It can be hard enough to find time to sit down for dinner with friends or family — but finding time to make an entree and multiple side dishes each night shouldn't be the reason.
If you keep it simple — making and serving more one-dish meals, you may find cooking exponentially easier. Whether you are reheating different proteins from a weekend cooking marathon, have slow-cooked a meal while you are out all day, or are pulling dinner together in a hurry after work, there is a one-dish recipe to suit your needs.
Think of simmering fancy beans with roasted vegetables. Then, if you add some smoked duck and sausage, your meal could be set in the French countryside. Or season beans with tamari and ginger and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds, scallions, and seaweed for a more Asian one-pot feast. Skin-on chicken pieces will brown and cook through while adding flavor to vegetable grain pilaf in an oven-to-table baking dish. Don't neglect shepherd's or pot pie, stuffed peppers or cabbage, curries, cazuelas, paella, enchiladas.
Perennial favorites such as lasagna are transformed with chopped garlicky broccoli in the middle rather than on the side. Noodles can be layered with many other complete combinations of vegetables, sauces, and meat. Why not a Southwestern lasagna with roasted peppers, green salsa, and ground lamb layered with cheesy bechamel sauce? Familiar yet new, hearty, and delicious, this dish is a perfect example of what a one-dish dinner can offer.
Prefer beef? Beef short ribs couldn't be easier. Quick to prep, they do need long, slow cooking — stove-top, slow cooker, or, my preference, the oven. Simply sear the fatty side of the ribs in a roasting pan, season and add liquid, cover with foil, and leave them to cook to tender succulence. Short ribs take to many seasoning styles and reheat well. Leftover meat can be used in soups, to fill dumplings, or added to a can of beans and turned into easy sloppy joes. Cook the meat with chunks of potato, parsnips, carrots, and celery, and no side dish is needed.
When I find myself with a little time to cook, I like to make several one-dish meals from a few basic components. Stock up on fresh seasonal vegetables, which this time of year means roots and leeks.
One of my favorite dishes to make this time of year is a root-vegetable gratin, a simple, rustic, hearty, and colorful vegetarian dinner. I made mine by taking lots of thinly sliced rutabaga, celery root, golden beets, and carrots, and layering the vegetables with a little cheese.
And don't pitch the trimmings and vegetable ends. Use them along with some onions, garlic, celery, and chicken thighs to make a hearty chicken broth. After an hour or so of simmering, remove the chicken pieces from the pot, pull off the meat, and return the chicken bones to simmer for another hour or two. Then pour the broth through a sieve for a lovely rich base you can use for many dishes. Use the well-seasoned poached chicken along with some of the broth for a chicken-and-dumpling dish. Or shred the chicken for an enchilada casserole. Or add it back to the broth with thin noodles for a comforting classic soup.
Some great one-dish meals are simply transformed soups, curries, or stews. A thick fish, chicken, or corn-and-bean chowder with a handful of greens stirred in toward the end is easy to make ahead, then just warm and serve with croutons or fresh bread. Simple potato-herb dumplings can simmer atop a brothy lentil stew, making a home-style, yet elegant, dish. Corn bread or polenta baked atop chili is similarly transformative.
Choose one of these ideas, add a big green salad, and all that's left to figure out is where to find time in each family member's schedule to gather for dinner.
Serves 6 to 8
2 cups dried flageolet (or white) beans, picked over and rinsed
6 cups broth (chicken or vegetable) or water
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon of coarse salt, several grinds of fresh pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, minced
10 cloves garlic, minced fine
½ cup coarsely chopped turnip (1 medium)
1 cup coarsely chopped peeled rutabaga (½ a rutabaga)
1 carrot, thinly sliced
½ cup celery, finely minced
6 sun-dried tomatoes, minced, or 1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 smoked duck breast, skin removed (and reserved) and sliced thin or sub thick pieces of smoked turkey
2 to 3 turkey, duck, or chicken sausages, sliced into 1- to 2-inch pieces
1/3 cup bread crumbs
1. In a heavy-bottomed pan or Dutch oven, place the beans and broth, bay leaf, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer, and cook until the beans are just tender. Add broth to cover beans throughout simmering. (Precooking the beans can be done up to a day ahead of making this dish.)
2. Heat oven to 300 degrees. Heat olive oil in Dutch oven until it shimmers. Add the onions and cook until lightly browned.
3. Add the garlic and cook 2 to 3 minutes more, stirring often. Add the turnip, rutabaga, carrot, and celery and stir. Season with salt and pepper. Add the beans and their cooking liquid along with the tomatoes and thyme. There should be enough liquid to barely cover the beans and vegetables. Bring to a gentle simmer, cover, and place in oven for 45 minutes.
