Five dinner ideas to bring a little bit of joy to your week

By Margaux Laskey
Getty/iStock

What a week. How’s everyone doing out there? I’ve been thinking of those affected by Hurricane Ida (and everything else). And I hope you are doing OK. We had some flooding, lost some treasured things. But my family is safe, and we are grateful.

And, though I might dream of curling up with a spoon, a jar of peanut butter and a bag of chocolate chips, I will cook. I will cook because it makes me feel better to make something beautiful when so many things are, well, not. With that in mind, the recipes I’ve chosen are surefire delights that are easy and fun to make. I hope they bring you a little joy and deliciousness this week.

Fast spaghetti bolognese

There’s a secret ingredient in this bolognese (Getty/iStock)

The secret ingredient in this ultrafast bolognese is Worcestershire sauce. The vinegar, molasses and anchovies in the condiment season the ground beef mixture with salt, acid, sweetness and funk in one shot. Once the bolognese has simmered, use tongs to transfer the pasta directly from the pot to the frying pan, then toss in some of the starchy pasta cooking liquid for a glossy, saucy finish.

By: Dawn Perry

Makes: 4 servings

Total time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

Salt and black pepper

2 tbsp olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

225g beef mince (preferably 20% fat), pork or dark meat turkey

340g spaghetti, pappardelle or other long pasta

56g tomato puree

2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Grated parmesan, for serving

Method:

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium-high. Add onion, garlic and ½ /teaspoon salt and cook, stirring often, until beginning to soften, 3 minutes. Add beef and cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 3 minutes.

2. Add pasta to the pot and cook according to package instructions until al dente.

3. Meanwhile, add tomato paste to pan and cook, stirring, until darkened, about 1 minute. Add 1 cup water, Worcestershire, ½ teaspoon pepper and ½ teaspoon salt and simmer until slightly reduced, about 5 minutes.

4. Using tongs, transfer pasta directly from the pot to the pan along with 1 cup pasta water. Increase heat to high and simmer vigorously, tossing, until sauce reduces and coats the pasta, about 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with parmesan.

Coconut rice with prawns and sweetcorn

This summery, one-pot dish has everything you need (Getty/iStock)

This summery, one-pot dish has everything you need: fresh prawns nestled in creamy coconut rice, with pops of summer sweetcorn and basil. Lime cuts through the richness and adds some bright tartness. To easily shave corn kernels off the cob, lay your cob flat on your cutting board. With a chef’s knife, lob off one side. Rotate the cob so that the flat side is on the cutting board and repeat, running around all four sides. Frozen prawns are an excellent weeknight staple, as it thaws and cooks quickly. You can always keep it on hand and thaw just as much as you need, which ensures optimal freshness.

By: Samantha Seneviratne

Makes: 4 servings

Total time: 45 minutes

Ingredients:

2 tbsp coconut oil

1 small yellow onion, finely chopped

2 tbsp peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger

1 small jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped

¾ tsp salt, plus more to taste

300g jasmine rice

1 (400g) can full-fat coconut milk

450g peeled and deveined large prawns

190g sweetcorn kernels, fresh (from 2 cobs) or frozen

1 lime, zested, then sliced into wedges

1 cup fresh basil leaves, torn, plus more for serving

Method:

1. In a large, heavy pot, heat coconut oil over medium. Add the onion, ginger and jalapeno and season with the ¾ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring, until the onion is soft and translucent, about 6 minutes.

2. Add the rice and sauté for another minute. Then stir in the coconut milk and 1¼ cups water. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for 10 minutes, adjusting the heat as needed to maintain a gentle simmer but avoid scorching.

3. Stir in the prawns and sweetcorn, cover again, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the prawns are cooked through and the rice is tender, 10 to 15 minutes (add more water by ½ cups throughout cooking as needed if the water has been absorbed, but the rice is still too firm).

4. Remove from the heat and stir in the lime zest and basil; season to taste with salt. Serve immediately with lime wedges and topped with more basil.

Slow-cooker chicken tinga tacos

For this slow-cooker adaptation, the bulk of the cook time is hands-off braising (Getty/iStock)

Tinga is a Pueblan dish of braised chicken or pork in a chipotle, tomato and onion sauce, traditionally served on crisp tostadas and finished with toppings like crema (sour cream), avocado and shredded lettuce. Some versions braise the meat directly in the sauce, while others call for chicken or pork that’s already been cooked to be warmed in the sauce (some variations include chorizo, too). The dish is widely popular because it’s affordable and versatile, and tastes complex even though it is easy to make. For this slow-cooker adaptation, the bulk of the cook time is hands-off braising. Fresh sweetcorn is not traditional in tinga, but it’s delicious, adding pops of sweetness and a flavour that echoes the corn tortillas or tostadas. Add one chipotle for a mild spice level or three for a more intense result.

By: Sarah DiGregorio

Makes: 4 to 6 servings

Total time: 6 hours 20 minutes

Ingredients:

900g boneless, skinless chicken thighs

255g crushed tomatoes, preferably fire roasted

5 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped

1 to 3 chipotle chiles, minced, plus 1 tbsp adobo sauce (found in some supermarkets, speciality shops or online)

1 tin chipotle chillies (found in some supermarkets, speciality shops or online)

1 tbsp tomato puree

1 tbsp vegetable oil

1 fresh or dried bay leaf

1 tsp dried oregano

½ tsp ground cumin

1 white or red onion, thinly sliced

Coarse salt

Kernels cut from 2 small ears fresh corn (about 250g)

½ tsp onion powder

Juice of ½ lime (about 2 tsp), plus more to taste

8 corn tortillas or tostadas

Mexican-style crema or sour cream, for serving

Sliced avocado, for serving

Method:

1. In a 5.6-7.5L slow cooker, combine the chicken thighs, crushed tomatoes, garlic, chipotle chillies and adobo sauce, tomato puree, vegetable oil, bay leaf, oregano, cumin and half the onion (reserve the other half for serving). Stir to combine and season with 2 teaspoons of salt. Cook on low until the chicken is very tender, about 6 hours.

