In the kitchen I vacillate between insanely ambitious and incredibly lazy, but "incredibly lazy" wins out most weeknights. I like recipes that require minimal prep, using just a few ingredients, to get dinner on the table in as short a time as possible (or at least with very little work on my part). While I can eat the same thing three nights in a row (seriously), my husband gets itchy if we eat the same thing twice in one week.
Flipping through my recipe book last week, I noticed I have an inordinate number of recipes with five or fewer ingredients. Here are a few of my go-to options, ones even my husband is happy to eat once a week. Warning: lots of tomatoes ahead!
I found this recipe on the Food Network Web site years and years ago, and it's still something we eat once or twice a month. It's a great side dish, but when I'm on my own for dinner, I'll eat this with a little bread and call it a night. The original recipe didn't call for tomatoes, but I think they add a lot both visually and to the flavor of the dish.
Ingredients: Leeks, cherry or grape tomatoes, white wine, butter, sea salt.
To prepare: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Trim the ends off the leeks and split lengthwise; rinse dirt and grime from between the layers. Place cut side up in a baking dish, pour white wine into dish (it shouldn't cover the leeks, but enough to braise the veggies) and dot the leeks with butter. Throw in a handful or two of whole cherry or grape tomatoes, sprinkle the whole thing with sea salt and braise for about 45 minutes or until the edges of the leeks begin to curl and brown. Leeks should be soft enough to cut through with a knife.
Tomato and Onion Salad, Two Ways
One of these salads is cold, the other is hot, but the results are equally delicious. Cold tomato and onion salad was a staple for me growing up, and a favorite -- I'm not big on lettuce greens. This is how all the old Italian folks in my neighborhood got rid of the bumper crop of tomatoes from the garden; even after canning, there were always too many tomatoes to eat, so we ate this morning, noon and night until fall. If you don't like raw onion, simply pickle them for a few hours before eating.
Ingredients: Very ripe tomatoes, preferably those from a garden and that have never seen the inside of a refrigerator; thinly sliced red onion; whole garlic cloves, crushed; vinegar (red wine or cider); salt and pepper.
To prepare: Chop up tomatoes and place into a bowl with thinly sliced red onion, crushed garlic cloves and vinegar; add salt and pepper to taste, and eat. If you want to pickle the onions, simply throw into a bowl with the vinegar for about an hour before mixing the salad. The longer the salad sits the better, and any leftovers older than a day or two will produce a LOT of juice -- this is the point where ingredients six and seven (stale, leftover bread and fresh basil) can be tossed in to make panzanella. Tip: Basil left soaking in vinegar gets bitter, so rather than adding it to the entire salad, tear it fresh for each serving.
Hot tomato and onion salad is a newcomer in our kitchen, but a welcome one. I've made it at least three to four times per month since I purchased The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook last winter. While cookbook author Deb Perelman specifies cipollini onions in the recipe, I've found that scallions cook up nice and sweet, and that any old sweet onion (cut into chunks) will do in a pinch. Cipollini onions can be hard to find, but Spec's downtown seems to be a good bet.
Ingredients: Cherry or grape tomatoes, your choice of onions (peeled; chopped into large chunks if you aren't using cipollini or similar smaller onion), olive oil, salt, bread.
To prepare: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a baking dish add tomatoes and onions (about one pound each serves two), and cover with a generous helping of olive oil (one-third cup for the full pound each of tomatoes and onions, less if you're downsizing), and sprinkle with salt. Roast in the oven for 45 minutes to one hour, turning every 15 minutes or so -- you want the tomatoes and onions to brown.
Once the whole mess is nice and roasty, pour it over big chunks of crusty bread. As Perelman notes in her cookbook, you want to scrape every last freaking bit of juice from the bottom of the pan and sop it up with MOAR BREAD because the juice? It's incredible. Perelman also notes that you can throw in some white beans and/or basil to make the dish more substantial, but I'm usually in too big a hurry for that.
With pre-made dough (try Trader Joe's or H-E-B Montrose for ready-to-use versions), calzone is fast and simple. I like this because it can be an entrée or sliced for a party-tray appetizer.
Ingredients: Ready-made pizza dough, ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese, pepperoni (or similar cured meat, OR olives, OR fresh herbs -- you get the idea). Sauce for dipping optional.
To prepare: Preheat oven and pizza stone to 400 degrees. Divide the pizza dough in half or fourths, depending on size, and roll or toss out into rounds; fill with cheese mixture, fold sides over and pinch to close. Cut a vent in the top of the dough, and coat with egg wash (OR spray with Pam if you're lazy). Raise oven temperature to 500 degrees, sprinkle pizza slide with corn meal, place calzone on pizza slide and gently move calzones back and forth in a sliding motion, depositing calzones onto pizza stone. (Or just toss 'em onto a lined cookie sheet sprayed with Pam. The husband is a purist.) Bake until browned. Remove from oven, let cool five minutes.
A great "Oh, shit, I forgot to make something for the party" recipe, this dessert came from a cookbook I don't think I even own anymore. It's made entirely from processed food, and I don't care what you think of me.
Ingredients: Mini-marshmallows, semi-sweet chocolate chips, graham crackers (coarsely crushed), frozen puff pastry (thawed).
To prepare: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a bowl combine 1.25 cups mini-marshmallows, 1.25 cups chocolate chips and 1.25 cups coarsely crushed graham crackers (5-6 crackers). Lightly flour a work surface and gently unfold the pastry; roll each sheet into a 12-inch square, and then cut into four, six-inch squares (I like a pizza cutter for this job). Place mixture in center of each square, about one-quarter cup each. Brush edges of pastry with water, and pull the edges together on top of the filling, twisting the edges to seal. Place on ungreased baking sheets, leaving a few inches between pockets; bake 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on wire racks.