Mid Week Inspiration No. 3: Easy Weeknight Cooking
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I was at Toyota this week, hoping upon hope that the check-engine light wouldn't equate to something expensive. Sitting next to me was the nicest older woman who asked me about the photos of food on my screen.
One thing led to another, and the conversation turned to favorite cookbooks. Those I mentioned included Jerusalem, Dinner, various Nigel Slater and Ina Garten titles. Oh, and vintage church cookbooks from the little country church I grew up in. Because I'm long-winded on the subject, my answer wrapped up about fifteen minutes later, on the topic of everyday cooking.
Most of which I make without consulting a book
In truth, I pointed out, this summer I've only been cooking two or three “real” meals a week. And by “real” (a very arbitrary word), things that involve more than 20 minutes in the kitchen. It's been a while since I've made more than one fairly involved dish at a time. Say this Beef Bourguignon with a side of braised bok choy
Usually, even on a good day, it's a BLT alongside buttery sweet corn from our favorite street vendor. Or even a beef roast with a few roasted veggies and maybe a grain of some sort. When we're extra busy, an order from my favorite delivery service
I can't remember the last time I made a meal that involved three different recipe-based dishes on one plate
Most of the time home cooking at our house is very simple and quick. Scrambled eggs and a salad drizzled with the best salad dressing (ever), something on the grill, a batch of tomato soup that lasts all week. Even grains topped with whatever's in the crisper drawer, a fried egg and
hot sauce (for him) / ketchup (for her)
Later, after I'd learned my fate (car shopping is on our horizon), another woman who couldn't help but over-hear expressed surprise that I “cook” so little. That for someone who professes to love cooking, I haven't been doing a lot of it
It wasn't a shining moment as I bumbled my way through an answer, and a few days later I'm still trying to find the right words to articulate the thought
I think what it comes down to is this. Maybe we're setting our standards far too high for what it means to cook at home. To really do home cooking? Certainly, I love spending time in the kitchen, but it also seems ok (even good, even great, even elegant), to make my husband scrambled eggs for dinner
No one (even company) would think twice if I served a pot of veggie soup that I'd made earlier in the week, with slices of indulgent cheddar and a loaf of bread from the bakery. Cooking is a love of mine, but like everyone else, our lives are full. I work in the evenings. I don't have the patience say, for deveining shrimp
I love to cook, but lately, I love to cook two or three times a week; not much more than that. For the rest of our meals, we eat leftovers or something that I (or we) can make in only a few minutes. It's still home cooking, and we're still eating wonderful food, and there's real pleasure in that
At the end of the day, that's what's important
These little O's are something I've made probably half-dozen times; adapted from a recipe I found last fall in Bon Appetit. You'll have to make some pasta, some tomato sauce, and little meatballs (frozen work just as well if you're not feeling ambitious). After that, you have a week's worth of lunches or a couple of dinners for a small family
They're extra sauce and a little sweet, just like the original SpaghettiO's, but with grown-up flavors all around. A true delight. When I was a kid, it was fun to see how many little pastas I could fit onto my spoon, cradled in a bed of slightly sweet sauce. The meatballs? Perfectly sized
While I didn't eat them as often as an adult, my love for them never really left. True confessions? Sometimes when I'm out shopping for the freshest and most beautiful ingredients, I buy myself a can of Annie's. I have them sometimes on the nights when my husband is traveling
The recipe begins with the O's, which is the easy part. Look for anelletti or any other small tube-shaped pasta. You can overcook them like the canned kind, if you'd like, or boil them al dente for something a little more texturally interesting
The sauce is trickier; homemade sauces don't usually have that sweet, tomato-pastry consistency like the canned stuff. So to start, make a sauce with a good amount of tomato paste, and add subtle sweetness with onion cooked down in the butter. But, I finish it with some Parmesan, because I'm an adult now
(Well, sort of)
What are your favorite weeknight meals?
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~ Adapted from Bon Appetit
SpaghettiOs For the Grown-up's Table
- 2 (28 oz) cans whole peeled tomatoes
- ¼ cup Panko bread crumbs
- 1 Tbsp coarsely grated Parmesan + more for serving
- ½ tsp dried oregano
- ¼ tsp garlic powder
- ¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes (more or less, depending on your tolerance for heat)
- fine grain sea salt + freshly ground black pepper
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 5 Tbsp heavy cream
- 1 lb ground beef chuck
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- ½ medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 large garlic clove, finely grated
- 2 Tbsp tomato paste
- 2 tsp sweet paprika
- 1 Tbsp natural sugar
- 4 large sprigs basil
- 12 oz anelletti ditalini, or other short tubular pasta
- Purée tomatoes in a food processor until mostly smooth; set aside
- Whisk panko, cheese, oregano, garlic powder, ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes, and 1½ tsp. sea salt in a medium bowl.
- Whisk in egg and cream. Add the beef and mix with your hands until just combined, being careful not to overwork (if packed too firmly, meatballs will be dense).
- Form into 1"-diameter balls (you should have about 24); transfer to a plate.
- Heat oil in a large skillet, over medium-high.
- Cook the meatballs, turning occasionally until lightly browned on all sides but not fully cooked through (~ 5 minutes). Transfer to another plate.
- Cook onion and garlic in a skillet, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent and begins to soften (~ 5 minutes) season with salt and pepper.
- Add tomato paste and cook until brick red (~ 1 minute)
- Add paprika and a pinch of red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant (~ 1 minute)
- Add sugar, basil, and reserved tomato purée. Reduce heat and simmer until sauce is slightly reduced and flavors have melded (~ 20 minutes)
- Add meatballs and any accumulated juices; continue to cook until meatballs are cooked through, 5–10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain and return to pasta pot. Pour sauce and meatballs over pasta and stir to combine.
- Transfer to a platter and top with cheese.