Five easy, comforting recipes to cook this week

Whether you’re back to school, back to university or back to work, these dinners will make your week that bit easier, says Krysten Chambrot

Thursday 30 September 2021 11:01
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<p>Meltingly soft: spiced aubergine and tomatoes with runny eggs</p>

Meltingly soft: spiced aubergine and tomatoes with runny eggs

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I love knowing that these recipes are making it onto your tables – and hopefully making dinner a little easier for you and your families. It’s almost like getting to eat with you all. To my friends who sent their little ones off to school for the first time earlier this month, or who are already in the back-to-school grind, I hope you’ll find comfort and ease in these dishes.

Spiced aubergine and tomatoes with runny eggs

A little like an aubergine version of shakshuka, this velvety frying pan meal features sauteed aubergine and tomatoes seasoned with garlic, spices and lemon zest. It’s topped with runny eggs and a crunchy garnish of toasted nuts. The yoghurt and hot sauce simultaneously heat things up and cool things down, and really add a lot to this hearty, meltingly soft dish. Serve it for brunch or dinner, with a crisp green salad and some flatbread on the side.

By: Melissa Clark

Makes: 4 to 6

Total time: 50 minutes

Ingredients:

680g Italian aubergine, cut into 2.5cm cubes

1½ tsp salt, plus more as needed

45g pine nuts or slivered almonds

1¼ tsp baharat blend (or use another spice blend, such as garam masala)

Freshly ground black pepper

5½ tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed

½ tsp finely grated lemon zest

3 fat garlic cloves, finely grated, pressed or minced

450g chopped fresh tomatoes

15g chopped fresh herbs, such as basil, mint, coriander, parsley, dill or any combination, plus more for garnish

4 to 6 large eggs

Lemon wedges, for serving

Plain whole milk yoghurt, for serving

Hot sauce (such as Tabasco), for serving

Method:

1. Put aubergine in a colander in the sink and toss with 1 teaspoon salt. Let drain while preparing the nuts.

2. In a small bowl, combine nuts, ¼ teaspoon baharat and a large pinch of salt and pepper. Heat ½ tablespoon oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add pine nut mixture and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant and toasted, 2 minutes. Pour nuts back into the small bowl and stir in lemon zest. Set aside for serving.

3. Add 3 tablespoons oil to the frying pan and heat over medium-high until oil thins out, about 20 seconds. Add enough of the aubergine to fit in one layer without overlapping. Cook aubergine until browned, stirring occasionally, about 7 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer aubergine to a plate. Repeat with more oil and aubergine, taking care not to crowd the pan.

4. When all the aubergine is browned, push the last batch still in the pan to one side. Drizzle the empty part of the pan with a tiny bit of oil and add garlic. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Return the rest of the browned aubergine back to the pan and stir well to incorporate garlic.

5. Add tomatoes and remaining baharat, ½ teaspoon salt and a big pinch of pepper. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes and aubergine become stewy, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in herbs. Taste and add more salt, if needed.

6. Make small hollows into the stewed aubergine with the back of a spoon. Gently crack an egg into each hollow. Season eggs with salt and pepper. Cover with a lid or piece of foil and cook on medium-low until the eggs are just set, but still soft, 4 to 7 minutes. Remove the lid, and garnish with the spiced nuts, more herbs and a squeeze of lemon. Serve with yoghurt, hot sauce and more lemon wedges on the side.

Pesto pasta with white beans and halloumi

This vegetarian weeknight dinner comes together in half an hour and is made super special with the addition of halloumi. It looks like a fluffy cloud when grated, and it gives the pasta just the right amount of salty tang. Be sure to use a very fine grater, like a Microplane, when you prepare the halloumi, as it will only add to the fluffy effect (which is what you’re after). This is a full meal in its own right, but you can also serve it alongside a big green salad.

By: Yotam Ottolenghi

Makes: 4 servings

Total time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

For the pasta:

75ml olive oil

6 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced

1 medium green serrano chilli, stemmed and halved lengthwise

1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped

400g cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

250g short, twirled pasta, preferably gemelli or trofie pasta

700ml chicken or vegetable stock

Salt and black pepper

60ml lemon juice (from 2 lemons)

1 block halloumi (200g), very finely grated

For the rocket pesto:

50g pine nuts, well toasted

2 small garlic cloves, roughly chopped

60g rocket, roughly chopped

20g roughly chopped parsley (leaves and tender stems only)

90ml olive oil, plus more as needed

Salt and black pepper

Method:

1. Prepare the pasta: add the oil to a large, lidded saute pan, and then place it over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the garlic and chilli, and cook for 2 minutes, stirring often, until the garlic is nicely golden. Stir in the thyme, beans, pasta, stock, 2 teaspoons salt and plenty of pepper, and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat to medium, cover, and cook for 12 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit, with the lid off, for about 5 to 10 minutes. This will help it absorb more of the liquid.

