Food is love. It is the heart of the American home. Whether it’s the figurative ‘bringing home the bacon’ or more literally putting dinner on the table, food represents the simplest, but most important way, in which we take care not only of ourselves, but of those who are most important to us. But as important as we know that experience is, both for what it provides as well as what it symbolizes, few things can be as daunting at the end of a long day, when the siren song of pre-packaged meals and take-out dinners is at it’s loudest, as having to take the time to prepare that meal from scratch. How do we bridge the gap between the time and energy we have left at the end of the day and our desire to put that perfect dinner down in front of our families?
Traditionally there have been two ways of confronting the problem. Rachel Ray has spent the last decade championing the ‘30 minute meal’, relying on prepackaged and ‘Semi-Homemade’ to take some of the work out of preparing a fresh meal each day. The second approach has been to spend Sunday in the kitchen putting together a dish that you can reheat during the week, usually something like a slow cooked stew, or a simmering pot of chili. It makes life easy during the week. Pop a big pot on the stove, turn a knob and dinner is ready. The truth is, both are great ideas and useful tools to have under your belt. But while a ’30 Minute Meal’ gives you a little bit of variety, it still means spending a half hour in the kitchen at the end of the day, and prepackaged produce will never have the flavor or freshness. While few things are as satisfying as a good Irish stew on a cold winter’s night, those dishes tend to be heavy and a bit too much as the weather starts to turn warm. And how many nights in a row can you dig into that dish with the same zeal? So where is the middle ground? How do you bring the variety of the ’30 Minute Meal’ closer to the flavor and ease of those classic one-pot dishes?
The trick is to focus on a couple of simple recipes that compliment each other, and learn how they can be used to create a variety of different meals. Take a simple homemade tomato sauce: by itself it is a beautiful way to finish pasta, but it offers so much more versatility than that. Sear off chicken, then add two cups of the same tomato sauce, a handful of green olives, the juice and zest of a lemon and a cup of chicken broth and you can transform it into a simple, rustic Mediterranean treat. Thin the tomato sauce with an equal part chicken stock, add diced country bread and top with some torn basil and you have a classic Tuscan bread soup. One recipe quickly gives you three dishes with different flavors, different textures, and completely different characters.
Our Green Minestrone is another example of a dish that offers a number of different options and is a great way to provide your family with a different and exciting meal each day. Finished with a spoonful of pesto, it’s a hearty and delicious meal all by itself. Spoon a little bit of the vegetables into a sauté pan and finish with a squeeze of lemon and you have a great accompaniment for seared salmon. Or take the leftover pesto and toss it with angel hair pasta, and you have a quick easy meal anyone would be happy with.
After a long day, no one wants to spend their evening chained to a stove, but taking care of ourselves, and the ones we love, matters. Putting good food on the table is a central part of that. With a little bit of planning and a little bit of creativity, there are ways to take the stress out of midweek meals and still give our families the kind of balanced, nutritious and delicious meals we all deserve.
Green Minestrone Soup Base
2 Tbs Olive Oil
1 Leek, White and Light Green Only, Chopped
2 Stalks Celery, ¼” Slice
1 Zucchini, Seeds Removed and Diced
1 Large Potato, Peeled, Diced
1 Clove Garlic, Crushed
1 Liter Chicken Stock
1 Can (400g) Cannellini Beans
Heat a medium sized stock pot over high heat. Add the Olive Oil, then the Leek, Celery, Zucchini and Potato. Turn the heat down to medium and saute the vegetables until they just begin to soften, about 5 minutes.
Add in the garlic and continue to cook for three more minutes.
Add in the chicken stock, stirring and loosen anything that is sticking to the bottom. Turn the heat back up to High and bring the soup to a simmer.
Divide the Cannellini Beans in half. In a small bowl, crush one half of the beans with a potato masher. Add all of the beans to the soup and bring it back up to a simmer.
The crushed beans act as a thickener, adding body to the minestrone. If you aren’t serving the soup immediately, cool it down and store it in the refrigerator.
8 oz, Basil, Large Stems Removed
2 Cloves Garlic
2 oz Pine Nuts
1 Lemon, Juice of
¾ C Parmesan Cheese, Grated
1 C Olive Oil
Combine all of the ingredients expect the Olive Oil in a food processor. Pulse to chop.
With the food processor going, drizzle in the Olive Oil. Stop and scrape down the sides, then pulse again. When the Olive Oil is incorporated, pour the pesto into a bowl or jar and cover with plastic wrap, pushing the plastic against the surface of the pesto.
Planning the Week:
Day 1: Salmon with Spring Vegetable Stew
4 – 6 oz portions, Salmon
2 C, Soup Base
1, Lemon, Zest and Juice
Heat a pan on medium high. When hot, add 1 tbs of Olive Oil. Sear the Salmon (skin side down if the skin is still on). Let cook for 3-5 minutes, depending on thickness.
Bring the Soup Base up to a simmer and let reduce slightly while the Salmon is cooking.
Turn the Salmon, searing on the other side. Again, allow it to cook for 3-5 depending on thickness.
Grate the Zest of the Lemon into the Soup Base. Then finish it with the Juice of the Lemon.
Spoon the Spring Vegetable Stew into the bottom of a large bowl. Place the Salmon in the center of the ‘Stew’.
Day 2: Green Minestrone
1 recipe, Soup Base
8 oz Pasta
4 oz Green Beans, Cut into ½” Pieces
¼ Head Savoy Cabbage, Stems Removed, Sliced Thin/p>
Bring the soup up to a bare simmer. Add the French Beans and Cabbage and allow the soup to come back up to a simmer.
Add the pasta and bring the soup to a simmer. Reduce the heat to maintain a bare simmer and cook for 8 – 10 minutes, until the pasta is done.
While the Pasta is cooking, prepare the Pesto (Below).
Ladle the soup into bowks and garnish with a spoonful of Basil Pesto.
Day 3: Angel Hair Pasta with Pesto and Shrimp
1 lb, Angel Hair Pasta
½ lbs Shrimp
Pesto, Left Over
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. When it comes to a boil, add salt, then the pasta. Cook for 8 minutes or until just tender.
Heat a large skillet. Add 1 tbs off Olive Oil. Sautee the Shrimp quickly, 1-2 minutes a side, then remove from them from the heat. Finish with the juice of a lemon.
Strain out pasta. In a large bowl, toss together the Pasta, Pesto and Shrimp. Serve in large bowl.