tip No. 2: leftovers
I am honestly not a huge fan of leftovers, except a post-Thanksgiving turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce and my mom's stuffing. Nothing can beat that. Well, maybe some things can, but that's a top five in my book. To me, leftovers should be relegated to lunch or they get a little boring, but I have to say that they do help in getting through the week without having to actually cook every night.
Magazines like Fine Cooking and Cookie (so sad they are shuttering this sophisticated guide to parenting) have recently focused a lot of their editorial real estate to this endeavor, but their focus is mainly meat. I like to look at vegetables for my leftover inspirations. So, this weekend, take a little time to cook ahead and see how much easier your weeknights are!
Here are some tips and recipes to stretch your efforts throughout the week:
No. 1: Roasted Vegetables
In a 425-degree oven, roast two trays of cleaned and trimmed carrots, onions, parsnips and winter squash (I slice into 1-inch thick half-moons) lightly coated with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper until soft and caramelized, roughly 30-45 minutes. Throw in a couple of heads of garlic, cloves separated but still in their skins. Here's how to use them:
As a side dish: serve alongside any protein, such as sautéed chicken cutlets, pork chops or turkey sausages
As a pasta accompaniment: cook pasta according to package; drain. Meanwhile heat 1/4 cup of heavy cream in a small saucepan over medium heat; squeeze two cloves of the roasted garlic into the cream, season with salt and pepper and whisk to incorporate. Cut up the roasted veggies into pieces the same size as your pasta (penne, rigatoni, farfalle and ziti are great for this). Reheat over medium-low heat, using the same pot you cooked the pasta. When warmed through, add the pasta and the garlic-infused cream. Toss to coat. Top with grated parmigiano reggiano.
No. 2: Spinach
Do not try this with pre-washed baby spinach, please! Use at least 2 lbs of "real" spinach, the kind that needs washing and has stem you need to remove. Once you do that, steam until wilted. Drain in a colander or sieve. Squeeze out excess water and be amazed at how much it cooks down! Here's how to use it:
As a side dish: serve hot, just-steamed spinach with butter and salt and pepper.
As a filling for a puff-pastry tart: Chop 1 cup of spinach, toss in 3 tablespoons of golden raisins, 3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts, 1 tart apple, diced into 1/4-inch cubes and a 1/4 cup grated gruyere. You could add some diced prosciutto as well. Fold in a beaten egg. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Follow the directions for assembling and baking the tart here.
As a pasta sauce: In the bowl of a food processor combine 3/4 cup of spinach, 4 oz. goat cheese softened, 1/4 cup grated parmigiano reggiano, 2 tablespoons half-and-half (whole milk works in a pinch), 1 teaspoon lemon zest, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Blitz in the food processor until smooth. Cook pasta according to package and coat hot pasta with the sauce.
As breakfast for dinner: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Sauté a small yellow onion until soft and translucent. Add 1/2 cup chopped spinach to pan to warm through. Add 1/4 cup heavy cream or crème fraîche — whatever you have on hand — and 1/4 teaspoon of each salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Stir in 1/4 cup grated cheese — gruyere, aged white cheddar, whatever you have in your fridge. Butter 4 ramekins and place in a shallow baking. Divide spinach mixture evenly among them. Make a "well" in the center of each and carefully crack an egg into the indentation. Bake in oven until whites are set, roughly 15 minutes. Serve with toast or warm, crusty bread.
I love beans. These versatile little numbers have it all: protein, fiber, complex carbs, B vitamins and iron. Make a big pot of beans or lentils on the weekend — use the method of your choice (I like an over-night soak and a slow simmer in a Dutch oven) and have a bean-filled week. Here's how to use them:
As a salad: Toss any cooked bean (rinsed and drained) with finely diced red onion (I rinsed these too), fresh herbs, a splash of vinegar or citrus juice, olive oil, salt and pepper taste. A diced apple is a lovely addition in the fall.
As a veggie burger: In the bowl of a food processor, blitz 1/4 cup toasted walnuts or almonds into a fine meal. Add 2 cups beans and puree until slightly chunky. Remove mixture to a large bowl. Fold in one egg, juice from half a lime or lemon, 1/2 cup whole-wheat bread crumbs, 1/4 cup minced onion, chopped parsley or cilantro, 1/4 teaspoon of both cumin and coriander and 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Using 1/2 cup portions, form into six patties and chill in the fridge for 10-15 minutes. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat and cook for 4 minutes per side, using caution when turning them as they are fragile. These are bun optional, so top with sprouts, mixed greens, avocado slices, salsa, Greek yogurt, etc. whatever you fancy.
As a soup base: For any soup you will need:
2 cups of cooked beans
4 cups stock — chicken or vegetable
A classic mirepoix: carrots, celery and onions (leeks work too); sauté until soft.
Add seasonings: it all depends on what you use for your herbs and spice.
Tex-Mex version: to the mirepoix, add some cumin, dried Mexican oregano and minced garlic and sauté for a minute until fragrant.
French version: toss in some fresh thyme, a pinch of herbes de Provence and minced garlic.
Italian version: could include some pancetta with the mirepoix and some rosemary and sliced garlic at the end of the sauté.
Indian version: could include some curry powder or garam masala
Once your seasonings become fragrant — usually after a minute of sautéing — add 2 cups of cooked beans, 4 cups of chicken or vegetable stock and simmer for 30-45 minutes to allow the flavors to combine. At this point you can either puree the mixture or leave it chunky; it’s up to you.
For enrichments, toppings and garnishes: Add cream (French), coconut milk or plain yogurt (Indian version). Top with crème fraîche, fresh chopped herbs, a drizzle of really good extra virgin olive oil, croutons, the list goes on and on.