Let’s talk about weeknight dinners. A Monday dinner no less. Could there be a less appealing night to get in the kitchen and dirty up a ton of dishes?
Last night, after hiking up the hill to my apartment, peeling off layer after layer of cold weather gear, slipping off my boots and putting on pajamas, I plopped down on the couch and just stared at my kitchen. I was starving. I needed to eat. But all I wanted in that moment was my make-believe cabana boy (who doubles as a chef) to come cook me dinner.
Alas. My cabana boy seemed to have the night off. So I reminded myself how therapeutic cooking can be, even when your body and mind are tired, and got to it.
The brussel sprouts were two days shy of being thrown out. The orecchiette hadn’t been opened despite taking up valuable real estate in my cupboard for over a month now. The butter and the cheese, well, that was my reward to myself for getting off the couch.
I cooked in silence for once. Usually I jam some music or have MSNBC on in the background, but the sounds of the knife thunking on the cutting board, the hissss of gas when I turned on the oven and even the crinkle and tear of the parchment paper I used for roasting the sprouts was a soothing back drop. And there it was, I found my zen.
It was a nice little moment, and something I need to remind myself I can have every day if I like. I have a tendency to stop before I even start when it comes to weeknight cooking, don’t you? I have these big ideas for, let’s get real, ambitious meals, and once I get home the idea of cooking for more than 15 minutes sounds completely overwhelming. (Not to mention the dishes. Oy! The dishes!) But these meals can, and should, be simple but special in some way. So here are my weeknight cooking tips:
- Start with a pantry staple (in this case, pasta)
- Add an ingredient you don’t normally use (brussel sprouts)
- Boost flavor (balsamic here, but think spices and herbs too)
- Indulge a bit (butter and cheese)
- BONUS TIP: add an appetizer
Regarding that last one – start keeping some good bread/crackers and cheese in your house. You’re not going to eat the whole loaf or inhale the entire wedge of cheese, but a couple slices of each with a glass of wine while you wait for dinner to finish can be really nice. I probably have more cheese in my house than I know what to do with, and am perpetually freezing my favorite loaf of bread. These odd habits have served me well for both the average weeknight and for entertaining unexpected guests.
But let’s get to it – here’s what you’ll be making for dinner tonight!
Orecchiette with Balsamic Roasted Brussel Sprouts
1 to 2 cups of orecchiette (1 or 2 servings, respectively)
1/2 or 1 whole bag of brussel sprouts cleaned and trimmed
1/2 or 1 whole small red onion
1 to 2 tbsp olive oil
1 to 2 tbsp balsamic
Salt and Pepper
1 to 2 tbsp butter
1/4 to 1/2 cup grated parmesan
Pre-heat your oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
While your oven heats up, clean and trim the brussel sprouts. Chop each sprout in half and place on the parchment lined baking sheet. Slice the red onion and also place on the baking sheet. When you have the desired amount of sprouts and onions, drizzle them with the olive oil and balsamic, sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss everything lightly with your hands. Pop them in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes.
While the sprouts roast, fill a pot with water, add plenty of salt and boil it for your pasta. Cook the orecchiette to your desired al dente-ness.
About the time your pasta is done cooking, your sprouts should be done too. Pull the sprouts out and let them cool while you take care of the pasta.
Drain the pasta and do not rinse it. Melt the butter in with the pasta, toss in the sprouts and onions, sprinkle the parmesan over it all and give it a good stir.
There you go! Dinner’s all done and it took less than 30 minutes! Just call me freakin’ Rachel Ray :)