Since I cook fresh evening meals everyday and come home late from work, I need to have a lot of tricks for quickly pulling off tasty, nutritious suppers within a reasonable time. When I don’t have anything specific in mind, the first things I do when I walk in the door are light the oven and set a pot of water on the stove to boil. This gets things started while I bring in the mail, put the dogs out, change my clothes and then bring in the hungry beasts for supper. I recently heard about someone else who does the same kitchen routine and I thought, ah ha, if you want to get something done, ask a busy person (and you’ll probably learn a short cut in the process).
While there are lots of possibilities in this scenario, I often find myself roasting a pan full of vegetables to toss in a bowl of pasta or over some whole grains like farro or barley. It helps to have a couple of pantry items on hand to introduce a depth of flavor. Olives, herbs and preserved lemons are good choices but my favorite is roasted tomatoes. At the end of canning season in the fall, when I’ve “had it” with water bath canning whole tomatoes and sauces, I roast plum tomato halves with thyme and garlic and store them in packets in the freezer. They thaw very fast and make an instant sauce. Mid-winter tomatoes from the grocery store are greatly improved this way too.
Here are a few examples of mid week suppers that we’ve had over the last couple of months. In other seasons we’d have roasted ratatouille vegetables with range zest and black olives, asparagus with lemon, roasted winter squash cubes with sage, and as many other combinations as we can imagine.
Pasta with oven-roasted fennel and tomatoes
Core and slice the fennel root, reserving the stems for vegetable stock and the fronds for garnish. Roast slices of fennel tossed with a little olive oil and salt at 375 degrees until soft, turning once. It’s important to keep the heat low enough so the slices are cooked through and not dried out. They can be tough. You should send up with some soft pieces and some crispy bits. Add some roasted tomatoes and toss with cooked pasta. Season to taste and sprinkle the dish with chopped fennel fronds. Optional: toss in some grated Parmesan cheese and/or add roasted red, orange or yellow peppers.
Pasta with oven-roasted cauliflower, red pepper and tomatoes
Roast slices of cauliflower and red pepper and tossed with a little olive oil and salt at 400 degrees, turning twice, until soft and browned. When just about done, add minced garlic and cook for a minute or two. Combine with warmed roasted tomatoes and cooked pasta. Garnish with parsley. Optional: add cooked chickpeas and/or chopped black olives.
Pasta with roasted mushrooms and tomatoes
You can pan-roast sliced mushrooms or roast them in the oven. Add a tiny amount of oil and/or butter to a pan, add mushrooms and sliced onions and turn the heat up, tossing the mushrooms until done. Add thyme, garlic salt and a little balsamic vinegar. In the oven, you can just toss the mushrooms and sliced onions in olive oil and salt and cook them at 400 degrees, turning once. Make a sauce of the roasted tomatoes and mushroom mixture and serve it over pasta. Here I used pappardelle, dramatic wide noodles. Sprinkle with herbs.