Low effort, big reward: 5 dishes to cook this week – The Denver Post

By Emily Weinstein, The New York Times

Home cooking is often about finding the balance between wanting to cook beyond the boundaries of your routine and whatever requires the least effort. That might mean making stuffed pasta shells because they enter your consciousness and refuse to leave. Or using chimichurri to enliven roast chicken, which means you’ll have to roast potatoes, too: Chimichurri and potatoes are a celestial pairing. But you may also boil pasta to toss in jarred marinara, and throw salmon in the oven with salt, olive oil and lemon. Low effort, solid reward.

Here are five dishes for the week:

1. Stuffed Shells

Of all the baked pasta dishes, stuffed shells are beloved for good reason: The fluffy ricotta filling, punchy tomato sauce, melted cheese and oversize noodles creates the ultimate comfort food, and the make-ahead aspect is equally compelling. The tomato sauce can be made and refrigerated five days ahead, or you can save time by swapping in three cups of your favorite store-bought marinara sauce. The shells can be assembled a few hours ahead, then baked from the refrigerator an hour before it’s time to eat. While some versions add frozen spinach, herbs or lemon, you really don’t need anything beyond the basics; this classic version is pure comfort.

By: Ali Slagle

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Total time: About 2 hours


For the Sauce:

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • Kosher salt
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 (28-ounce) can tomato purée

For the Filling and Assembly:

  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 pound fresh ricotta (about 2 cups)
  • 10 ounces fresh mozzarella, grated (about 2 1/2 cups)
  • 5 1/2 ounces Parmesan, finely grated (about 2 cups)
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 12 ounces jumbo shells


1. Make the sauce: In a large Dutch oven or pot, heat the olive oil over medium. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and tomato paste and cook, stirring frequently, until the paste turns one shade darker, about 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato purée, season with salt, then bring to a simmer. Cover halfway to reduce splattering, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened slightly, 20 to 30 minutes.

2. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

3. Make the filling: In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta with 1 1/2 cups mozzarella, 1 cup Parmesan and the egg yolks. Grate the garlic directly into the bowl, then season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Stir to combine, then set aside.

4. Add the shells to the boiling water and cook until just shy of al dente. (You’ll want to cook the shells about 2 minutes less than the minimum time listed on the package, as the shells will continue to cook in the oven in Step 5.) Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water, then drain the pasta and rinse it under cold water to cool. Count out 24 shells. (You will have cooked off more shells than will fit in the dish; that’s insurance in case any rip. Reserve extras for another use.)

5. Stir the pasta water into the sauce, then add half the sauce to a 3-quart/9-by-13-inch baking dish and spread it in an even layer. Spoon about 2 tablespoons filling into each of the 24 shells, lining up the stuffed shells in the dish as you go. Spoon the remaining sauce over the shells, then sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup mozzarella and 1 cup Parmesan.

6. Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake, uncovered, until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling, 15 to 20 minutes. (If you’d like to brown the cheese, you can broil for a few minutes.) Let sit 5 minutes, then serve.

2. Sheet-Pan Chicken With Potatoes, Scallions and Capers

This one-pan chicken dinner requires only five ingredients, making it perfect for busy weeknights. Meaty chicken thighs roast on top of scallions and potatoes until the chicken is golden and juicy and the scallions are tender and sweet. Despite the short ingredient list, this dish delivers deep flavor and varying textures: The potatoes on the bottom soak up the tasty pan juices while the ones on top turn crispy. Any extra pan drippings get mixed with capers and lemon juice for a quick, tangy sauce. You could also use some of the sauce to dress a simple side salad.

By: Kay Chun

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 40 minutes


  • 12 scallions, trimmed (about 1 pound)
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes (about 3 large), sliced 1/8-inch-thick (about 4 cups)
  • 8 large bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 3 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons drained capers
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, plus 4 lemon wedges for serving (optional)


1. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Place scallions in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil and season with salt and pepper. In a medium bowl, season potatoes with salt and pepper and toss with 2 tablespoons oil. Spread half of potatoes in a single layer over scallions. Season chicken with salt and pepper, drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and place on top of the potatoes. Arrange remaining potatoes around chicken. Roast until chicken is cooked through and potatoes are tender and golden, 30 to 35 minutes.

2. Transfer chicken, potatoes and scallions to serving plates. Scrape remaining pan juices and drippings into a small bowl, stir in capers and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Spoon over chicken and serve with lemon wedges, if using.

3. Baked Tofu With Peanut Sauce and Coconut-Lime Rice

A spicy, fragrant peanut sauce reminiscent of the groundnut stews that are popular across West Africa anchors this recipe. Any protein would be lucky to be doused and marinated in it, but tofu soaks up the peanut sauce’s flavors and chars up nicely upon roasting. The tofu’s neutral flavor allows the other flavors in the dish to break through. Red miso and fish sauce provide umami, honey lends a subtle sweetness and the lime zest in the coconut rice brightens it all. Finished with pickled peppers and fresh sliced scallions, this dish comes together to make an exciting but quick weeknight dinner.

