Jenny is in perpetual search for easy, weeknight recipes to attempt to feed her family. When they balk, she just eats more.
Today, we're re-running one of our favorite old Jenny columns while she works on finishing her new book, with a new photo to boot!
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Let’s start by rejecting, at least in part, the central tenets of weeknight cooking that have been drilled into our collective heads since the day we unwrapped our first Calphalon pan. (I never liked that pan, by the way; it was too heavy and such a pain to wash that cleaning it once involved a bruise, but I was told that married people own Calphalon. You see? Rules can lead to undue harm!)
Weeknight recipes, we have been told, must be extremely easy, produce results in less than 30 minutes and generally speaking be free of garnishes. There is logic there –- a Tuesday night is no time for most working people to reduce a sauce, and children, should they be part of your table, do not react favorably to the words “just another hour” with regard to a roast. True enough, ingredients and pots should be kept to a minimum.
But to me, the best dishes for mid-week are those with which you have become mildly obsessed, and through that obsession have mastered over time, or at least learned to make without squinting at the recipe 20 times.
They are dishes for which opening a can when something is out of season will not cause substantial ruin, and that with an extra this or that can be fancied up when some unexpected guest arrives pretending to be surprised that it is the dinner hour.
The latest addition to my list is fisheri’s Down and Dirty Pasta e Ceci. In the spirit of full disclosure I confess that I first looked at this recipe because fisheri is a colleague and friend. While I knew him for years as a take-out burrito guy, he had spent some part of the last decade living in Rome, where he learned to cook, and frankly I wanted to see what he had.
Let me say that English is fisheri’s first language, even though his recipes can sometimes sound translated. When he calls for “half a packet” of pasta, he means half a pound. He has been known to list a “glass of wine” in others, an arbitrary measure if there ever was one, its size linked to what sort of day one has had, and whether or not it contained an encounter with Time Warner cable.
But this recipe is a winner, and perfect for a weeknight dinner. Most importantly, it contains ingredients that should almost certainly already be in your larder. One exception may be high-quality anchovies, but that is an omission you should have corrected months ago anyway. Next in importance is its relative ease.
What we are talking about here is pasta and chickpeas cooked in a small amount of liquid, seasoned with rosemary and anchovies, all melted together into a sea of hearty, slightly salty goodness. Thrown into the mix, but in no way intruding on your chickpeas and anchovies -- the Fred and Ginger of this dish -- are some chopped up tomatoes.
As you will see in reading the recipe, you are basically pouring and stirring. Chopping is limited to the tomatoes, anchovies, which put up no resistance, and some garlic, which is better than onions on any night.
Like everything, it benefits from the freshest ingredients you can find, and the best cheese. But I once longed for it on a December evening at 7:00 P.M., and so canned tomatoes had to do. Yeah, my rosemary was from Von’s, its lack of freshness made all the more bitter by the fact that it took me 25 seconds to procure it, but then 20 minutes to pay for it, which I thought defeated the whole point of a 15-items-or-less aisle, and plus I was really hungry, but I digress.
The result of that particular effort was a more tomato-y sauce (I probably should have drained them) so I reduced my stock to adjust. Sometimes I think it needs a kick, so red pepper flakes are added. Sometimes I feel the world is against me, so I shave on a lot more cheese.
Like every recipe that becomes part of the weeknight rotation, some nights it turns out better than others, but the more often I make it, the less I have to think about it, the more I am able to email mid-flame. If I want it any easier than that, I’ve got pumpkin tortellini in the freezer.
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).