After all the festivities of the Festival of Freedom, for many people it’s
liberating to be able to spend less time in the kitchen.
Even for a
simple meal, there are shortcuts that make preparation easier.
One of our
favorites is to make use of good-quality pantry ingredients. If you have a jar
of a sauce or flavoring paste that you like, use it to flavor cooked foods
instead of opening several spice jars and chopping and sautéing onions and
garlic. We keep jars of curry paste and pesto on hand to add zip to simply
cooked vegetables, main-course soups and rice and pasta dishes.
people say that it’s hard to fit vegetables into a busy schedule, but Nava
Atlas, author of Wild about Greens, shows how easy it can be. Her colorful
spring greens sauté with carrots, mint and chives is ready in
She sautés quartered baby carrots and garlic in extra virgin
olive oil, adds baby spinach and arugula leaves and cooks them only until the
greens are wilted, about two or three minutes.
ready-to-eat fresh vegetables like spinach and shredded cabbage make it possible
to add vegetables to meals when you don’t have the time or the inclination to
wash and cut vegetables.
Canned ingredients can also be useful additions
to all sorts of dishes.
We especially like canned beans, corn and
tomatoes, and oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes in jars. Paula Hamilton, author of
The 5 in 10 Cookbook: 5 Ingredients in 10 Minutes or Less, recommends roasted,
peeled sweet red peppers, marinara (tomato) sauce and, for quick appetizers and
pasta sauces, canned sardines.
To shorten cooking times, Hamilton
advocates using the microwave: “Using it as a tool, in tandem with other
appliances, to heat vegetables and to melt butter and chocolate saves precious
We also use the microwave to quickly cook whole potatoes and sweet
potatoes and to “sauté” shredded cabbage and chopped onion by microwaving them
with a little oil.
THE FOOD processor is another great time-saver. To
make cold cucumber and walnut soup, Greg Patent, author of Food Processor
Cooking Quick and Easy, does not need a knife at all. He uses the food processor
to chop garlic and parsley, shred walnuts, slice cucumbers and tomatoes, and
blend yogurt with olive oil, cumin, salt and pepper; then all that’s needed is
to mix the ingredients together.
For his flavorful, satisfying Venetian
soup, no board chopping is needed, either; the Parmesan cheese, parsley and
onion are chopped in the processor. Patent cooks the onion lightly in butter,
adds rice and after stirring it briefly with the onion, cooks it with stock,
parsley, salt, pepper and fresh or frozen peas. Just before serving the soup, he
stirs in the Parmesan.
Obviously, choosing recipes with a short list of
ingredients makes cooking simpler. Hamilton prepares hearty Italian winter soup
by cooking macaroni in beef broth and combining it with sautéed ground beef,
chunky spaghetti sauce and canned red beans – some added whole, and some pureed
with their liquid to thicken the soup. Her minute minestrone is even easier. She
cooks macaroni in broth, adds packaged spinach, canned white beans and chopped
fresh or canned tomatoes, and serves the soup with grated Parmesan.
a few flavorings, you can have a savory entree ready in a flash. Hamilton’s
colorful chicken breasts picante calls for sautéing boneless chicken breasts in
oil, and making a quick pan sauce by adding dry white wine, capers and strips of
roasted red peppers from a jar. Her Caribbean chicken curry is made of boneless
chicken cubes sautéed in oil with curry powder, then cooked briefly with coconut
milk and seasoned with salt and lime juice.
For a quick vegetarian main
course, Atlas makes southwestern-style greens with beans. She adds briefly
steamed spinach and canned beans to a pan of sautéed garlic, hot peppers and
green onions. All that’s needed to complete the flavorful dish is cumin, salt
and freshly ground pepper (see recipe).
Faye Levy is the author of
Low-Fat Meals in 30 Minutes.SOUTHWESTERN-STYLE GREENS WITH PINTO BEANS
This recipe is from Wild about
Greens. Author Nava Atlas writes: “This simple, traditional preparation of pinto
beans originally called for any wild greens that grew locally. Contemporary
recipes for this combo call for spinach or chard instead. The dark greens in
this dish look very appealing, mixed with the pink beans, and the more garlicky
you make them the better.”
Atlas uses pinto beans, but you can use white,
red, pink, brown or any beans you like. Make this with spinach or chard,
whichever is convenient. If using packaged, cleaned spinach leaves to save time,
you can use 350 grams (3⁄4 pound).
Makes 4 to 6 servings
450 gr. (1 lb.)
spinach or chard
11⁄2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 to 2 small fresh hot chili peppers, minced (optional)
3 green onions, white
and green parts, finely chopped
2 cups cooked or a 400- to 450-gr. (15- to
16-oz.) can beans, drained and rinsed
1 tsp. ground cumin
Salt and freshly
Stem and wash the greens and coarsely chop the leaves. If you’re
using chard, trim away the thicker midribs from the leaves and thinly slice
them. Steam the greens with a very small amount of water in a large, tightly
covered soup pot until they’re wilted. The spinach will be done as soon as it
wilts, but the chard needs to steam a bit longer; you’ll know it’s done when the
leaves turn a deep green.
Drain the greens and finely chop
Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic and sauté over low
heat until it just begins to turn golden. Add the green onions and sauté until
they soften just a bit. Stir in the greens, beans and seasonings. Cook the
mixture, covered, over low heat for 5 minutes, or just until everything is
heated through.PENNE WITH PEAS AND PARMESAN
For this dish, from
Sensational Pasta by Faye Levy, the cooked peas and the penne, or diagonal-cut
macaroni, are spooned onto a platter, sprinkled with cheese and doused with hot
butter, which melts the cheese. We like penne with peas as a lunch or supper
main course, accompanied by a tomato salad. For a quick and easy dish, use
frozen peas. When fresh peas are available, this is a good way to enjoy
Makes 4 to 6 first-course or 3 main-course servings
900 gr. (2
lbs.) fresh peas, shelled, or 2 cups frozen
225 gr. (8 oz.) penne or mostaccioli
(diagonal-cut macaroni) (about 2 3⁄4 cups)
6 Tbsp. butter
2 medium shallots or
green onions, minced
11⁄2 tsp. chopped fresh marjoram or thyme leaves or 1⁄2
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3⁄4 cup freshly grated
Parmesan cheese (about 70 gr. or 21⁄4 oz.)
Add peas to a saucepan of enough
boiling salted water to cover them and cook uncovered over high heat about 5
minutes for fresh peas or 2 minutes for frozen, or until just tender but still
bright green. Drain, rinse with cold water and drain well.
uncovered in a large pot of boiling salted water over high heat, stirring
occasionally, about 9 minutes or until tender but firm to the bite. Drain
Meanwhile, melt 2 Tbsp. butter in the saucepan used to cook the
peas over low heat. Add shallots and cook 2 minutes, stirring, until softened
but not brown. Add peas, marjoram or thyme, salt and pepper and heat
gently for 1 minute. Melt remaining 4 Tbsp. butter in a small
Transfer pasta to a large heated bowl, add pea mixture and toss
well. Transfer to a large heated platter. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan. Heat
melted butter over medium heat until sizzling and pour evenly over the pasta
mixture. Serve immediately.