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 shows us what to cook if you don't feel like cooking anything (and still eat well).
Suffice it to say, people everywhere are cooking differently (and most of us more) than ever before. We’re stretching our pantry items, creating meal plans (even if we never relied on them in the past), and stocking and cooking from the depths of our freezers. We’re turning to foods that bring us comfort, whether freshly baked bread, big pots of beans, or cakes that do double duty as dessert and breakfast.
Until starting to shelter-in-place almost eight weeks ago, I really didn’t have a firm grasp on just how much food it takes to feed my family of four (including my ravenous 10-year old son) a full three meals per day, seven days a week. Nor did I comprehend the number of dishes we’d be washing on a daily basis. So many dishes.
What has surprised me, though, is how much more I want simple, speedy meals during the week—the kind that are on the table in 15 to 20 minutes. Back in March, I had grand ideas of tackling more ambitious dinner recipes (the kind typically reserved for company, or a lazy Sunday) using the time I’d normally spend commuting, or shuttling my kids to soccer practice. But reality quickly set in. After full days of remote work and home schooling (or some semblance of it), comfort for me lies in meals that don't require much mental energy, long ingredient lists, or time to execute, yet still deliver big on flavor. (And ones which don’t dirty many dishes, of course.)
Below are three simple, adaptable meals that I’ve turned to multiple times over the last few weeks for lunches and dinners alike. Each one comes together in under 20 minutes and leans heavily on pantry ingredients, with one or two spring vegetables for good measure. (And for more on making your produce last a little longer, take a peek at this article.) The recipes are easily scalable depending on how many people you’re feeding (and their appetites). To make improvising easier, I’ve broken each recipe down into basic formulas, and included ideas for ingredient substitutions.
This dish—with its saucy noodles, tuna, and crunchy, spicy crumbs—is basically tuna noodle casserole, reimagined. It’s simple and speedy enough that you can prep ingredients as you cook: Make the miso-ginger dressing while bringing a pot of water to a boil, add the noodles (soba, udon, even spaghetti), and while they’re going, toast a mix of panko, sesame seeds and chile flakes. To finish the dish, toss the warm noodles with the dressing, tuna, and a handful of greens, then top with the nutty, toasty crumbs. It’s calm and comfort, brightness and freshness, all in one bowl.
noodles + canned fish (optional) + umami-rich dressing + leafy greens + crunchy topping
- Noodles: soba, udon, ramen, spaghetti, linguine
- Canned fish: tuna or salmon, or leftover fish or chicken cut into small pieces
- Umami-rich dressing: miso-ginger or your favorite soy-based purchased dressing
- Leafy greens: spinach, arugula, kale, parsley, cilantro
- Crunchy topping: panko breadcrumbs and/or sesame seeds, furikake, gomashio
When infused with brown butter and sumac (or another spice), grains and small pastas take on a whole new person. Just try it with farro, quinoa, or orzo! My favorite way that I’ve been employing this technique? Quicker-than-quick, supremely satisfying instant couscous. To this, I add any fresh produce on hand. Lately, I’ve been turning to a mix of sauteed and raw radishes (an ode to my love of radishes and butter), a handful of fresh greens or herbs, lemon juice, and a mix of feta, toasted almonds, and dried currants. But I’ve also made this dish with sauteed carrot coins, broccoli, and other vegetables that need rescuing from my crisper drawer, as well as different combinations of cheese, nuts, and dried fruit. It totally hits the spot every single time.
Grains or small pasta + butter + spice + mix-ins + sauteed and/or fresh vegetables
- Grains or small pasta: instant couscous, pearl couscous, fregola, quinoa, farro, orzo
- Spice: sumac, paprika, za’atar, lemon pepper, garam masala, Aleppo pepper
- Mix-ins: cheese (feta, chèvre, torn mozzarella, shaved aged cheddar); nuts (almonds, pistachios, pine nuts, walnuts); dried fruit (currants, raisins, chopped figs, dates, or apricots)
- Sauteéd and/or fresh vegetables: radishes, asparagus, thin carrot coins, sugar snap peas, thinly sliced fennel, Swiss chard
There’s a lot to love about this simple, boldly flavored meal: It’s cooked in one skillet and ready lickedly-split. It combines asparagus with fried, runny eggs, a tried-and-true pairing that never, ever gets old. It’s crowned with sizzled paprika croutons: irregularly torn pieces of bread cooked in plenty of fat and smoked paprika until crispy on the outside, still soft on the inside. The finished dish is far greater than the sum of its parts. Be warned that you may find yourself eating the smoky, crunchy croutons straight from the pan before dinner ever makes it to the table.
Bread + spice + eggs + sauteed vegetable
- Bread: any type of day-old crusty bread or sourdough
- Spice: paprika (smoked, sweet or hot), sumac, turmeric, garam masala, za’atar, chile powder
- Eggs: Fried or soft-cooked (or I’ve substituted white beans—also good!)
- Sauteéd vegetables: Asparagus, thinly sliced broccoli, sugar snap or snow peas, kale or other leafy greens