4. Turn oven to 425. Uncover the casserole. Place the duck (or turkey) skin on a baking sheet and surround with the sausage pieces. Place baking sheet on lower shelf of oven and cook sausages until they are browned. Remove pan from oven and add the browned sausages along with the sliced smoked duck (or turkey) to the casserole. Reserve the rendered duck and sausage fat. Stir the bread crumbs into 2 to 4 tablespoons of the rendered fat and sprinkle on the top of the casserole. Bake an additional 15 to 25 minutes, until the crust is well browned and the casserole is thickened and bubbly.
Per serving (based on 8): 410 calories, 31 grams protein, 40 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams sugar, 14 grams fat, 21 milligrams cholesterol, 1,112 milligrams sodium, 9 grams dietary fiber.
Root Vegetable and Leek Gratin
1 large rutabaga or turnip, trimmed and peeled
1 large carrot, washed and trimmed
1 medium golden beet, washed and trimmed
1 celeriac (celery root), trimmed, peeled
1 leek, trimmed and well washed
3/4 cup grated cheese (such as fontina, asiago, sharp cheddar, or a mixture)
2 tablespoons grated parmesan
1 tablespoon corn or potato starch
Lots of fresh ground pepper
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
2 tablespoons olive oil
1. Heat oven to 425 degrees.
2. Using a mandolin or very sharp knife, cut the vegetables into very thin, even slices.
3. Add the vegetables to a large bowl. In a separate small bowl, mix the grated cheeses with the starch, salt, fresh ground pepper, and caraway seeds. Add the oil to the vegetables and toss well to coat. Add the cheese and spices to the vegetables and toss again to coat evenly.
4. Grease a baking sheet. Layer the coated vegetables randomly around and around until they are all somewhat evenly and neatly piled up. Place a sheet of parchment paper on top of the vegetables and put on top of it a heavy oven-proof pan (such as cast iron) or another baking sheet to weight down the veggies.
5. Place the weighted vegetables in the center of the oven and cook for 45 minutes, or until the edges appear to be browning. Carefully remove the weight and parchment and cook for 15-20 minutes more, until the gratin is well browned all over and the vegetables in the center are soft and cooked through.
Per serving: 235 calories, 8 grams protein, 20 grams carbohydrates, 11 grams sugar, 15 grams fat, 23 milligrams cholesterol, 358 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.
Chili Citrus Short Ribs
Makes 4 to 6 servings
4 to 6 bone-in beef short ribs (4-6 inches long) trimmed
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon fresh black pepper
1 large onion sliced
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
4 tablespoons tomato paste
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
¼ cup dark brown sugar
Juice of two oranges (about 1 cup)
Strips of the peel of 1 orange
2 stalks celery, minced
10 cloves garlic, sliced
1 teaspoon marjoram
1 to 2 fresh red chili peppers, sliced thin
Slices of lime, oranges, and a few thin dried chilies to serve
1. Heat oven to 325 degrees.
2. Season the short ribs well with salt and pepper. Heat a heavy roasting pan over two burners on medium heat. Place the ribs fatty side down to sear. Turn ribs when the fatty side is well-browned and add the sliced onions, cumin, and coriander seeds to brown in the rendered fat. Once onions are soft, remove ribs to a platter.
3. In a medium mixing bowl, add the tomato paste, cider vinegar, brown sugar, and orange juice, and whisk until smooth. Add this mixture to the pan with the onions and spices. Bring to a simmer and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the orange peel, celery, garlic, marjoram, and chilies and stir. Put the ribs back into the pan, fat side up and spoon some of the sauce onto the top of each rib. Add enough water to cover the ribs about halfway. Cover pan tightly with foil and cook for 2 hours. Remove pan from oven and carefully loosen the foil. Pour several spoonfuls of braising liquid over each rib. Cook an additional 2 to 3 hours (4 to 5 hours total), or until the meat is fork-tender. Let cool overnight.
4. Before reheating, remove cap of fat on top of the congealed liquid. Reheat at 325 to serve. Sauce can be reduced by boiling it down by half for more of a glaze, or enjoyed as-is as gravy for mashed potatoes or noodles. Squeeze fresh lime on ribs before serving and garnish with slices of lime and oranges and crushed dried chilies.
Per serving (based on 6): 482 calories, 57 grams protein, 22 grams carbohydrates, 15 grams sugar, 18 grams fat, 172 milligrams cholesterol, 912 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.