My two kids went to sleep-away camp this summer, and while my partner and I did miss them quite a bit (sniff), one of the unexpected benefits of their absence was being able to eat whatever we wanted.
There was zero planning of meals catered to their ever-fickle tastes and aversions: no tomatoes for that one, nothing spicy for that one, no seafood ever for both. (I know parenting experts say not to cater to your kids’ culinary whims, but a peaceful dinner is more important to me than a nutritionally balanced one. I figure their palates will expand when they go to university?)
We ate all of the spicy, vegetable-abundant, seafood-heavy meals possible over those two weeks, and it was downright blissful. The recipes below are the kind we enjoyed, and they are all outrageously good, fast options for a weeknight, whether you are temporarily free from the demands of picky eaters or not.
Spicy and saucy cherry tomato pasta
By: Alexa Weibel
In this incredibly easy weeknight pasta, red-pepper flakes, capers and tomato paste turn a simple cherry tomato sauce into something hearty enough for cold weather. Sautéeing tomato paste until it caramelises develops deep flavor, while pan-fried capers add crunch and red-pepper flakes provide heat. For smokier undertones, you can use dried ancho chilli or chilli de árbol, chipotle powder or Aleppo pepper in place of the red-pepper flakes. A dollop of ricotta, freshly grated pecorino or parmesan, or shaved ricotta salata is not necessary, but takes the dish up a notch.
Total time: 25 minutes
salt and black pepper
4 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp drained jarred capers
3 tbsp tomato paste
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 to 2 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
450g orecchiette or other shaped pasta
680g cherry tomatoes, halved
Handful thinly sliced fresh basil, plus small whole leaves, for garnish
Fresh ricotta, shaved ricotta salata, or grated pecorino or parmesan, for garnish (optional)
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.
2. In a large nonstick frying pan, heat 2 tbsp oil over medium-high. Pat the capers dry, then add them to the pan and cook, stirring frequently, until crisp, 3 to 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the capers to a paper towel-lined plate.
3. Add the tomato paste to the pan and cook over medium-high, stirring frequently, until tomato paste darkens in color and deepens in flavor, about 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium, add the remaining 2 tbsp oil, the garlic and red-pepper flakes, if using, and cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is softened and fragrant, about 2 minutes.
4. Add the pasta to the boiling water and reduce heat to medium. Cook according to package instructions until al dente.
5. While the pasta cooks, add the cherry tomatoes to the pan, season with salt and pepper and cook over medium-high, stirring, 5 minutes. Add 150ml pasta cooking water from the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes start to fall apart and the liquid becomes saucy, about 10 minutes.
6. Drain the pasta, and transfer it to the pan with the sauce to combine. (If your pan is too full to accommodate the pasta, you can transfer the cooked pasta back to the pot, then add the sauce to combine.) Stir in half the basil and season to taste with salt and pepper.
7. Divide among plates or bowls and top with capers and remaining basil, plus cheese and whole basil leaves. Serve immediately.
By: Kay Chun
Saag refers to an Indian vegetable dish in which spinach or other dark greens are stewed with ginger, garlic, fresh chillies and spices until meltingly soft. As the name suggests, saag paneer includes paneer, a mild Indian cheese that is firm enough to cook without melting. The heat of the serrano chillies balances the creamy richness, but for a milder dish, remove the seeds before mincing the chillies. The fresh greens are finely chopped before cooking, to help them break down faster into a silky gravy. Thawed chopped frozen spinach can be used to save time, but make sure to drain well and squeeze out the excess liquid first. Finish the dish with a little double cream (or plain yogurt) to lend body and richness.
Total time: 35 minutes
450g fresh baby spinach
2 tbsp ghee
225g breaded, cut into 2½-by-1½cm pieces
60g finely chopped yellow onion
salt and black pepper
1 tbsp freshly grated peeled ginger (from a 5cm piece)
2 tsp grated garlic (from about 3 cloves)
1 serrano chilli, stemmed and minced
½ tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp ground cumin
120ml double cream
Steamed rice and Indian flatbread, for serving
1. In a food processor, working in batches, pulse spinach until minced but not pureed. Do not pack the spinach too tightly or it won’t get evenly chopped.
2. Heat 1 tbsp ghee over medium in a large nonstick frying pan. When it shimmers, add paneer and cook, turning occasionally, until golden all over, 5 to 7 minutes. Using thongs or a fish spatula, transfer cheese to a plate, leaving as much ghee as possible in the pan.
3. Reduce heat to medium-low, add the remaining 1 tbsp ghee and the onion, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, about 5 minutes.
4. Add ginger, garlic and chilli, and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and well incorporated, 1 minute. Stir in coriander and cumin until well blended.
5. Add minced spinach and 120ml water, and increase the heat to medium. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until spinach is completely soft and most of the liquid is absorbed, about 8 minutes.
