Does following a recipe to its completion feel like a Herculean task?
...Yes? Me, too.
For desperate times and hungry times—and desperately hungry times—break overwhelming recipes into their constituent parts. While the 12 dinners (and 2 desserts) below might seem complicated, they each have a simpler, more manageable component that you can pull out, prepare quickly, and use creatively.
For the following recipes, here's what you should skip, what you should make, and how you should use it after:
Make: the cheese- and panko-crusted chicken tenders.
Skip: the pesto and the caponata. Lay the tenders over a green salad or tuck them into a baguette with roasted red peppers, smeared with your favorite dressing (or some butter mixed with roasted garlic).
Or, hey! Slather that sandwich with an any-season pesto made, primarily, from spinach and dried basil, from the recipe below:
Skip: the soup (but save it for another day).
Make: the pesto in the food processor, then mix it with linguine or farro or save it for marinating or topping salmon or chicken throughout the week.
Skip: either one of the two components.
Make: the dumplings—mixed from frozen spinach, chickpea flour, onion, chile, and lots of spice—then nestle them into a pita spread with plain yogurt; or the buttermilk-based, turmeric-colored stew—add a can of beans or cooked and shredded chicken for substance.
Skip: the pasta.
Make: the "slow-cooked" (it only takes 20 minutes!) cauliflower-garlic-anchovy sauce. Spoon it over toasted bread or add it to a frittata. Or put it anywhere you'd put Marcella Hazan's smothered cabbage.
Skip: the squash.
Make: the farro salad, adding in any leftover nuts in your pantry and greens in your fridge.
Skip: the filet mignon (...as if we had to say that).
Make: the ricotta gnocchi—they aren't as prone to toughness as the potato kind (and they don't require any food mills or potato ricers)—as well as the mushroom brown butter sauce. The dough has to sit in the fridge for at least 45 minutes, so consider mixing it up one night and shaping and boiling the dumplings the next. (Leftover sauce? Use it to coat a pan before you fry eggs.)
Skip: the pasta.
Make: the broccoli rabe and white bean sauce (instead of adding the rabe to the pasta water, just blanch it on its own). If you can't find broccoli rabe, use kale or mustard greens.
Skip: the toast.
Make: the squash, onion, apple cider vinegar, and maple syrup mixture. Eat it over top of brown rice or on top a pile of sturdy greens (which the hot squash will help to wilt). Or, with a spoon.
Skip: the potatoes.
Make: the Buffalo chicken. When you don't have time to cook potatoes, slice them in half, scoop out their flesh, fill them with chicken you've tossed in cornstarch and pan-fried, and send back into the oven... cut to the
chase chicken. Eat the chicken over a puddle of the blue cheese and sour cream mixture.
Skip: the pasta.
Make: the fantasy sauce. A combination of sautéed bacon, leeks, and onion with wilted spinach and plenty of butter, cream, and white wine, ladle it onto anything else you're eating for dinner: cooked greens, roasted chicken, a piece of bread, a bowl of savory oats...
Skip: the noodles and the vegetables.
Make: the ponzu dressing. Keep it in your refrigerator throughout the week to add some excitement to a bowl of rice or baked tofu. Drizzle it over nearly-roasted carrots, then send them back into the oven for just a couple of minutes to concentrate the flavor. Or make a ponzu pool in a shallow bowl and drop in roasted shrimp.
Skip: the cauliflower.
Make: the meatballs (they're broiled in the oven, so no messy pan-frying) and the tahini-yogurt sauce.
Skip: the cake.
Make: the roasted pears. Spoon them into your morning oatmeal or bowl of yogurt. Or top with a quick streusel made from butter, flour, oats, brown sugar, and chopped nuts. Send into the oven—impromptu fruit crumble.
Skip: the banana ice cream (but promise us you'll make it later!).
Make: the chocolate-date cake. Ice cream cake assumes a tolerance for delayed gratification that most of us don't have on weeknights. So go for the cake, which is gooey and caramelly from Medjool dates and bitter and rich from dark chocolate. If you must have ice cream (and you must!) buy a pint at the store.