I’ll be honest: I make pasta for dinner often. Quite often. Rigatoni, ravioli, lasagna, penne, or angel hair; whole wheat or traditional semolina; dressed up with fancy toppings or simply with garlic, olive oil and a handful of spinach. I have no intention of changing that. Pasta is the ultimate pantry meal, it’s quick to throw together, and it makes for great lunch leftovers.
But pasta need never be a box of spaghetti with a jar of ready-made sauce. It’s the perfect vehicle for veggies that are just a little too wilted and tired for salad, or some leftover protein, or a tin of anchovies. Start with the recipes below for pasta dishes that liven up a weeknight.
by Glenn Rolnick
“Orecchiette translates to “little ears,” describing the shape of this distinctive pasta. That shape is important because it is ideal for trapping flavorful juices and bits of spices and herbs, making every bite a tiny celebration. The pasta itself moderates the pleasant bitterness of the broccoli rabe, allowing for the full-bodied flavor of the greens to shine through. The broccoli rabe, for its part, contrasts the sweet spiciness of the sausage, a meaty richness that makes this dish incredibly satisfying and helps bring it alive on the tongue. You can experiment with your own favorite type of sausage. In either case, the sauce is a wonderfully light vehicle for the cacophony of savory flavors.”
- Glenn Rolnick
The slow cooker’s appeal is well earned as a tool for those who spend most of the day out of the house but still want to end the day with a home-cooked meal. Like a good no-knead bread recipe or a basic fermentation technique, a slow cooker is a secret weapon that allows time and nature to do the hard work for you.
A slow cooker can be an ideal partner in crime when it comes to tackling dishes that seem too time- and work-intensive for every day, such as French onion soup or risotto. For more tips and tricks to make the most of your slow cooker meals, check out the Clever Cookstr podcast.
by Judith Finlayson
“This pale vegetarian chili is both pretty to look at and delicious to eat. Add the cream cheese if you prefer a thicker, cheesier sauce, and the mild green chilies for a flavor boost. Serve with hot crusty bread and a salad of sliced tomatoes in vinaigrette for a great meal.” - Judith Finlayson
When you’re little, Valentine’s Day is all about enforced equality: identical cards and candy turn up on command in identical doily-decorated tissue boxes and cubbies. But in adulthood, this holiday is all about playing favorites- favorite foods, that is. Valentine’s Day happens to be associated with a number of the foods with which I’ve carried on a lifelong affair: steak, cheese, lobster, and of course, chocolate.
Whether you’re cooking something special for two (and smartly avoiding the prix fixe restaurant rush) or whipping up a batch of something chocolatey and possibly heart-shaped for a party this weekend, here are some ideas to get you into the spirit. No doilies required.
by Lauren Groveman
“These fantastic sandwich cookies merge a melt-in-your mouth texture with the most classic American flavor combination of all, making them a real family favorite. The flip side, however, is that these sandwich cookies are delicate and won’t transport well. It’s also wise to make a few extra cookies “with holes” since these are the most fragile. For best results, allow the baked cookies to cool for the full amount of time specified and use a very thin metal spatula to remove them to a wire rack. You should know that these cookies are also great on their own, without any filling, and can also be cut into other shapes and sizes.” - Lauren Groveman
As some parts of the country enjoy the oh-so-delightful combination of snow, sleet, and freezing rain that we lovingly euphemize as “wintry mix,” I’m thinking about another kind of mixture, one less likely to soak through to your socks. This kind involves layers of proteins, grains, vegetables, and sauces in hefty baking dishes meant to feed a family.