2. As the pasta cooks, make the pesto: to a food processor, add the nuts, garlic, rocket, parsley, half the oil, ½ teaspoon salt and a good grind of pepper. Pulse a few times, scraping down the sides and pulsing again until you have a coarse paste. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in the remaining olive oil, adding a touch extra if needed to loosen the pesto.

3. When ready to serve, stir the lemon juice and half the pesto into the pasta (discard the chilli, if you wish) and transfer to a large serving bowl or platter with a lip. Sprinkle over about half the halloumi, and serve with the extra halloumi and pesto to eat alongside.

Silken tofu with spicy soy dressing

This recipe is inspired by the many cold silken tofu dishes from east Asia, like Japanese hiyayakko and Chinese liangban tofu. This no-cook dish is a handy one to have up your sleeve, especially for warm evenings when the desire to cook is nonexistent. Silky soft tofu is draped in a punchy soy dressing, creating a lively dish with little effort. The tofu is ideally served cold, but 10 minutes at room temperature can take the edge off. Make it your own with other fresh herbs such as Thai basil, mint or shiso leaves, or add crunch with fried shallots or roasted peanuts. A salty, fermented element like kimchi, pickled radish or ja choi, also known as zha cai, a Sichuan pickled mustard root, would work well, too. One block of silken tofu is usually enough to feed two people, but for a more substantial meal, serve it with hot rice or noodles to create a pleasing contrast of temperatures.

By: Hetty McKinnon

Makes: 4

Total time: 5 minutes

Ingredients:

For the spicy soy dressing:

60ml soy sauce

1 tbsp rice vinegar

1 tbsp sesame oil

1 tbsp chilli oil

2 tsp sugar

1 tbsp toasted white sesame seeds

1 spring onion, green and white parts, finely sliced

For the tofu:

2 (400g) blocks silken tofu, cold

1 spring onion, green and white parts, thinly sliced

Handful of coriander leaves

Method:

1. Make the dressing: combine the soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, chilli oil, sugar, sesame seeds and spring onions in a small bowl. Whisk until the sugar has dissolved.

2. Carefully drain the liquid from the package of tofu, and gently tip the block onto a kitchen towel (try to keep the block in one piece, if possible, but don’t worry if it falls apart; it will still taste great). Pat with another clean kitchen towel, removing as much liquid as possible. Transfer the blocks to one large plate or two smaller plates, and spoon the soy dressing over the top until the tofu is completely covered. Top with spring onions and coriander leaves, and eat on its own or with rice or noodles on the side.

Pesce all’acqua pazza (fish in crazy water)

This classic Neapolitan dish involves poaching fish in a liquid that Marcella Hazan explains as being “denser than a broth, looser, more vivacious and fresher in taste than any sauce”. It’s made by simmering chopped extra-ripe tomatoes with water, garlic, chilli and other flavourings. Once the water tastes like tomato, fish fillets are poached in it. This foolproof method prevents overcooking, so it’s ideal for all kinds of delicate seafood. Some think “crazy” refers to the broth’s spiciness, while others think the name comes from the fact that fishermen made the dish with seawater (but it could also simply reflect that water is the key ingredient).

Recipe by: Marcella Hazan

Adapted by: Ali Slagle

Makes: 4

Total time: 35 minutes

Ingredients:

60ml extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

½ tsp fennel seeds

Pinch of red-pepper flakes, plus more as needed

680g ripe tomatoes, peeled if desired, coarsely chopped

Salt

4 (170g) fillets firm or medium-firm white fish, such as sea bass or sea bream (skin on or off)

Grilled or crusty bread, for serving

Method:

1. In a large frying pan with high sides, combine the olive oil, garlic, fennel seeds and red-pepper flakes. Set over medium-low and cook, swirling occasionally, until sizzling and fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes.

2. Add 2½ cups water, the tomatoes and 2 teaspoons salt to the pan. Bring to a boil over high, then cover, reduce heat to medium, and cook until the tomatoes are softened and the water is bright red and tastes like tomato, 15 to 20 minutes.

3. Pat the fish dry and season with salt. Lay the fish into the tomato water, cover and cook until the fish is opaque and flakes easily, 4 to 8 minutes.

4. Taste the water and adjust seasonings with salt and red-pepper flakes. If the liquid has reduced so much that it resembles sauce, add a little water until it looks like tomatoes suspended in red-tinted water. Serve the fish and tomato water in shallow bowls, with a drizzle of olive oil and bread for dunking.

