Put time into dinner now, and you can make it last forever -- or at least the whole week. Welcome to Halfway to Dinner, where we show you how to stretch your staples every which way.
This is what my life looks like:
I spend my weekdays dreaming of the things I'll make on the weekend: the corn I'll buy at the farmer's market and then butter or shave or char, the peaches I'll bake into oat-y, toast-y crumbles, the salads I'll toss and the breads that I'll bake. Sometimes, these things happen. But when Sunday night gets darker, and the week starts looming ahead, and the prospect of feeding myself for a week seems daunting -- not dreamy -- I turn to my pantry. I turn to tomatoes.
I take 3 (or more!) cans of tomatoes off the shelf, and I empty them into a pot. (In the summer, you can use fresh tomatoes, too.) I peel an onion, slice it in half, and I throw it in. Sometimes, I add half a stick of butter. And then I let Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter burble away on the stove as I lay on my couch with my feet up and watch mind-numbing television, preparing myself for the week ahead. I let that pot of sauce -- that elixir -- sustain me until the weekend comes again.
Here's what I do with all of it.
Coat long slices of eggplant in flour, bake, and then layer them with your sauce and with a ton of Parm. Add a thick ribbon of mozzarella in the middle. Bake it, and then throw a dinner party on a weeknight. (You can also make this a night ahead, and re-warm before serving.)
Poached eggs for dinner is fine. Poached eggs in tomato sauce for dinner is awesome. Sauté whatever vegetables and spices you're in the mood for -- I use onion, red peppers, red chili flakes, and cumin -- and then add your tomato sauce. Once it's all heated through, crack your eggs into it, cover, and simmer until the whites are set and the yolks are runny. Top it all with tons of salt and black pepper. Eat with a loaf of bread.
Brown some chicken thighs on the stove, then take them out of your pan. Add some garlic, some stock or white wine, and your sauce to that same pot, bring it all up to a simmer, and then add your thighs back in. Cook until the chicken is tender, about a half hour. Eat like a queen.
Meatballs on a weeknight sounds fussy. But when you have your sauce ready, they're fantastically, mind-numbingly simple. Dump some meat, cheese, eggs, and herbs into a bowl, moisten the whole mess with some milk or some water, shape into balls, and then braise them in the your sauce. Boil up some pasta while you're at it. Invite some friends over. Open a bottle of Chianti.
More: Make any meatball you want with How to Many Any Meatballs in 5 Steps.
This is so easy it's almost embarrassing: heat up your sauce, thin it out with some water or stock or milk or cream, and pour it into a bowl. Garnish with some herbs, if you're feeling fancy. Eat a ridiculous amount of it. Maybe make a grilled cheese, too.
2 pounds fresh, ripe tomatoes or 2 cups canned imported Italian tomatoes, cut up, with their juice
5 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, peeled and cut in half
Salt to taste
Top 5 photos by James Ransom, bottom photo by Sarah Shatz