By Margaux Laskey, The New York Times
Hi, old friends! I’m not traveling, but my goal is to watch too many holiday movies, eat my weight in Italian rainbow cookies, find the best Christmas light display in North Jersey and cook as little as possible. When I was growing up, lasagna was a Christmas Eve tradition. I’m compromising by making a quick ragù, which has all of the flavors of the classic layered pasta.
Of course, I still plan to fulfill my Christmas cooking duties (no-yeast cinnamon rolls and sausage rolls made with store-bought puff pastry for breakfast; garlicky beef tenderloin, mashed potatoes, Yorkshire pudding and buttered green beans for dinner), but after that, I’m phoning it in inasmuch as possible. There will be plenty of takeout, but I’ll fill the gaps with simple, cozy dishes like those below. I hope you like them.
If you celebrate the holiday, I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas. And if you don’t, I wish you much to be merry about in 2022. (You can find me on Instagram, if you do that sort of thing.)
1. Quick Ragù With Ricotta and Lemon
Meat ragù traditionally requires a long simmer over low heat, but this 45-minute version owes its slow-cooked flavor to a hefty dose of red-pepper or chile paste, which yields a complex, hearty sauce. (This recipe calls for sambal oelek, which is easy to find, but Calabrian chile or Hungarian paprika paste would work well, too.) Spoon the ragù over cooked, broken lasagna noodles and top it with a dollop of creamy ricotta, a sprinkle of toasted fennel and a few curls of lemon zest. This recipe uses beef, but you could also prepare it with spicy Italian sausage, or ground pork or turkey — though you may want to amplify the flavor by tossing in a little fennel seed and red-pepper flakes with the onion and garlic.
By Sarah Copeland
Yield: 4 servings
Total time: 45 minutes
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
- Fine sea salt and black pepper
- 1 pound ground beef
- 2 heaping tablespoons sambal oelek (or any spicy red-pepper paste)
- 1/4 cup full-bodied red wine, like cabernet or merlot
- 1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, with their juices
- 8 ounces plain or whole-wheat lasagna noodles (not no-cook), broken in 1- to 2-inch pieces
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 cup fresh ricotta
- 1 lemon, zested
- Flaky salt, like Maldon
1. In a large Dutch oven or pot, heat 1/4 cup oil over medium. Add the onion and garlic, season with salt and cook until just beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the ground beef and cook, breaking it apart with the edge of a spoon, until nicely browned but not completely cooked through, about 6 minutes. Stir in the sambal oelek. Add the wine and stir to release any brown bits from the bottom of the pot.
2. Add the tomatoes and their juices, crushing completely between your hands or with a potato masher. Cook over medium-low, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes begin to break down and the beef is cooked through, about 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper halfway through cooking.
3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Boil the broken lasagna noodles according to package directions until al dente.
4. In a small skillet, toast the fennel seeds over medium until fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove and crush on a cutting board with the flat end of a large knife or the bottom of a skillet.
5. Drain the pasta, add to the ragù and toss to coat. Divide among four bowls and dollop each generously with ricotta. Sprinkle with lemon zest, cracked fennel, flaky sea salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil as desired. Serve warm.
2. Sheet-Pan Roasted Chicken With Pears and Arugula
In this hearty sheet-pan meal, thick pear wedges and chicken thighs seasoned with earthy, warming spices are roasted until soft and tender. During the last five minutes, crunchy sunflower seeds are scattered on the pan to sizzle in the pan juices, gaining a salty flavor that balances out the sweetness of the pears. A final topping of arugula soaks up any lingering juices and turns this into a full-on meal. Using firm, not-quite-ripe pears prevents them from becoming mushy and falling apart during the cooking process. Swap baby spinach for the arugula and sherry vinegar for the lemon juice, depending on what you have on hand. Serve any leftovers on a bed of fresh arugula, dressed with lemon and olive oil.
By Yasmin Fahr
Yield: 4 servings
Total time: 40 minutes
- 6 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs (2 1/2 to 3 pounds)
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon coriander
- 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger from a 2-inch piece
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 firm, semi-ripe Bartlett or Bosc pears, cored and quartered lengthwise
- 2 tablespoons raw, unsalted sunflower seeds
- 2 packed cups baby arugula
- 1 lemon, halved
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems, roughly chopped (optional)
1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees with a rack in the center.
2. Pat the chicken dry and trim excess fat and skin. Sprinkle all over with 2 teaspoons salt, and season with pepper. In a small bowl, mix together the red-pepper flakes, cumin, coriander, ginger and oil. On a sheet pan, rub the chicken and pears all over with the mixture. Arrange chicken skin-side up and pears skin-side down. Cook until the chicken is cooked through (165 degrees at the thickest part) and the pears are tender, 25 to 30 minutes. During the last 5 minutes, add the sunflower seeds to the pan. If there’s a lot of fat when finished cooking, tilt the pan and spoon it off until there’s a light coating on the surface of the pan.
3. Scatter the arugula on top, and squeeze the juice of 1/2 lemon over the pan. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Top with herbs, if using. Cut the remaining lemon half in quarters and serve.
3. Slow Cooker Cauliflower and White Bean Soup
This creamy vegetarian soup is built on humble winter staples, but the addition of sour cream and chives make it feel special. (Crumble a few sour-cream-and-onion chips on top to take the theme all the way.) It takes just a few minutes to throw the ingredients into the slow cooker, and the rest of the recipe almost entirely hands-off, making it very doable on a weekday. If you have one, use an immersion blender to purée it to a silky smooth consistency, but a potato masher works well for a textured, chunky soup.
