It's the end of the long workday (or the start of an extra-long week) and we're hungry. Like, "can't-think-straight" hungry. Luckily, Food52 contributor EmilyC wants to do all the thinking for us. In Dinner's Ready, her monthly column on weeknight wonders, she shares three simple, flavor-packed recipes that are connected by a single idea or ingredient. Stick with Emily, and you'll have a good dinner on the table in no time. Today, Emily's favorite tool in the kitchen saves the day (and dinner).
Sheet-pan dinners are weeknight staples for so many of us, and for good reason: They’re simple, reliable paths from kitchen to table—no matter the night of the week, or what’s going on around us. They don’t require expensive equipment or precise techniques, and they’re riffable based on what’s on hand. Pile some combo of protein, vegetables, and starch on a sheet pan, slide it into a hot oven, and come back to a warm, satisfying meal.
In the winter, my sheet-pan dinners lean heavily on cozy mainstays, like caramelized sweet potatoes and butternut squash, spiced chickpeas, and crispy chicken thighs. But come spring, just as I’m shedding my wooly sweaters for cotton shirts, my sheet-pan style changes, too. This is precisely the time of year I turn to sheet-pan salads: In which one or more ingredients is cooked on a sheet pan, dressed before cooking, and tossed with just a few fresh ingredients (plus more dressing) right after the pan comes out of the oven.
This style of cooking feels particularly welcome right now as we’re hunkering down and looking for meals that are pantry-friendly, comforting, and nourishing—a kind of salve to the uncertainty around us. And below are three of my favorite, tried-and-true sheet-pan meals that have all of these traits in spades.
The greatest thing about these recipes is that they practically beg for improvisation. Don’t have any farro? Use another grain. Don’t have fresh citrus? Use vinegar instead. The same applies for herbs, spices, cheese, and even the starring protein, which can be easily changed up based on what you have on hand. They’re a low-stress, completely flexible way to approach dinner.
First up is this sheet-pan farro salad, which is essentially a snack plate turned into a warm, dinner-worthy meal. Combine cooked farro with chopped artichoke hearts and castelvetrano olives (or any jarred briny things in your pantry), thinly sliced salami, and a tangy red wine-anchovy vinaigrette.
But instead of mounding your salad into a serving bowl, spread it out on a half-sheet pan and slide it under the broiler. In just a few minutes, the farro gets toasty, the salami starts to crisp and render its fat, the olives and artichokes get a little charred in spots, and the flavor of the vinaigrette deepens. Add a few fresh ingredients, if you have them (cherry tomatoes, crumbled provolone, and arugula are my favorites) when the pan comes out of the oven for even more texture, color, and flavor. It'll make you wonder why you haven't been toasting your grain salads under the broiler all along.
This sheet-pan salad is a perfect example of how to transform roasted vegetables (in this case, broccoli) into an entirely new dinner. Inspired by taco salad, it combines crispy bits of Mexican-style chorizo with roasted fresh broccoli (though frozen works great, too!) and olives—and then out of the oven, a few fresh toppings. Two of my go-tos are crumbled cotija cheese and sour cream, but feel free to customize the accoutrements however you like.
But the star of the pan—the thing that’ll keep you coming back for seconds or thirds? The tortilla chip gremolata: a mix of crushed tortilla chips, sliced scallions, cilantro, and lime zest. This take on gremolata—an Italian condiment traditionally made with chopped parsley, garlic, and lemon zest—was a lightbulb moment I had after the Super Bowl when I had tons of tortilla chips leftover from nacho-making. It not only boosts the flavor and texture of the salad, it’s the perfect excuse to have chips for dinner (you’re welcome).
Ever since trying this salad, courtesy of ABC Kitchen in New York City, years ago, I’ve been a big fan of the combination of roasted carrots and avocado—so I created a hearty springtime meal around this duo, plus boneless chicken thighs. First, I slice the carrots thinly along the bias so they’ll cook at the same rate as the chicken thighs and slices of red onion. Second, I toss all of these components into the same marinade—a simple, flavor-packed mix of za’atar, honey, lemon zest, and olive oil.
While they roast, there’s plenty of time to slice an avocado, wash and dry some greens, and mix together crumbled feta with crushed pistachios and a drizzle of olive oil. (This last step is one of my favorite tricks for making feta and other soft cheeses a texturally more cohesive part of salads.) From there, it’s all about tossing everything together and admiring your beautiful creation before digging in.