Fancy but achievable weeknight meals – The Independent

This week,Tanya Sichynsky extols the virtues of The Fancy Weeknight Meal
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This is the simplest way to cook mussels and also the most satisfying
There are a few hills I would die on: The Star Wars prequels weren’t as bad as everyone said they were, the best s’mores are deeply charred and a little salty, and we should all be making weeknight mussels.
They may seem luxurious, but mussels are among the most budget-friendly seafood options out there (a 900g bag at a supermarket will run you less than £8, and they’re often on sale). They are incredibly sustainable, and cooking them requires minimal time – or skill.
Recently, I hosted a small dinner party and prepared a three-ingredient whipped ricotta, a few deceptively simple salads and a one-bowl dessert before everyone’s arrival. I didn’t bother getting the main event – mussels! – onto the stove until everyone had showed up. Once I placed a large, shallow serving bowl brimming with aromatic mussels on the table, my guests were thrilled, if not a little confused. I was in the kitchen for minutes! It was a Tuesday!
You, too, can jazz up any ol’ evening with a restaurant-worthy meal in no more than 15 minutes: heat some garlic or shallots (or both!) in a bit of butter and olive oil, toss in your mussels, pour over white wine or broth, cover and steam until the shells open, and top with whatever fresh herbs you’ve got.
In that spirit, below are a few recipes that will have you extolling the virtues of The Fancy Weeknight Meal.
This is absolutely the simplest way to cook mussels and perhaps the most satisfying. A big pot of them makes an easy, festive dinner any night of the week. If you’ve never cooked mussels at home, start by rinsing and debearding them (simply rip off or use a knife to remove the fuzzy tendril you see at the hinge of the mussel) as necessary. Don’t be alarmed by the lack of salt: when the mussels yawn open, they release their briny liquid into the pot, seasoning the wine in the process.
By: David Tanis
Serves: 4
Total time: 30 minutes
Ingredients:
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for toasts
2 garlic cloves, minced, plus 1 or 2 whole garlic cloves for rubbing toasts
Pinch of crushed red pepper
1.8kg mussels, cleaned
60ml white wine or water
1 baguette, split lengthwise, then cut crosswise in half
5g roughly chopped parsley
Method:
1. Heat broiler. Put olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed soup pot or casserole dish over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and red pepper and let sizzle for 30 seconds without browning. Add the mussels, stir to coat and increase heat to high. Add the wine or water, and put on lid. After 2 minutes, give the mussels a stir, then replace lid and continue cooking until all mussels have opened, 6 to 8 minutes.
2. Paint cut sides of the baguette pieces with oil and place cut side up under broiler to toast. Rub toasts with the remaining garlic cloves.
3. Stir the chopped parsley into the mussels, then ladle mussels and broth into bowls. Serve with the garlic toasts.
This traybake dinner is inspired by classic steakhouse sides
This traybake dinner is inspired by classic steakhouse sides: roasted mushrooms, creamy horseradish-mustard sauce, wilted spinach and roasted potatoes. Well, kind of. Instead of whole potatoes, this recipe uses shop-bought gnocchi, a superspeedy stand-in that takes on the fun combination of browned and chewy when roasted. This dish is hearty enough to be a full meal, though it’d also make a great side to braised beans, roast chicken, a seared pork chop and, of course, steak.
By: Ali Slagle
Serves: 4
Total time: 35 minutes
Ingredients:
450g mixed mushrooms, such as shiitake, oyster, maitake or cremini, trimmed and quartered (or cut into 2½cm pieces, if large)
1 (340-510g) package shelf-stable or refrigerated potato gnocchi
6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
4 spring onions, cut into 2½cm lengths
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
Salt and black pepper
140g baby spinach
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp prepared horseradish
1 tsp honey
1 tbsp unsalted butter
Method:
1. Heat the oven to 220C. On a baking tray, toss together the mushrooms, gnocchi, 5 tbsp olive oil, spring onions and shallot. Season with salt and pepper, shake into an even layer, and roast without stirring until the gnocchi and mushrooms are golden and crisp, 20 to 25 minutes. Add the spinach and remaining tbsp of oil, season with salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Spread in an even layer, then return to the oven to roast until the spinach is tender, another 5 to 7 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together the mustard, horseradish and honey until combined. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Add the butter and half the sauce to the baking tray, and stir until melted and glazy. Eat with the remaining sauce on the side.