2. About 15 minutes before serving, turn the heat to high and stir in the corn kernels, onion powder and lime juice. Cook until the corn is warmed through, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, if using tortillas, warm them.

3. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Using two forks, coarsely shred the chicken. Taste the tinga and add more salt or lime juice if necessary. Serve the tinga on tortillas or tostadas, topped with the remaining sliced onion, the crema and the avocado.

Corn salad with mango and halloumi

This salad brings together some of summer’s best and brightest ingredients (Getty/iStock)

This salad brings together some of summer’s best and brightest ingredients: corn, mango and cucumbers. A perfect, just-ripe mango provides sweetness as a counterbalance to the saltiness of fried halloumi. The cheese is fairly easy to find in supermarkets, but if you are looking for an alternative, you can use queso blanco, which is less salty, but fries in a similar way (for best results, fry the cheese just before you are ready to eat). If you can’t find it, use feta. Pita chips turn this into a heartier meal. You can also wrap the salad in corn tortillas and serve with guacamole.

By: Hetty McKinnon

Makes: 4 servings

Total time: 25 minutes

Ingredients:

For the vinaigrette:

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

½ tsp sugar

½ tsp salt, plus more as needed

¼ tsp ground cumin

¼ tsp smoked paprika

Black pepper

For the salad:

3 ears of corn, husks removed

2 (225g) blocks halloumi cheese, drained and cut into 2cm cubes

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 large just-ripe mango, peeled and cut into 2cm pieces

3 Persian or mini cucumbers (about 225g), unpeeled, cut into 1.5cm pieces

Handful chopped mint leaves

Handful chopped coriander

2 spring onions, finely sliced

Salt and black pepper

85g pita chips, crumbled

Method:

1. To make the vinaigrette, place the olive oil, vinegar, sugar, salt, cumin and smoked paprika in a large bowl and whisk until combined. Taste, and season with pepper and also more salt if needed.

2. To prepare the salad, place the ears of corn on a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil, massaging to coat.

3. Heat a medium (25cm) frying pan over medium-high. When hot, add the corn and allow to cook for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, so they char (the ears don’t need to be completely blackened, just parts of them). Set aside. When cool enough to handle, use a sharp knife to cut the corn from the ears and add to the bowl with the vinaigrette. When the pan has cooled, wipe it out.

4. Pat the halloumi cheese with a kitchen towel to remove excess moisture. Heat the same pan you used for the corn over medium-high. When hot, drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, then add the halloumi pieces and cook for 30 to 60 seconds on each side, turning frequently, until they are golden on all sides. Transfer to the bowl with the corn.

5. To the bowl, add the mango, cucumbers, mint, coriander and spring onions and toss to combine. Taste and add salt and black pepper to your liking. When you are ready to serve, top with pita chips and toss gently.

Caramelised courgette pasta

With time and patience you’ll have a delicious pasta (Getty/iStock)

This recipe transforms almost 1kg of grated fresh courgette into one cup of caramelised courgette that’s rich, sweet and jammy enough to become a pasta sauce. Cooked over moderately high heat in a combination of olive oil and butter, the courgette fries in its own juices and concentrates its flavour. Adding garlic and basil lends sweetness, but consider adding anchovy, preserved lemon or red-pepper flakes. As browned bits appear in the frying pan, deglaze with a few tablespoons of water, chicken stock or vegetable stock to help prevent burning and to incorporate all of those tasty caramelised bits into the sauce. With time and patience, you’ll have a not-so-pretty but delicious mixture, like caramelised onions made with courgette. Eat it tossed with pasta, as is done here, or add it to sandwiches, pizzas or antipasti spreads.

By: Ali Slagle

Makes: 4 servings

Total time: 50 minutes

Ingredients:

2 tbsp unsalted butter

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

900g courgette, coarsely grated (about 3 large courgettes)

8 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

10g basil leaves, stems reserved, plus more for serving

Salt and black pepper

450g ridged or curly pasta (like medium shells or casarecce)

14g finely grated parmesan or pecorino, plus more for serving

1 tbsp lemon juice

Method:

1. In a large (at least 30cm) cast iron frying pan over medium-high heat, melt the butter and oil. When it’s foaming, add the courgette, garlic, the basil stems and half the basil leaves. Season with 1¼ teaspoons salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cover and cook until pooling with liquid, 5 to 7 minutes. Uncover and cook until the liquid evaporates and the courgette starts to sizzle, 7 to 10 minutes.

2. Continue to cook until the courgette is very soft, dark green and reduced to about 1 cup, another 20 to 25 minutes. When you see a build up of browned bits on the pan, add a couple tablespoons of water and stir, scraping up the browned bits. Repeat anytime more browning occurs. If you see burning, deglaze with water and lower the heat (caramelised courgette can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to a week; it also freezes well).

3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. When the courgette is about done, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente. Reserve 2 cups of pasta water, then drain the pasta. If the courgette is ready before the pasta, keep cooking it; the courgette will only get better the longer it cooks.

4. When the pasta’s drained, remove the herb stems from the courgette. Reduce the heat on the courgette to medium, then add the pasta, 1 cup pasta water, and the parmesan. Stir until the pasta is glossed with sauce. Add more pasta water as needed to thin the sauce. Stir in the lemon juice and remaining basil, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with more basil, parmesan and black pepper.

© The New York Times


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