A package of pork chops, some ground beef, a whole chicken or two; these are the established regulars that get dumped into the shopping cart without much thought -- and are too often served with the same minimal effort. Yet, each can be the foundation for a main course of dinner-party quality.

After all, in these the days of casual entertaining, any dinner is a party -- any dinner that is home-cooked, that is. All it takes to take advantage of these market "regulars" is a pantry stocked with fresh herbs and spices, boxed durum wheat pasta and converted rice, and several condiments such as an exuberant chutney and pepper jelly, plus some well selected produce in the vegetable bin of your refrigerator.

Since most of us do not have the luxury of time to spend the whole day over a complex recipe, it's only natural to make a meal out of what you can readily find. If you keep your pantry and vegetable drawer well stocked, the pork chops, ground beef or chicken can be turned into an appealing meal.

At the top on the list of easy-to-find, high-quality main course items is the whole chicken, about 3 to 3 1/2 pounds, plump and fresh. Roasted, it takes well to many flavorings and stuffings (from corn-bread crumbs to couscous to rice to barley); cut up into eight serving pieces and browned, chicken can be simmered in fragrant broth-enriched liquids and reheated successfully.

Bone-in loin pork chops, cut up to an inch thick, can be browned quickly on each side, then returned to a casserole and nestled in a vegetable-dotted broth. Chops take well to the company of sliced apples, a blend of cranberry sauce and fresh sauerkraut (this is at once sweet and tangy), and virtually any kind of baby vegetable, especially carrots or turnips. A pilaf of rice, buckwheat groats or barley is a sensible partner to the chops; any of them mingles nicely with the sauce made from pan juices, absorbing the flavors as a relatively subtle side dish.

Good, flavorsome ground beef is a fine quick ingredient for casserole dishes, or "bakes." Some of the more attractive bakes are made with beef that has been browned lightly and added to tomato-based sauces, or turned into a meat sauce, then combined with a creamy sauce, folded into pasta and baked.

While the following recipes use the grocery store mainstays to their best advantage, it does help to have other ingredients on hand to make a special meal complete or to add to the success of the main course.

One luxurious item to have at hand all the time would be homemade broth, tucked away in small quantities in the freezer. There is nothing better than a sauce made from the reduction of pan juices, herbs, spices and broth. Fresh, not previously frozen, unsalted butter is also a pleasure to cook with and combines nicely with vegetable oil for browning meat and poultry.

Freshly ground pepper, too, will give your food a new level of flavor, and in relatively simple dishes, such as the Pan-Roasted Chicken With Lemon and Parsley that follows, it is crucial to the success of the dish.

Herewith, recipes that depend on old favorites and a good larder: RICE-STUFFED SWEET AND SPICY ROASTED CHICKEN (4 servings)

A combination of mango chutney, honey, soy sauce and chicken broth serves as the marinade and glaze for the chicken. Before cooking, the chicken is stuffed with a scallion-and-rice pilaf.

FOR THE MARINADE/GLAZE:

1/2 cup good-quality mango chutney

1/2 cup "light" or "gentle" soy sauce (any soy that is sodium-reduced)

1/2 cup plain clover honey

2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger, or 2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 cup chicken broth

Large pinch cayenne pepper, or to taste

3 1/2-pound whole chicken

FOR THE RICE STUFFING:

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 small bunch (about 6 to 7) scallions, white and light-green parts only, thinly sliced

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon converted white rice

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1 cup chicken broth

1/3 cup lightly toasted walnuts, chopped

2 tablespoons moist dried dark raisins, or currants

Combine all the ingredients for the glaze (except chicken) in a blender or food processor and mix until liquefied. Place the chicken in a nonmetallic bowl or plastic bag and pour in 1/3 of the mixture. Refrigerate the chicken and remaining glaze in a covered container; marinate for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

For the stuffing, melt the butter over low heat in a small casserole. Stir in the scallions and cook slowly for 3 minutes; stir in the rice and cook for 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Pour in the broth and bring to a low boil; cover and simmer for about 20 minutes or until all of the liquid has been absorbed. Remove from heat and let stand for 2 minutes. Stir in the walnuts and currants; cool to room temperature.

To roast the chicken, drain the chicken of the marinade. Stuff the chicken with the rice mixture; truss to enclose the stuffing area, legs and wings. Place the chicken on the middle rack of a 375-degree oven for 60 to 75 minutes or until the juices run clear when the thigh is pierced with a knife. Baste the chicken with the reserved glaze every 10 to 12 minutes; when the glaze runs out, baste with the pan liquid.