I’m a fan of casseroles, from inspired takes on lasagna to crust-topped meat-and-potatoes cobblers. And there’s something about serving dinner straight out of the pan it was baked in that makes me feel extra appreciative of having taken the time to cook. Start with the ideas below, and let us know what favorite casseroles you’re cooking this season!
by Janet Fletcher and Rosetta Constantino
“In this traditional side dish, thinly sliced artichokes and potatoes are layered with well-seasoned breadcrumbs and baked until the vegetables are tender and the breadcrumbs crusty. The vegetables settle into a “cake” that you can slice neatly and serve with lamb, pork, chicken, or practically any meat. Calabrians prepare many vegetables by this method, including tomatoes, mushrooms, and zucchini-alone or in combination. I sometimes treat fennel this way, too, although the fennel, if sliced thinly, does not need to be cooked first.” - Janet Fletcher & Rosetta Constantino
This Sunday marks the annual celebration of a most important American pastime, one that’s passed down from generation to generation, filled with regional loyalty and familial tradition. That pastime, of course, is eating delicious fried things in front of the television. If you’re a football fan, you’re already geared up for this Sunday’s events. But if you’re in it mostly for the potato skins and the commercials, we’ve got some excellent ideas for you.
Making some of your favorite snack foods from scratch, from tots, chips, and fries to wings and dips, is a perfect way to round out the weekend and kick off the game.
by Lara Ferroni
“Traditional tots are made from russet potatoes, but I like to grate in a little bit of sweet potato or yam. Keeping the skins on helps to preserve some of the nutrients, so give your potatoes a good scrub instead of a peel. This recipe, adapted from one by Cooks Country magazine, churns out light, fluffy tots with a crispy crust every time. The corn flour and ground millet flour give the tots a little extra crunch, but it’s OK to substitute whole-wheat flour if you prefer.”
- Lara Ferroni
Dumplings, as a concept, transcend cuisine: scraps of dough that are cooked alone, like gnocchi, or wrapped around a filling, like pierogi or ravioli. They can be made with flour or potatoes, boiled, steamed, fried, or baked. But they are always meant to be eaten in a mouthful or maybe two, whether in broth, dipped in sauce, or simply on their own. Dumplings can pack a lot of flavor and components into a single bite, making them a little bit more fun and exciting than a single-bowl meal.
And dumplings aren’t difficult to make, especially with shortcuts like wonton wrappers available. Experiment with a wide range of fillings, herbs, spices, and global influences. In the depths of winter, dumplings are just the kind of comfort food that brighten up a weeknight.
by Michael Ruhlman
“Chicken with dumplings is one of the most delicious and comforting meals I know, especially on a cold night. It’s also economical and easy, especially if you have excellent stock on hand. Good stock is key, so if you plan ahead and make some easy chicken stock from the carcass of a roast chicken, this is a meal that can be put together in 30 minutes.”
- Michael Ruhlman
I loved making macaroni and cheese from the box as a kid. The careful boiling of the water, the measuring of the butter, the addition of the mysterious packet (even in the organic, less-processed versions of the original that predominantly stocked our pantry, the contents were always some version of bright orange). Even now, there’s a comfort in melding together the contents of that box, although when I do, on a day when the refrigerator is empty or there’s a snowstorm or someone’s home sick, I’m likely to add frozen peas, or fresh basil and spinach, and grate the ends of whatever ‘fancy’ cheeses are languishing in the back of the fridge into the mix.
One of the great joys of mac and cheese is its endless aptitude for customization: even purists must answer the questions of whether to add dry mustard, what cheese blend is best for melting and coating the pasta, and what pasta shape is most apt to snuggle the sauce into all its nooks and crannies. For those of us who are not purists, however, the possibilities for experimentation – with proteins, vegetables, herbs, and spices – are nearly infinite. Here are some ideas, below, but let us know your favorites. Even if the answer is the one from the box.
by David Burke and Judith Choate
“This is my classic macaroni and cheese with just a bit of a bite from the horseradish to offset the richness. It is, as it has always been, easy to put together. My mom used to do it early in the morning and then throw the casserole in the oven just as we began asking “When’s dinner?” I can still remember the browning cheesy smell that would fill the house.”
- David Burke & Judith Choate