of canned tomatoes several years ago, the national brands won hands down. Not anymore!

Supermarket chains have improved the quality of the products and packaging of store brands to the point that they're now generally referred to as "private-label products." And while the Private Label Manufacturers Association says they generally cost 5 percent to 20 percent less than name-brand products, we've seen savings as much as 25 percent.

In today's economy, a savings of even 5 percent feels substantial, and lots of people are giving store brands a try. Kroger, the biggest U.S. grocery-store chain, says 27 percent of its sales come from private-label products. Some stores have introduced a second, "premier" house line, and even fancy gourmet-type groceries offer private-label brands.

You're likely to find the largest selection of store brands on the canned-tomato aisle. Even at a smaller Harris Teeter in Raleigh, the selection of canned-tomato varieties and brands stretches at least 10 feet.

Today's recipe for Fire-Roasted Tomatoes and Chicken Over Ziti uses canned tomatoes, and if you don't happen to find fire-roasted ones, regular diced works great, too. We experimented with several private labels and national brands, and were equally satisfied. We'd love to hear about your experiences with these products — either positive or negative. E-mail your comments to For another flexible canned tomato-based recipe, visit

Fire-Roasted Tomatoes and Chicken Over Ziti

Yield: 4 servings

Start to finish: 20 minutes


8 ounces ziti pasta

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken-breast halves

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup diced onions

6 ounces already-sliced button mushrooms

Salt and black pepper to taste

1 teaspoon bottled minced garlic

1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning

1 can (14 1/2 ounces) fire-roasted diced tomatoes

1/4 cup dry white wine, optional (see cook's note)

Parmesan cheese, optional garnish


Cook's note: Wine adds body and zest to the sauce, but if you don't have any, leave it out.

Cook the pasta according to package directions.

Cut chicken into roughly 1/2-inch chunks. Heat oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion, mushrooms and chicken. Salt and pepper lightly. Cook, stirring occasionally, until chicken is no longer pink, about 6 minutes.

Add the garlic and Italian seasoning. Cook and stir for 30 seconds. Add tomatoes with juices and wine (if using). Bring to a boil. Boil, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thick, about 5 minutes. Serve over hot, drained pasta, topping with Parmesan cheese if desired.

Approximate values per serving: 421 calories (17 percent from fat), 8g fat (2g saturated), 66mg cholesterol, 34.5g protein, 52.5g carbohydrates, 4g dietary fiber, 292mg sodium.

Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross are co-authors of "Desperation Dinners!" (Workman, 1997), "Desperation Entertaining!" (Workman, 2002) and "Cheap. Fast. Good!" (Workman, 2006). Contact them at Desperation Dinners, c/o United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016. Or visit the Desperation Dinners Web site at