Arroz con pollo

Ubiquitous throughout Latin America and beyond, this dish can be as simple or as complex as your ingredients allow. The key is to layer flavour, adding dimension as you go. Boneless, skinless chicken thighs are preferred, but bone-in will also work well (chicken breasts lack the same amount of fat and flavour, so they are not recommended here). Watch the rice carefully as it cooks, absorbing the liquid, as pots and stoves vary greatly. If it starts to smell a little burned, reduce the heat, toss and put the lid on the pot. But don’t worry, as this aroma can be part of creating the coveted pegao, a layer of toasted rice that develops on the bottom of the pan and sticks to it, similar to Persian tahdig, Spanish socarrat or Senegalese xoon.

By:Von Diaz

Serves: 6 to 8

Total time: 2 hours, plus marinating

Ingredients:

For the adobo:

3 large garlic cloves, finely minced

1 tbsp salt

1 tbsp olive oil

2 tsp white vinegar

1½ tsp dried oregano

¼ tsp black pepper

For the chicken and rice:

1.4kg boneless, skinless chicken thighs

600g medium-grain white rice

3 tbsp olive oil

1.2L low-sodium chicken broth (or water)

640 -760g fresh sofrito (see recipe below)

3 dried bay leaves

1 tsp ground annatto or sweet paprika

225g tomato sauce (basic canned tomato sauce is fine)

100g medium pimento-stuffed olives, drained (optional)

2 tsp drained capers (optional)

1 tsp salt, plus more to taste

½ tsp freshly cracked black pepper

270g frozen peas, thawed

1 lime, cut into wedges

Salted, sliced avocado and tomato, for serving

For the sofrito:

1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and cut into quarters

3 ají dulce or amarillo peppers (or mini bell peppers), seeded and coarsely chopped

6 large garlic cloves

1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped

6 fresh culantro leaves and tender stems, coarsely chopped (see note)

6 fresh coriander stems, coarsely chopped

Method:

1. Prepare the adobo by whisking the ingredients together in a bowl, or blending in a small food processor, pilón or mortar and pestle.

2. Pat the chicken dry, then place in a large bowl or zip-top bag. Pour prepared adobo over chicken. Toss well to combine, then cover the bowl with a lid or plastic wrap, or seal the bag, and let the chicken rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. If you have the time, marinate for several hours or overnight to make the chicken extra tender and flavourful.

3. Prepare the sofrito: in a large food processor or blender, blend the peppers and garlic until smooth. Add the onion and blend until smooth, then add the culantro and coriander and blend until smooth (the preparation may produce more sofrito than needed for this recipe, but you can store additional sofrito in the fridge for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 3 months).

4. Add the rice to a medium bowl, then rinse with several rounds of cool water, pouring through a fine-mesh strainer until water runs out clear.

5. Once chicken is marinated, heat olive oil in a large heavy pot or casserole dish over medium-high. When the oil is simmering, working in batches if necessary, add chicken in one layer and brown for 7 to 10 minutes per batch, turning several times to evenly brown.

6. Meanwhile, bring chicken broth (or water) to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce to a simmer until ready to use.

7. Add sofrito, bay leaves and annatto or paprika to pot with chicken and stir well. Reduce heat to medium, and sauté until liquid is mostly evaporated and sofrito thickens to a paste, about 7 to 10 minutes.

8. Add tomato sauce and cook for 3 to 5 minutes longer, until the sauce darkens. Add the rinsed rice, olives and capers (if using), and salt and pepper, and fold in to ensure that the rice is fully coated and the chicken is evenly distributed.

9. Pour in hot stock, then simmer, uncovered, over medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring only 2 to 3 times and shaking the pot every few minutes to keep rice level (the liquid surrounding the rice will lower by about 2.5cm). Watch the rice very closely: the window between just right and overcooked is small, and difficult to predict, but you’ll become an expert at this over time.

10. Once you start to spot lots of little bubbles on the surface but see no more pronounced liquid on top, top with the lid, reduce heat to low and cook until the rice is al dente, about 15 to 20 minutes, shaking pot a few times. Once liquid is almost entirely evaporated, sprinkle thawed peas on top.

11. Working directly in the pot, using 2 forks, pull apart chicken thighs until shredded. Gently fluff the rice, bringing grains from the bottom to the top. Return the lid and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

12. Garnish with lime wedges, and serve with salted avocado and tomato slices (or a simple green salad). The dish keeps well in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days.

Note: Culantro, also called sawtooth herb or wild coriander, has long leaves with jagged edges and a stronger, earthier flavour than coriander. You can find it in the produce section of most Latino markets, as well as many Asian markets.

© The New York Times

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