Remove the stuffing from the cavity of the bird, and keep warm. Let the chicken settle for 10 minutes, then carve into servings. PAN-ROASTED CHICKEN WITH LEMON AND PARSLEY (4 servings)

This is a light dish that is extraordinarily juicy and tender. It takes its vibrancy from freshly squeezed lemon juice, good unsalted butter and chopped garlic.

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

3-pound chicken cut up into 8 serving pieces, patted dry on paper toweling

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

7 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 cup finely chopped parsley leaves

1/4 cup dry white vermouth

1 cup good chicken broth

Juice of 2 small lemons

2 to 3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley leaves for garnish

Lemon wedges for garnish

Heat 3 tablespoons butter and the oil in a large skillet. A few at a time, brown the chicken pieces well in the hot fat; remove them to a side dish as they are browned and season with salt and pepper. Pour out the fat from the skillet; let the pan cool for 5 minutes.

Add the remaining butter to the skillet, stir in the garlic and cook slowly for 2 minutes (do not allow the garlic to brown). Stir in the parsley; pour in the vermouth and bring to a rapid simmer, scraping the bottom of the skillet to pick up any clinging bits. Pour in the chicken broth and lemon juice; return to a simmer.

Add the chicken pieces to the broth, baste with the liquid and bring to a rapid simmer. Cover the skillet and simmer the chicken for about 35 to 40 minutes, or until tender and cooked.

If the liquid in the skillet has not reduced to a light, syrupy consistency, remove the chicken and keep warm while you boil down the pan juices. Taste the pan sauce, and add salt and pepper as necessary.

Transfer the chicken pieces to a warm serving dish and spoon over the light sauce. Sprinkle the dish with parsley and garnish with lemon wedges.

Note: The dry vermouth may be omitted from the recipe; simply increase the amount of chicken broth to 1 1/4 cups, and pour in the broth all at once at the point in the recipe where you would add the vermouth. CHICKEN PANNED WITH SPICES (4 servings)

The flavors of cumin, paprika, oregano and coriander are sealed into the chicken while the pieces are being saute'ed; later, the chicken is cooked to a finish in a turmeric-touched chicken broth. Garnish the chicken with long threads of scallions or a big handful of fresh coriander leaves, both zesty and bright tasting.

8 tablespoons olive oil

3 1/2-pound whole chicken, cut up into 8 serving pieces, patted dry on paper toweling

1 tablespoon oregano blended with 2 teaspoons cumin, 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon bay leaf, 1 tablespoon sweet paprika, 1 teaspoon coriander, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric and 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 cups chicken broth

1/4 cup fresh coriander leaves or 1/2 cup scallion strands for garnish

Heat 5 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet or in a small dutch oven. Several pieces at a time, dredge the chicken in the herb-and-spice mixture until coated on both sides, and brown in the hot oil. Remove the chicken pieces to a side dish.

Add the remaining 3 tablespoons oil to the skillet; stir in the onion and garlic and cook slowly for 5 minutes. Pour in the broth and bring to a boil, scraping the bits from the bottom of the pan. Return the chicken pieces to the pot and baste with the broth; bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer the chicken for about 35 to 40 minutes, or until tender.

Transfer the chicken to a heated platter, pour over the pan juices and scatter over the coriander or scallion strands. PORK CHOPS WITH BABY CARROTS (4 to 6 servings)

Small carrots, available bagged or by the miniature bunch, take well to being simmered along with pork chops in this uncomplicated dish. The carrots turn glazed-over from the broth and, if they are carefully trimmed, look pretty on the plate scattered over the chops.

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

6 loin pork chops, cut 3/4 inch thick

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 onion, finely chopped

3 shallots, finely chopped

2 tablespoons minced parsley leaves

2 cups chicken broth

1 pound baby carrots, trimmed and scraped

2 tablespoons snipped fresh chives

Heat 3 tablespoons butter and the oil in a large skillet that can hold all the chops, overlapping. Pat dry the chops on paper toweling and brown them, in 2 batches, in the hot fat. Transfer them to a side dish as they are browned and season with salt and pepper.

Pour out the fat from the skillet and add the 5 tablespoons butter. Stir in the onions and shallots and cook slowly for 5 minutes, or until the onions are just soft. Stir in the parsley and chicken broth; bring to a boil. Add the chops and scatter over the carrots; baste the chops with the broth and bring to the simmer. Cover and simmer for 18 to 20 minutes or until the chops are cooked through. Stir through the chives.

