I love this time of year for easy cooking — we still have the last of corn and tomatoes but it comes with the advent of cooler weather, calling for cozy comfort foods. Here are five of my favorite no-recipe recipes for the season…
Polenta with Roast Tomatoes and Vegetables
Polenta is a good thing to remember on those nights when you feel yourself slipping into the I-guess-we’ll-have-pasta-again mode. Once I committed the ratio of liquid to cornmeal to memory (4:1) it became even easier than pasta. Bring your liquid (broth, water, or a combination) to a boil, then add cornmeal in a steady stream, stirring all the while, and lowering heat to a simmer. Stir until polenta is the consistency of cream of wheat and pulls away from the sides, about 12 minutes. Drizzle in cream or add butter and cheese, and top with a little cheese (ricotta or chèvre) and any roast vegetable you’d like. This time of year, I go with tomatoes, mushrooms, and onions. Bonus points for mixing a handful of raw corn kernels into the polenta.
Pizza with Butternut Squash, Arugula & Ricotta
I love this crowdpleaser so much that a version of it was in my first cookbook 10 years ago — and we’ve been making it every fall since. Heat your oven to 475°F. Top a 16-ounce store-bought pizza dough (that’s been stretched on an oil-brushed cookie sheet) with shredded mozzarella, the zest of one lemon, and thinly sliced butternut squash pieces that have been tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake for about 15 minutes, until crust is golden and cheese is bubbly. Remove from the oven and top with handfuls of arugula, dollops of ricotta, and more salt and pepper.
Quinoa Bowl with Spinach & Egg
I can’t believe how long I’ve been making this dinner, also known in my house as Old Reliable because we literally always have what we need on stand-by (including spinach in the freezer). Make quinoa according to package directions, and while it cooks, sauté spinach (a lot of it if it’s fresh, remember how much spinach shrinks) in a little olive oil with garlic, and prep four of any kind of egg you’d like. Divide the quinoa between four bowls and top with spinach, egg, a drizzle of soy sauce, and minced scallions.
Salt and Pepper Eggplant
This is a Hetty McKinnon special I make all the time — a variation on classic salt-and-pepper tofu that appears in her indispensable book To Asia, With Love. Marinate eggplant slices in soy sauce for 10-20 minutes, then dredge in cornstarch, fry in a neutral oil (like vegetable, canola, or grapeseed), and remove to a paper towel to drain. Season with a dusting of Chinese five-spice, kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper; and serve the eggplant with rice, minced scallions, and chiles. OMG I need to make this tonight.
Pan-Fried Chicken Thighs with Mushrooms
I swear by this high-heat method of cooking chicken that I learned from Bon Appetit more than a decade ago — first, because the chicken comes out delicious, but also because it’s so hands-off. Preheat oven to 475°. Season 1 1/2 pounds boneless or bone-in chicken thighs with salt, pepper, and about 1 tablespoon paprika. Place an oven-safe skillet over high heat, add about 2 tablespoons olive oil, then place chicken, skin side down, and cook 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-high and cook another 10 or so minutes not flipping, until skin is golden brown. Flip chicken, then gently toss in 1 cup mushrooms and a roughly chopped yellow onion so they are coated in oil, and transfer the skillet to oven. Cook another another 15-17 minutes, until chicken is cooked through. Let rest a few minutes, then top with fresh thyme leaves and more salt and pepper. Serve with a green salad.