By Sarah DiGregorio
- 1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed, peeled and cut into 1- to 2-inch chunks
- 1 pound cauliflower, chopped into large bite-sized florets and stems
- 2 (15-ounce) cans cannellini beans, drained
- 1/2 yellow onion, minced
- 3 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
- 3 1/2 cups vegetable stock
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons dry white wine
- 1 sprig fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- Coarse kosher salt and black pepper
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice (about 1/4 lemon)
- 8 ounces sour cream (1 cup), at room temperature
- 1/2 cup chopped chives (about 1 small bunch)
- Potato chips, preferably sour cream and onion, for topping
- Shredded Cheddar, for serving
1. In a 6- to 8-quart slow cooker, combine the potatoes, cauliflower, beans, onion, garlic, vegetable stock, butter, wine, thyme, garlic powder and 1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt. Cover and cook until the vegetables are very tender, about 8 hours on low.
2. Remove and discard the thyme sprig, and turn off the slow cooker. Add the lemon juice. To make a completely smooth and creamy soup, purée the ingredients using an immersion blender. (Or, purée the soup in a blender in two batches, transferring the puréed soup to a different pot.) To make a textured, chunky soup, smash the ingredients using a potato masher in the slow cooker. Stir in the sour cream and chives. Taste and add additional salt if necessary. Serve in bowls topped with black pepper, crushed potato chips and shredded Cheddar. For leftovers, gently reheat the soup on the stovetop or in the microwave until it just barely bubbles around the edges; don’t let it boil or the sour cream will break.
4. Green Chile Chicken Tacos
This weeknight chicken dinner takes advantage of canned green chiles, a flavorful and time-saving pantry staple. The green chiles have already been roasted, peeled and chopped for ease; simply combine them with spices and broth for a quick sauce with nice mild heat and smoky notes. Chicken thighs are an affordable cut that’s juicy, tender and rich with flavor, but chicken breast could also be used here for leaner (but just as tasty) tacos. Leftovers can be turned into a zesty pasta salad or used as a hearty omelet or frittata filling.
By Kay Chun
Yield: 4 Servings
Total time: 30 Minutes
- 1/4 cup safflower or canola oil
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion (from 1/2 medium onion)
- 1/2 cup finely chopped green bell pepper (from 1/2 bell pepper)
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 (4-ounce) cans chopped green chiles, drained
- 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
- 8 (6-inch) corn tortillas, warmed or toasted
- Shredded cabbage, store-bought pico de gallo or salsa, sliced avocado, sour cream, and cilantro leaves and tender stems, for serving
- Lime wedges, for serving
1. In a small bowl, mix oil with oregano and cumin. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high. To the skillet add 2 tablespoons of the seasoned oil, half of the chicken, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is no longer pink and is lightly golden, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon or spatula, transfer chicken to a plate. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil and remaining chicken to the skillet and repeat.
2. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, onion and bell pepper to the empty skillet and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in garlic until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add green chiles, broth and chicken (along with any accumulated juices) and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until all of the liquid is absorbed, the mixture is thick and the chicken is cooked through, about 8 minutes.
3. Divide the chicken mixture among the tortillas. Top with shredded cabbage, pico de gallo, avocado, sour cream and cilantro. Serve with lime wedges.
5. Quick Tomato Soup With Grilled Cheese
When done well, this age-old combination can be exactly what you want. Here, the cooking is as easy as the eating: While you get the soup started in a pot with a can of tomatoes and little more than onion and butter, you assemble and pan-fry the sandwiches. The particular joy of these lies in their soft, quiet flavors: A thin layer of mayonnaise spread on the inside of the bread heats with the mozzarella, a mild cheese that lets you taste the bread and butter as they are. With a filling this rich and gooey, you want a delicate sweet enriched loaf like brioche or milk bread.
By Eric Kim
Yield: 4 servings
Total time: 30 minutes
For the tomato soup:
- 1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
- 3/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth, plus more as needed
- 1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Salt and black pepper
- For the grilled cheese:
- 8 slices brioche or milk bread, crusts removed
- 1 cup shredded low-moisture mozzarella (4 ounces)
- 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1. Make the soup: Dump the canned tomatoes and their juices into a medium pot and using your hands, tear into coarse chunks. Swish the broth in the empty tomato can and add to the pot.
2. Stir in the onion, butter, oregano and sugar and season generously with salt and pepper. Turn the heat to high and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and continue simmering, stirring occasionally, until the onion is tender and the tomatoes have broken down, 15 to 20 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, make the sandwiches: Spread a thin layer of mayonnaise on one side of each slice of bread and evenly sprinkle the cheese and a little oregano on the mayonnaise side of 4 slices. Top with the cheeseless slices, mayonnaise-side down.
4. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium. Add the sandwiches and cook until golden brown on the bottoms, 2 to 3 minutes. Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in the pan, then flip the sandwiches with a spatula, move them around to coat with the butter and cook until the other side is golden brown and the cheese is melted, 1 to 2 minutes. Turn heat to lowest setting to keep sandwiches warm.
5. Carefully purée the tomato soup using a blender until smooth and creamy, adding more broth if needed to loosen to your desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer the grilled cheeses to a cutting board and cut each in half diagonally. Serve alongside the soup.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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