Transfer the chops and carrots to a heated platter or to individual warmed plates and moisten with spoonfuls of the pan juices. Serve very hot. PORK CHOPS WITH APPLES AND RAISINS (4 to 6 servings)

The apples contribute a moistness and fruity taste to the pork, which is uplifted by a small amount of maple syrup; the syrup makes the pan juices glossy. Half a cup of unfiltered and unsweetened apple cider can replace 1/2 cup of the chicken broth if you'd like a more fully developed apple taste.

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

6 loin pork chops, cut 3/4 inch thick

1 onion, finely chopped

2 cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/3-inch thick slices

1 cup chicken broth

2 tablespoons maple syrup (liquid brown sugar may be substituted)

2 tablespoons dark seeded raisins

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

About 3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley leaves

Heat 3 tablespoons butter and the oil in a large skillet that can later hold all of the pork chops, slightly overlapping. Pat the chops dry and brown them in the hot fat on both sides in 2 batches. Remove them to a side dish.

Pour out the fat from the skillet and add the 3 remaining tablespoons butter. Add the onion and cook slowly until softened, about 5 to 6 minutes; add the apples and stir-cook for 2 minutes. Add the broth, maple syrup, and raisins; season with salt and pepper. Bring the contents of the skillet to a rapid simmer, add the pork chops, cover and simmer for 18 to 20 minutes or until the chops are cooked through. Turn the chops over halfway through the cooking time.

If the pan liquid has not condensed slightly, remove the chops and keep them warm while you boil down the sauce until very lightly thickened. Add additional salt and pepper, to taste.

Transfer the pork chops to a heated platter or to individual warmed plates and spoon over the apple mixture. Sprinkle the chopped parsley over the top and serve hot. PORK CHOPS WITH SAUERKRAUT AND CRANBERRIES (4 to 6 servings)

The sweetness of the cranberry relish refreshes and smooths out the taste of the sauerkraut, and both add great flavor to the pork chops.

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/2 cup all-purpose flour, spread out on a dinner plate (approximately)

6 loin pork chops, cut 3/4 inch thick

Freshly ground pepper to taste

1 onion, finely chopped

1 cup cranberry sauce, preferably homemade and sweet-tart

1 cup chicken broth

2 cups sauerkraut, drained well

About 3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley leaves, for sprinkling

Heat 3 tablespoons butter and the oil in a large skillet that can accommodate the pork chops, slightly overlapping. Put the flour near the skillet, and dredge the pork chops one at a time in the flour and brown them in batches in the hot fat; remove the chops to a side dish and season with pepper.

Pour out all the fat from the skillet and add 3 tablespoons butter. Stir in the onion and cook slowly for 5 minutes; stir in the cranberry sauce, chicken broth and sauerkraut. Nestle the pork chops amid the sauerkraut and baste with the pan liquid. Bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 18 to 20 minutes, or until the chops are cooked through, turning them halfway through the cooking time.

Transfer the chops to a heated platter or individual warmed plates and spoon over the sauerkraut-cranberry mixture. Scatter chopped parsley over the chops and serve them piping hot. GROUND BEEF AND SPAGHETTI SQUASH BAKE (4 generous servings)

Once baked, the cooked insides of the squash scrape out into long spaghetti-like strands that are crunchy but not starchy. This bake can be doubled easily for a large group of eaters: The browned ground beef is tossed in a portion of tomato sauce and several kinds of cheeses before it is combined with the squash; for a single recipe, you'll need a 2-quart ovenproof casserole, and for a double recipe, two 2-quart casseroles.

1 1/2 pounds spaghetti squash

2 onions, finely chopped

3 small garlic cloves, minced

6 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 pound ground beef

10-ounce tin canned plum tomatoes, chopped, with their juice

1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

3 tablespoons minced fresh basil leaves, or 1 teaspoon dried basil

3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 cup ricotta cheese

1/2 cup mozzarella cheese

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

1/2 cup bread crumbs

Bake the spaghetti squash on a cookie sheet in a 350-degree oven for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours or until tender when pierced with a toothpick or skewer. Cool, then halve, and carefully scoop away all seeds. With a fork, scrape the flesh from side to side in long strands into a bowl; set aside.

While the squash is baking, place the onions, garlic, olive oil, and butter into a large skillet. Cook the onions over moderately low heat for 5 to 6 minutes or until just tender. Crumble over the ground beef, raise the heat to moderately high, and brown it, stirring, until the raw red color disappears. Stir in the plum tomatoes, oregano, thmye, basil, parsley, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer; simmer 10 minutes. Cool 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, mix together lightly the spaghetti squash, ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan and ground beef-tomato mixture. Sprinkle over the bread crumbs and fold them in. Spoon the mixture into a lightly oiled 2-quart casserole (round, oval, or rectangular) and bake in a 375-degree oven for about 50 minutes, or until bubbling. Serve directly from the casserole.