This light, plant-based main was inspired by a traditional cassoulet, a French slow-cooked casserole made with beans, pork and duck and simmered in duck fat. In this fast, vegetarian take, olive oil replaces the duck fat and chard stalks are cooked gently with spring onion, garlic and thyme to create the flavour foundation. Summer vegetables are simmered in the infused olive oil until just tender, then served with toasted breadcrumbs and fresh cracked pepper. The broth in this dish is the real star, so you will want lots of bread to soak it all up.
By: Rick Martinez
Serves: 4
Total time: 30 minutes
Ingredients:
4 large spring onions, sliced
340g Swiss chard (about 1 large bunch), preferably green, stems separated and chopped, leaves torn into 5cm pieces
2 celery stalks, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 fresh thyme sprigs
80ml extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
225g green beans, trimmed and cut into 2½cm pieces
360g frozen (or fresh) lima beans or edamame, thawed if frozen
½ tsp sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
30g dried or fresh breadcrumbs
Crusty bread, for serving
Method:
1. In a large saucepan, bring spring onions, chard stems, celery, garlic, thyme and oil to a simmer over medium heat until oil is gently bubbling and chard stems are tender, 12 to 15 minutes. You want to slowly cook the vegetables and infuse the oil; you may need to adjust the heat to avoid browning the vegetables.
2. Add green beans, lima beans, chard leaves, sugar, 2 tsp salt, ½ tsp pepper and 480ml water to the cooked vegetables. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until green beans are just tender, about 8 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, heat a medium skillet over medium-high and toast breadcrumbs, tossing frequently, until golden brown and fragrant, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a heatproof bowl.
4. Divide vegetable mixture among bowls and top with the toasted breadcrumbs, a drizzle of olive oil and a grind of black pepper. Serve with crusty bread, for soaking up the broth.
A quick but decadent one-pan meal
The combination of a sweet glaze, tangy shallots and pan-roasted chicken makes this a quick but decadent one-pan meal. Caramelising shallots first, then tossing them with sherry vinegar, gives them a pickled but syrupy bite. A little heat from a spicy chilli and some freshness from parsley leaves balance this flavourful dish. Serve right off the stove, over cooked grains or alongside a crisp salad.
By: Yewande Komolafe
Serves: 4
Total time: 40 minutes
Ingredients:
900g bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs or drumsticks (6 to 8 pieces)
Salt
2 tbsp neutral oil, such as grapeseed or canola
450g shallots (about 8), peeled and halved, quartered if large
3 tbsp honey
2 tbsp lime juice
1 garlic clove, minced
1 fresh hot chilli, such as Thai, Scotch bonnet or serrano, minced with or without seeds
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
10g fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
Method:
1. Pat the chicken dry and season all over with salt. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large frying pan over medium. Add the shallots and cook, turning frequently, until lightly caramelised on all sides, about 5 minutes. Transfer the shallots to a medium bowl and set aside.
2. Add the remaining 1 tbsp oil to the pan, and raise the heat to medium-high. Place the chicken skin side down and sear without moving until the skin is golden brown, about 10 minutes. Turn and cook the other side until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.
3. Reduce heat to medium-low, and add 60ml water to the pan. Use a spatula or tongs to loosen any stuck bits. Stir the honey, lime juice, garlic and chile into the liquid around the chicken pieces. Cover with a lid or foil, and cook until the meat is cooked through, about 8 minutes. Uncover, raise the heat to high and cook until the sauce is thickened, about 2 minutes more.
4. Toss the shallots with the sherry vinegar and parsley, and season with salt. Serve the chicken with the dressed shallots and spoon the pan sauce over everything.
The beauty of this recipe lies in its simplicity. All you need is pasta, a lemon, a knob of butter, a generous pour of heavy cream and a hunk of the best parmesan you can get your hands on.
By: Pierre Franey
Serves: 4
Total time: About 20 minutes
Ingredients:
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp freshly grated lemon zest, plus more for serving
225g fresh or dried linguine
4 tbsp heavy cream
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tbsp freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus extra cheese to serve on the side
Method:
1. Bring a pot of salted water to boil.
2. Heat the butter in a frying pan and add the lemon zest.
3. Drop the linguine into the boiling water. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain.
4. Add the cream to the butter and lemon zest mixture. Add the pasta and lemon juice and stir until just heated through. Add the parmesan and toss. Serve with additional parmesan and lemon zest on the side.
Tip: If fresh linguine is purchased in 250g weight, use it in lieu of the half pound.
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This is the simplest way to cook mussels and also the most satisfying
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This traybake dinner is inspired by classic steakhouse sides
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A quick but decadent one-pan meal
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