few weeks ago, a parenting columnist asked newsletter readers about their best pandemic buys. That sparked some curiosity about what the best cooking-related purchases were in the past year.
In at least one home, it’s a tie between a waffle maker, used all year to make crisp, perfect yeast-risen waffles, and a fire pit, which made socially distanced garden dinners possible even in snowy February.
Here are five dishes to cook this week.
Mushroom pasta stir-fry
While stir-fries have long gone hand-in-hand with rice, this recipe shows the versatility of the dish. Here, a quick stir-fry is transformed into a flavourful, unconventional pasta sauce.
Five spice is a Chinese seasoning that is said to incorporate all five tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami. In this recipe, its blend of star anise, cloves, Chinese cinnamon, Sichuan peppercorns and fennel intensifies the robust flavour of the mushrooms.
Don’t overcook the tenderstem broccoli; it should be crisp, with a bright green vibrancy. You could easily substitute green beans, snow peas or other crunchy greens.
And don’t skip the butter (or use vegan butter, if you prefer), as it provides a beautiful richness that brings the sauce and ingredients together.
By: Hetty McKinnon
Makes: 4 servings
Total time: 30 minutes
For the pasta:
Salt and black pepper
450g spaghetti or other long pasta
4 tbsp neutral oil, such as grapeseed
450g mushrooms (any small variety), trimmed and cut into 0.5cm-thick slices
2 garlic cloves, grated
1 ¼ tsp five-spice blend
340g tenderstem broccoli, trimmed and cut into 7.5cm pieces, thick stems halved lengthwise
3 tbsp unsalted butter
2 spring onions, thinly sliced
For the sauce:
2 tbsp oyster sauce (or vegetarian mushroom oyster sauce)
2 tbsp maple syrup or brown sugar
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp chilli oil or chilli crisp
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package instructions, until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta.
2. Meanwhile, heat a large (30cm), deep frying pan over medium-high. When hot, add 2 tablespoons oil and the mushrooms. Cook for 7 to 8 minutes, giving it a stir every 2 minutes or so. The mushrooms will release lots of liquid, but it will evaporate as it cooks. When the mushrooms start to turn golden, add the garlic, five spice and ½ teaspoon each salt and black pepper, then cook for 1 minute. Transfer the mushrooms to a plate and set aside.
3. While the mushrooms are cooking, make the sauce: in a small bowl, whisk the oyster sauce, maple syrup, soy sauce, sesame oil and chilli oil with 60ml water until combined. Set aside.
4. Heat the same pan back over medium-high. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and the tenderstem broccoli. Season with salt and pepper and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, tossing occasionally, until the broccoli is tender but still quite crisp.
5. Add the pasta to the pan, along with the sauce and the butter. Using tongs, toss to combine, then add the reserved pasta cooking water, ¼ cup at a time, just to loosen the sauce. When the butter has melted, add the mushrooms and toss again. Remove from the heat. Serve topped with scallions.
Farro with blistered tomatoes, pesto and spinach
Here is an Italian-inspired recipe that uses shop-bought or homemade pesto to season farro, which is then tossed with fresh spinach, roasted tomatoes, red onions and mozzarella for a complete vegetarian meal.
Make it with fresh-from-the-market cherry tomatoes when they’re in season, but during the rest of the year, use plum tomatoes, as they tend to be more flavourful than cherry during the colder months. If you’d like, substitute arugula, or cooked rapini or kale, for the spinach.
It tastes delicious warm or cold the next day – and topping it with prawns, chicken or scallops can make it feel new again. Before reheating, add a bit more spinach, drizzle it with a little olive oil and give it a good stir.
By: Yasmin Fahr
Makes: 4 servings
Total time: 40 minutes
Salt and black pepper
165g farro, rinsed
560g cherry or plum tomatoes
1 small red onion, peeled, quartered and cut into 2.5cm wedges
2 tbsp olive oil, plus more for the farro
½ tsp red pepper flakes
1 tbsp shop-bought or homemade pesto, plus more to taste
1 lemon, zested (about 1 tbsp) and juiced (about 2 tbsp)
60g baby spinach
1 (125g) ball fresh mozzarella, torn into chunks, or 125g ricotta salata, crumbled (optional)
Handful fresh flat-leaf parsley or basil leaves and tender stems, roughly chopped
1. Heat the oven to 200C. Bring a large covered pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add the farro and adjust the heat to maintain a medium boil. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom, until tender and not too chewy, about 30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, on a baking tray, combine the tomatoes and onion wedges with the oil, making sure everything is well coated and glistening, then season with salt, pepper and the red pepper flakes. Roast until the tomatoes blister and slightly deflate, 25 to 30 minutes.
3. When the farro is done, drain, then pour into a serving bowl or back into the pot. Toss with some olive oil, then mix in the pesto. Add the lemon zest and juice, then stir in the spinach. Set aside to cool slightly.
4. Scrape the onions, tomatoes and their juices into the farro; season with salt and pepper as needed. Add the cheese, if using, then garnish with herbs and serve.
Frying pan chicken with orzo, dill and feta
Chicken and orzo is timeless combination, simple and satisfying. In this recipe, you could use chicken thighs, but drumsticks make this dish super family-friendly. Of course, if you have a crowd that doesn’t love the classic feta-dill pairing, feel free to change the toppings. Mint or parsley work just as well for the herbs, and any salty, crumbly cheese is lovely here. You can dress this up as you like with cucumbers or cherry tomatoes, or green olives, served alongside or pitted, chopped and tossed in instead.