Variation: An extra 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese may be sprinkled on top of the casserole before baking. This gives the bake a finished top, and the extra cheese tastes good. MEATBALLS IN TOMATO-PINE NUT SAUCE (4 servings)

These are tender little meatballs, simmered in a very quick tomato sauce thickened a bit by finely chopped toasted pine nuts. Serve the meatballs with rice or buttered noodles.

FOR THE MEATBALLS:

1/2 cup soft white bread crumbs, made from good-quality home-style white bread

1/3 cup milk, at room temperature

1 onion, minced and saute'ed in 2 tablespoons olive oil, and cooled

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley leaves

1 extra-large egg

1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

1/2 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper to taste

1 pound ground beef

Vegetable oil

1 1/2 cup dry bread crumbs, approximately (these should be fine, not coarse)

FOR THE TOMATO SAUCE:

1 onion, finely chopped

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 garlic clove, minced

2 teaspoons tomato paste

2 tablespoons minced fresh basil leaves

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano leaves

10-ounce can plum tomatoes, chopped, with their juice

1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves

2 tablespoons chopped toasted pine nuts

For the meatballs: Put the soft bread crumbs in a bowl and pour over the milk; let stand for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the onion, parsley, egg, parmesan, salt and pepper; mix well with your hands. Add the ground beef and mix thoroughly to incorporate all of the ingredients. Carefully shape the meat mixture into even-sized round balls, about 1 inch in diameter.

Heat vegetable oil 1/2 inch deep in a 10-inch skillet. Roll the meatballs in the bread crumbs and, a batch at a time, brown them as evenly as possible in the hot oil; the meatballs must sizzle in the oil to brown properly. Remove the meatballs to a side dish as they are browned; set aside.

In a casserole that can accommodate all the meatballs in about 2 layers, place the onion and olive oil; cook over low heat for 5 to 6 minutes. Add the garlic; stir-cook for 1 minute. Stir in tomato paste, basil, oregano; stir-cook 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and parsley, stir and bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper; add the pine nuts. Simmer, uncovered, for 10 to 15 minutes or until lightly thickened. Add the meatballs, bring to a simmer, cover and simmer for about 25 minutes or until the meatballs are cooked through; correct the seasoning by adding salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the meatballs with baked rice or any type of noodle. PASTA AND BEEF BAKE (6 servings)

The meat sauce for the bake may be made up to three days in advance (or frozen for up to 1 month) and reheated, but the dish should be cooked as soon as it is put together. Wedges of this pasta dish are delicious when accompanied by a mixed vegetable salad and a loaf of crusty, chewy bread.

9 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive olive oil

1 small onion, chopped

1 rib celery, diced

1 carrot, diced

1 pound ground beef

1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

2 1/2 cups milk

1 cup beef broth

10-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, chopped, with their juice

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 pound tubular durum wheat pasta, such as rigatoni or penne, boiled until just firm to the bite, well drained

1 1/2 cups grated parmesan cheese

For the meat sauce: Heat 3 tablespoons butter and the olive oil in a heavy saucepan or casserole; stir in the onion and cook slowly for 5 minutes. Add the celery and carrot; cook for 2 minutes. Raise the heat to moderately high and crumble in the ground beef; stir-cook the beef for about 4 to 5 minutes, or until it loses its raw, red color; season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Pour in 1/2 cup milk and bring to a boil; boil slowly until the milk evaporates, about 6 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently. Pour in the broth and stir in the tomatoes; bring to a simmer. Cook at the lowest possible simmer, stirring every half-hour, for about 2 to 2 1/2 hours, until lightly thickened. Cool to room temperature. (Stash away in a covered container in the refrigerator or freezer if made ahead.)

For the cream sauce: Heat 4 tablespoons butter in the heaviest saucepan you own over very low heat; when the butter has melted, stir in the flour. Cook the butter and flour together for 2 minutes over low heat, but do not let the flour color at all. Off the heat, whisk in 2 cups scalded milk, pouring it in a thin stream. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Slowly bring to the boil, whisking all the while; continue to cook the sauce rapidly for 5 minutes.

Combine cream sauce, meat sauce, cooked pasta and 3/4 cup cheese over the top and dot with 2 tablespoons butter. Bake on the middle rack of a 375-degree oven for about 30 minutes, until mixture is set and top is golden. Let the bake settle for 5 minutes before serving.