6. Stir in double cream and pan until well incorporated. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving bowl.
7. Divide rice and flatbread among 4 shallow bowls or plates. Pass the saag paneer to spoon on top.
Beans and greens alla vodka
By: Ali Slagle
Pasta alla vodka is a classic because each ingredient works together beautifully: the heat of the red-pepper flakes and vodka, the sweetness of the tomato and the richness of the cream. And that combination works equally well with beans and greens. Use chickpeas or white beans, and kale or any other dark leafy green, like Swiss chard or broccoli raab. The finished dish keeps for up to three days in the fridge. Eat it on its own, with crusty bread for dunking, or over pasta.
Total time: 20 minutes
3 tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 (170g) tin tomato paste
½ tsp red pepper flakes
2 (425g) tins white beans (such as cannellini or Great Northern) or chickpeas, drained but not rinsed
1 bunch kale, ribs removed, leaves torn or coarsely chopped
60ml double cream
Grated parmesan, as needed
1. In a large pot or casserole dish, heat the olive oil over medium-high. Add the onion and garlic, season with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste, vodka and red-pepper flakes. Cook, stirring, until the tomato paste is a shade darker and starts to stick to the bottom of the pot, 2 to 3 minutes.
2. Add 470ml water, the beans and the kale, season with salt and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook until the liquid is flavorful and the kale is tender, 7 to 10 minutes.
3. Remove from the heat and stir in the double cream. Taste and if it needs more salt, stir in some grated Parmesan. Serve with more parmesan on top.
One-pan chicken thighs with brown buttercorn
By: Melissa Clark
This weeknight-friendly recipe pairs sweet corn kernels with sautéed boneless chicken thighs. Easily made in one large frying pan, the chicken is first cooked before the corn kernels are added to sauté in the drippings, seasoned with garlic, thyme and plenty of brown butter. Finished with torn basil, lime juice and spring onions, it walks the line between rich and sweet, and tangy and fresh – all in under 30 minutes.
Total time: 30 minutes
4 skinless, boneless chicken thighs (about 560g)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, finely grated or minced
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp unsalted butter
250g fresh or frozen corn kernels (from 1 to 2 ears; see tip below)
Handful torn basil leaves
Lime wedges, for serving
2 spring onions, thinly sliced, for serving
1. Season chicken all over with salt and pepper. Rub garlic and thyme on chicken, and set aside while preparing the rest of the ingredients.
2. Heat a large frying pan over medium-high. Add oil and 1 tbsp of the butter, letting butter melt. Add chicken and sear, undisturbed, until browned on both sides, about 4 to 6 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to a plate.
3. Over medium heat, add remaining 2 tbsp butter to the pan. Cook, swirling occasionally, until the foam subsides and it smells nutty and toasty, 2 to 3 minutes. (Watch carefully to see that it doesn’t burn.) Add corn and a big pinch of salt and black pepper. Sauté until tender and golden brown, 2 minutes.
4. Add chicken back to the pan. Cover and cook until chicken is cooked through and corn is caramelized, about 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and taste corn, adding more salt and pepper if needed. Stir in basil and squeeze 2 lime wedges over the top. Serve garnished with sliced spring onions and more lime wedges.
Tip: The least messy way to cut the kernels off an ear of corn is to lay the ear flat on a cutting board and slice off the kernels, turning the cob as you go. Keeping it flat helps prevent the kernels from flying all over the kitchen.
Saffron salmon kebabs
By: Naz Deravian
Buttery, saffron-stained and gently spiced, these Iranian kebabs come together in no time and make for a beautiful, flavorful meal. The warming spice mix of oregano, coriander, black pepper and turmeric balances and lifts the sweet notes from the saffron and salmon. To keep the fish in place when turning the kebabs on the grill, use 1½cm-wide flat skewers or two thin, round skewers. You can entertain with these skewers or enjoy them on a quiet weeknight, along with dill rice and a side of fresh herbs, or cucumber, tomato and onion salad.
Total time: 1 hour
About 1½ tsp saffron threads (0.35g)
Pinch of sugar
3 tbsp fresh lime juice, plus lime wedges for serving
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, finely grated
1¼ tsp salt
½ tsp dried oregano, crushed between your fingers
½ tsp ground coriander
½ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp ground turmeric
680g skinless salmon (preferably center-cut), cut into 2½cm pieces
Fresh herbs, such as mint, coriander and basil, for serving
1. Using a mortar and pestle or small bowl and the handle end of a wooden spoon, grind the saffron with a pinch of sugar to a fine powder (about ¼ tsp). Transfer to a large bowl. Bring 2 tbsp water to a boil in a saucepan, kettle or using the microwave, then let stand for 2 minutes to allow the water temperature to drop slightly. Add to the ground saffron powder, gently stir, cover and steep for 5 minutes.
2. To the saffron water, add the lime juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, oregano, coriander, pepper and turmeric. Stir to mix, add the salmon pieces and combine until the salmon is well coated. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
3. As the salmon marinates, prepare a charcoal grill until the coals are ashed over and slightly cooled to medium-hot and or heat a gas grill to medium-high. Skewer the salmon and save any remaining marinade. Grill the skewers, brushing with the remaining marinade and turning every couple of minutes, until tender and buttery, about 10 minutes total. Serve with lime wedges for squeezing over the fish. Enjoy, with bites of fresh herbs between bites of salmon.
© The New York Times