Besides the obvious perk of its being a one-pot dinner, this recipe yields great leftovers. For the next day’s lunch, pull any remaining chicken off the bone, chop it, skin and all, and toss with the remaining orzo, vegetables and cheese.
Know that the orzo – a very small pasta, not rice – soaks up all the liquid and flavour as it sits and cools, so you may need a drizzle of oil and lemon juice over the top to serve it the second day.
By: Sarah Copeland
Makes: 4 servings
Total time: 35 minutes, plus marinating
5 tbsp olive oil
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
900g chicken drumsticks or bone-in thighs
1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped
700ml chicken stock or water
2 small or 1 large cucumber, chopped
140g feta, crumbled
2 tbsp chopped fresh dill
Nocellara or other green olives, for serving
1. Cut one of the lemons into wedges and set aside. Juice the remaining lemon and combine with 3 tablespoons olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper, in a large resealable plastic bag or in a bowl, along with the chicken pieces. Seal and shake the bag (or stir in the bowl) to coat. Set aside for 30 minutes, or refrigerate up to overnight.
2. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large cast-iron pan over medium-high heat. Remove the chicken from the marinade, letting the excess drip off, and cook until lightly golden all over, turning when the chicken releases easily from the pan, about 12 minutes total. Transfer chicken to a plate and set aside.
3. Add the onion to the pan and stir to coat with the remaining fat. Decrease heat to medium and cook until soft, about 4 minutes. Stir in the orzo and the broth or water. Cook until the liquid is partly absorbed, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Top with the chicken legs and cover with a lid or foil. Continue cooking until the orzo is tender, most of the liquid is absorbed, and the chicken is cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes more, depending on the size of your drumsticks or thighs. Remove from the heat and scatter the cucumber, feta and dill over the top. Serve from the pan with lemon wedges and olives.
Tip: Some cast-iron pans come with a matching lid, which is useful for making the pan operate a bit like a mini stovetop oven, cooking evenly and basting the food with flavour and steam. If you don’t have one, use a lid from another pan, or two layers of thick foil, folded at the center and large enough to cover your pan.
White bean caprese salad
Beloved back-of-the-cupboard white beans add substance to this take on caprese salad, which comes together in no time. It’s a perfect side for grilled chicken or fish, and can be easily doubled to work as a main course when it’s too hot to turn on the oven.
If you’re so inclined, a handful of spicy arugula, thinly sliced roasted red peppers or ribbons of prosciutto – or all three – would also be nice additions. This dish is easily transportable and tastier when eaten while sitting in a lawn chair.
By: Colu Henry
Makes: 2 to 4 servings
Total time: 10 minutes
1 400g can white beans, such as cannellini, rinsed
140g cherry or plum tomatoes, halved
140g small mozzarella balls, at room temperature, halved lengthwise, or good-quality fresh mozzarella, torn into bite-size pieces
5g basil leaves, torn if large
2 tbsp olive oil, plus more as needed
Salt and black pepper
2 tsp good-quality balsamic vinegar, plus more as needed
1. In a medium bowl, combine the beans, tomatoes, cheese and half the basil. Gently toss together.
2. Add the olive oil and season the mixture well with salt and pepper. Gently stir to combine.
3. Drizzle the salad with the balsamic vinegar and top with the remaining basil. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking. Add a drizzle or so more of oil and vinegar if needed. Finish with flaky salt.
Roasted shrimp and pineapple with peanut sauce
This tangy version of Thai-style peanut sauce, bright with chilli, lime, and ginger, is excellent with chicken and beef – and outstanding with shrimp.
Here, the sauce is paired with sweet, juicy pineapple and succulent prawns, which broil in minutes. It’s a quick, satisfying dinner with the added bonus of leftover peanut sauce, which will keep well in the fridge for at least five days.
By: Melissa Clark
Makes: 4 servings
Total time: 30 minutes
120g smooth peanut butter, preferably natural
3 tbsp unsweetened coconut milk
1 ½ tbsp lime juice, more as needed
2 tsp brown sugar
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp grated ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
½ tsp sriracha or other hot sauce
¼ tsp plus a pinch salt, more as needed
1 ½ tbsp peanut oil
⅛ tsp red pepper flakes
450g cleaned large prawns
300g pineapple chunks
Whole coriander leaves and torn basil leaves, for garnish
1. In a food processor or blender, combine peanut butter, coconut milk, 3 tablespoons hot water, lime juice, sugar, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, sriracha and a pinch of salt. Purée until smooth. Add more lime juice and or salt to taste. Scrape into a bowl.
2. Heat oven to 250C. In a small bowl, whisk together peanut oil, remaining ¼ teaspoon salt and red pepper flakes. Thread prawns on skewers; brush all over with half the peanut oil mixture. Thread pineapple on separate skewers; brush with remaining oil mixture. Arrange prawn and pineapple skewers on a large rimmed baking tray.
3. Roast skewers, turning them halfway through, until prawns are opaque, about 5 minutes, and pineapple is lightly caramelised, about 10 minutes (use an oven glove to remove shrimp skewers as they finish cooking but leave the pineapple in for longer). Sprinkle skewers with herbs and serve hot, with peanut sauce for dipping.
© The New York Times