I try hard to vary my meals each week — which has been more of a challenge now that I haven’t been to a restaurant in a year and am making most of our dinners. Like: Maybe not a great idea to have pasta three nights in a row, to eat meat more than a couple of times a week, to spend a ton of money on any one item. I tried to keep those things in mind when picking this week’s recipes. Let’s hope one or more of these work for you!
Makes: 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes
Unlike the ‘70s version of Pasta Primavera, you don’t have to have a laundry list of specific spring vegetables to make this work; use your judgment about what’s in season and which tastes good together, and go from there.
2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes, or to taste
1 ½ pounds mixed spring vegetables (like asparagus, spinach or other tender greens, snap peas, snow peas, radishes, baby carrots or turnips, shelled fava beans, or peas), chopped
1/2 cup cream
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 pound any pasta
1/2 cup chopped fresh chervil or mint for garnish
1. Bring a large pot of water to boil and salt it. Put the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When it’s hot, add the red chile flakes and cook until fragrant, about a minute. Add the vegetables and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are crisp-tender, 3 to 10 minutes, depending on the vegetables (add any vegetables with a much longer cooking time, like root vegetables, 5 minutes before the rest). Add the cream and 1/4 cup of the parmesan, and cook until heated through and thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Turn off the heat.
2. When the water comes to a boil, add the pasta. Stir occasionally, and start tasting the pasta after 5 minutes. When the pasta is tender but not mushy, drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the vegetables and turn the heat to low. Toss to combine, adding a little reserved cooking water at a time to loosen the sauce, if necessary. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Garnish with the herbs and the remaining parmesan and serve.
Hoppin’ John With Smoked Tofu
Makes: 6-8 servings
Time: About 2 ½ hours, largely unattended
Smoked tofu has a slightly dense, chewy texture and strong smoky flavor that makes an excellent substitute for the smoked ham hock traditional to hoppin’ John; cooking the tofu whole with the beans, then cutting it up, keeps it moist. This does require some prep (unless you make the peas ahead of time), but since many of us are home right now, it can easily go into the weeknight meal category.
1 ½ cups dried black-eyed peas, rinsed and picked over
8 cups vegetable stock or water
1 14- to 16-ounce package smoked tofu
2 medium onions, minced
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 ½ cups long-grain white rice
Salt and pepper
Tabasco sauce (optional)
1. Put the peas, stock, tofu, onions, and garlic in a large pot with a tight-fitting lid. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat so the liquid bubbles steadily but not violently. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the peas are tender but not mushy, 1 to 2 hours. (You can make the peas ahead to this point. Cool, cover, and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Reheat gently before proceeding.)
2. When the peas are ready, make sure you have about 3 cups liquid; if you have less, add water to make 3 cups; if you have more, spoon some out. Stir in the rice, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cover. Reduce the heat to low and cook undisturbed until the rice is tender, about 20 minutes.
3. Remove the lid; if any liquid remains, turn the heat to high for a minute or 2 to boil it off. Remove the tofu, cut it into cubes, and return it to the pot. Use a fork to gently fluff the rice, peas, and tofu. Add a dash or 2 of Tabasco if you like, taste, and adjust the seasoning. Put the lid back on and let the dish rest for at least 5 minutes and up to 15 before serving.
Chicken and Lentils
Makes: 4 servings
Time: 1 hour, largely unattended
A spicy, North African–style dish that comes together in one pot.
1/4 cup olive oil
3 to 4 pounds bone-in chicken parts (1 whole chicken, cut up, or any combination of pieces)
1 large or 2 small onions, sliced
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon chopped or grated fresh ginger, or 1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup chopped tomatoes (canned is fine; don’t bother to drain)
1 teaspoon ground coriander
Salt and pepper
1 large bunch fresh cilantro or parsley, tied into a bundle with kitchen string
2 3-inch cinnamon sticks
1 cup brown or green lentils, washed and picked over
1. Put the oil in a large skillet or large pot over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the chicken skin-side down and brown it well, rotating and turning the pieces as necessary; browning will take 10 to 15 minutes. (You can skip this step if you like; heat only 1 tablespoon oil and go directly to cooking the onions in Step 2.)
2. When the chicken is browned, transfer it to a platter and turn the heat down to medium. Pour or spoon off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat. Add the onions, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, coriander, a sprinkle of salt and pepper, 4 cups of water, cilantro, cinnamon, and lentils. Adjust the heat so the liquid bubbles gently but steadily, cover, and cook for about 30 minutes, until the lentils are almost tender.
3. Remove and discard the herb bundle and cinnamon sticks and return the chicken to the pan skin side up, along with any juices that accumulated. Cover and continue to let the liquid bubble gently until the chicken is cooked through, another 10 to 20 minutes; the chicken is done when an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a thigh reads between 155° and 165°F. Taste and adjust the seasoning, and serve. (At this point, you can let the dish sit for a few hours, or cover and refrigerate for up to a day before reheating and serving; you may have to add a little water to thin the sauce a bit.)