I know how tough it is to cook something after a long day at work, but the alternatives-expensive dinners out, ordering in, frozen whatever, or worse-are not exactly appetizing. So before you order takeout sushi again, consider these quick-to-make classics.
Most are designed to be made in an hour or less using a minimum of pots and pans. And with their simple, clean flavors, you'll emerge from the kitchen looking like a champ every time.
Pan-Fried Tofu with Spinach, Pear, and Star Anise
This visually stunning dish also packs a real flavor punch. Even people who don't normally like tofu feast on this dish, though you can substitute beef, if you must. If you can get your hands on an Asian pear, use it here. Green beans are also good in this instead of the spinach. Serve this with Perfect Steamed Jasmine Rice (page 240).
1 block extra-firm tofu, 15 ounces, halved horizontally
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger, peeled
1 garlic clove, minced
1 fresh red chile, cut in paper-thin circles
3 whole star anise
1/3 cup roasted peanuts
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
Juice of 1/2 lime
2 pounds baby spinach
1 pear or Asian pear, sliced into thin wedgesLay several layers of paper towels on a cutting board, then place the tofu squares on top, side by side. Cover the tofu with more paper towels and place a plate on top. Add a can or two to press down and drain out some of the water in the curd. This makes the tofu denser and meatier.
In a large skillet, heat the peanut and sesame oils just to the smoking point. Fry the tofu on both sides, flipping occasionally with the spatula, until golden, about 8 minutes total. Remove the tofu from the pan and drain it on a plate lined with paper towels.
Using the same pan, sauté the ginger, garlic, chile, star anise, and peanuts-your kitchen will smell amazing! In a small bowl, mix the hoisin sauce, soy sauce, and lime juice together. Briefly toss the spinach in the pan, stirring just to wilt, no more than 30 seconds. Remove the spinach to a bowl, scraping the peanut mixture in there also. Put the pan back on the heat and heat the hoisin mixture. Combine the sauce with the spinach and divide between 2 bowls. Lay the pear slices and tofu on top.
Spaghetti with Peas and Pancetta
The flavor of peas and bacon takes me back to my childhood; that's why I like this pasta dish so much. I feel like a little kid wolfing this down. It 's even good cold!
1/2 pound spaghetti
Extra-virgin olive oil
6 ounces pancetta or thick-cut bacon, diced
1 onion, minced
1 bay leaf
1 cup sweet peas, frozen or fresh (see Note, page 52)
1 ounce goat cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Juice of 1 lemon
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup fresh basil, hand-torn
In a large stockpot, cook the spaghetti in plenty of boiling salted water for about 10 minutes; it should still be a little firm.
At the same time, heat a 2-count drizzle of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the pancetta, and stir it around. When the fat starts to render, after about 3 minutes, add the onion and bay leaf. Cook and stir until the onion caramelizes, about 10 minutes. Now add the peas and cook for 2 minutes just to heat them through.
Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the starchy water for the sauce. Fold the goat cheese into the hot pasta and give it a toss so it melts. Scrape the pancetta, onions, and peas into the pasta pot...