By: Yewande Komolafe

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 25 minutes


  • 2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil, plus more for brushing the pan and drizzling
  • 2/3 cup lime juice (from about 5 limes), and zest of 1 lime
  • Kosher salt
  • 8 baby bell peppers or 1 medium bell pepper (any color will do), stemmed and thinly sliced lengthwise
  • Black pepper
  • 1 cup long-grain rice like jasmine or basmati
  • 1/2 cup full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 cup smooth, natural peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon red miso
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons chopped habanero pepper, stem and seeds removed, or 1 tablespoon sambal
  • 2 tablespoons buckwheat honey or molasses
  • 2 (14-ounce) package extra-firm tofu, drained and sliced crosswise, 1/4-inch thick
  • 3 cups peppery greens, like arugula, mizuna or baby mustard greens
  • 2 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced


1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees and lightly brush a large rimmed sheet pan with oil.

2. In a small bowl, stir 4 tablespoons lime juice with 1/2 teaspoon salt until salt dissolves. Add the sliced peppers, a few cracks of black pepper and set aside.

3. In a small pot, combine the rice with 1 cup water and the coconut milk. Season with salt and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook over medium-low until the rice is just tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit, covered, until ready to serve.

4. In a medium bowl, whisk 4 tablespoons lime juice with the peanut butter, miso, ginger, fish sauce (if using), habanero, 2 tablespoons oil, 1 tablespoon honey and 3/4 cup water. Stir until smooth and season to taste with salt.

5. Arrange the tofu pieces in a single layer on the oiled baking sheet and season with salt. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the peanut sauce over each, covering the top and allowing the sauce to run down and coat the sides. Drizzle the tops with some oil, and roast until glaze is set, deep brown and caramelized along the edges, 18 to 20 minutes. Add the remaining lime juice and 1 tablespoon honey to the leftover peanut sauce in the bowl to make the dressing; set aside.

6. Divide the greens among bowls. Add the lime zest and half the sliced scallions to the rice, then fluff with a fork. Top the greens with the rice, then the tofu. Spoon the peanut dressing over everything, and garnish with the drained pickled peppers and remaining sliced scallions.

TIP: Peanut sauce can be made 2 to 3 days in advance and stored refrigerated until ready to use.

4. Roasted Salmon Glazed With Brown Sugar and Mustard

This is what we call around here a no-recipe recipe, the sort of meal you can cook once off a card and you’ll know it by heart: salmon glazed with brown sugar and mustard. The preparation could not be simpler. Heat your oven to 400. Make a mixture of Dijon mustard and brown sugar to the degree of spicy-sweetness that pleases you. Salt and pepper the salmon fillets. Place them skin-side down on a lightly oiled, foil-lined baking sheet, slather the tops with the mustard and brown sugar glaze and slide them into the top half of your oven. They ought to be done in 12 minutes or so, and they pair beautifully with simple braised greens.

By: Sam Sifton

Yield: Number of servings vary

Total time: 15 minutes


  • Salmon fillets, preferably wild or farmed organically
  • Dijon mustard
  • Brown sugar
  • Salt and black pepper


1. Heat your oven to 400 degrees.

2. Make a mixture of Dijon mustard and brown sugar to the degree of spicy-sweetness that pleases you. Salt and pepper the salmon fillets.

3. Place the salmon fillets skin-side down on a lightly oiled, foil-lined baking sheet. Slather the tops of the fillets with the mustard and brown sugar glaze and slide them into the top half of your oven. Roast for about 12 minutes, then serve.

5. Spicy Sheet-Pan Sausage and Squash

Like chicken thighs, whose rendered skin leaves behind a puddle of schmaltz for frying vegetables, bread or beans, sausage yields a delicious fat for cooking. Paired with butternut squash and crisped in a hot oven, its spicy fat slicks the sweet squash, while parsley and lemon cut through all the richness. Feel free to switch up the squash for carrots, broccoli, potatoes: Any vegetables that are good roasted will work well in that liquid gold. If the meal seems light, bulk it up by topping with a cup of feta or rinsed canned chickpeas, adding arugula or watercress to the parsley, or serving it all on a bed of kale or mustard greens, like a warm salad.

By: Ali Slagle

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 30 minutes


  • 1 (2-pound) butternut squash, peeled, halved lengthwise and seeded
  • 1 pound spicy sausage (fresh chorizo, Italian, Andouille or otherwise)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cup parsley leaves
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more as desired
  • Flaky salt, as desired


1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees and stick a large baking sheet in the oven. Prep the squash and sausage: Cut the squash into 1/2-inch-thick slices, then cut the slices crosswise in half. Transfer to a large bowl. Score the sausages in a few places on both sides, making sure not to cut all the way through. Transfer to the bowl with the squash, then stir to coat with the olive oil and fat pinches of salt and pepper.

2. When the oven comes to temperature, carefully dump the squash and sausage mixture onto the hot baking sheet and spread it out into a single layer. Roast, stirring every so often to coat the squash in the rendered fat, until the squash is tender and sausages are crisp and cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes. (To add some color, put them under the broiler for a minute or two.) Let cool slightly while you prepare the parsley.

3. In a small bowl, mix together the parsley and lemon juice, and add salt and pepper to taste. Slice the sausage diagonally in thirds. Serve the sausage and squash on a platter with a pile of parsley on top and sprinkled with an extra squeeze of lemon and flaky salt, if desired.

TIP: The squash and sausage can be roasted 3 days in advance. Reheat in a low oven before serving.

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