The summer months can be overwhelmingly hot and humid and filled with long family road trips. However, once fall rolls around, there’s a new set of challenges that begin to abruptly present themselves. With the new school year comes increased traffic and an onslaught of homework and school projects. This makes having a few quick recipes up your sleeves to help get you through the work/school week that much more important. Here are some of our mid-week recipe recommendations that will not only make life a little easier, but that the family will love.
1. Baking Sheet Macaroni and Cheese
If you like your mac n cheese a little crunchier than the usual 20% crunch to 80% soft ratio, then this will soon become one of your mid-week go-to recipes. The recipe is pretty simple and shouldn’t take more than 25 minutes to make.
QUICK TIP: Because you’ll be baking this at a high temperature, keep an eye on the oven as it will cook pretty quickly.
1 tablespoon butter
12 oz. extra-sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
12 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
1 lb. pasta spirals (or other small shape)
1/8 teaspoon cayenne, plus more as garnish
2/3 cup whole milk
1. Heat oven to 475° F. Use the butter to thickly grease a 11- by 17-inch rimmed baking sheet. Combine the grated cheeses and set aside 2 heaping cups for topping.
2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook for 6 minutes. Drain.
3. In a large bowl, toss together the pasta, cheeses, cayenne, and salt to taste. Spread the mixture in the baking sheet and evenly pour the milk over the surface. Sprinkle the reserved cheese on top, sprinkle on a little extra cayenne, and bake, uncovered, until golden and crisp, about 15 minutes.
2. Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta and Beans)
This is a super easy, no-fuss recipe that’s not only hearty, but comforting. The sauce is made with pureed beans and the short pieces of pasta swim gracefully in what looks like a mix between a soup and a pasta dish. Throw some prosciutto, parmesan rind, and sofrito into the simmering sauce and you’ll really have something special.
QUICK TIP: Using canned beans for this dish will help cut down on your preparation time. However, if you have a few extra minutes, try using dried beans instead. It really makes a big difference with respect to flavor. Lastly, don’t throw away the cooking liquid! This is liquid gold and should be used instead of the stock or water.
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1/2 celery stick, finely chopped
1 small carrot, peeled and finely chopped
2-3 slices of pancetta, cut into thin strips (optional)
14 oz. (400 grams) cooked and drained borlotti beans (note that a regular size can normally holds 240 grams of beans)
1/3 cup (80 ml) tomato puree (passata)
1 cup (250 ml) water or vegetable or beef stock
7 oz. (200 grams) short pasta such as ditalini
1. In a casserole pot, gently sauté the chopped onion, celery and carrot in the olive oil with a good pinch of salt. Let the vegetables soften without coloring, about 5-10 minutes. Add the pancetta, if using, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, letting the pancetta sizzle until it is transparent.
2. Add the drained beans, along with the tomato puree and the water (or stock or bean liquid if you have cooked them yourself). Bring to a simmer and cook 15 minutes.
3. Put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta.
4. Remove about half of the bean mixture and blend until creamy (alternatively, if you have an immersion blender, stick it straight in the pot and blend about half of the sauce). If it has reduced too much and is looking too thick (like a dip rather than a soup), add some more water until it is like a creamy soup. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm while you boil the pasta.
5. Cook the pasta in a pot of boiling water. Check the timing recommended on the package and take off roughly 2 minutes. Drain the pasta and add it to the beans and let it continue cooking another minute. Ladle into shallow bowls, pour over a drizzle of your very best extra-virgin olive oil, some extra freshly ground pepper, and then let it sit for a moment or two before serving (it needs to cool a little to be best enjoyed). Serve this pasta dish with a spoon.
3. Spaghetti with Bread Crumbs
Who doesn’t love spaghetti? Its versatility allows it to be paired with complex proteins or eaten simply with olive oil and grated parmesan. This recipe puts a simple spin on traditional spaghetti by adding ridiculously flavorful bread crumbs to the mix. One of the things that you’ll like most about this dish is that you won’t have to stop by the grocery store just to make it. Everything that you need should already be in the cupboards.
2- to 4-inch-length dried-out, day-old bread, preferably baguette
2 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus lots more for drizzling
3 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon coarsely crushed fennel seeds
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Generous pinch red pepper flakes
4 oz. spaghetti, linguine, or other similarly shaped pasta
Chunk pecorino Romano, for grating (optional)
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until just al dente (usually a little less time than the package instructions indicate).
2. Using a serrated knife, carefully saw the baguette, if using, into thin slices. Using your fingers, crumble the bread to create a nice mixture of coarse and fine crumbs. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the crumbs and gently fry them, stirring occasionally and letting them slowly take on color. (You may need to add up to 2 more tablespoons oil to the skillet, depending on just how many bread crumbs you have.) When the bread crumbs are golden and crisp, add the garlic and fennel seeds, stir, and cook for a minute or so more. Season the crumbs quite generously with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Remove from the heat.
3. Drain the pasta, reserving the cooking water. You don’t need to be obsessive about draining the pasta until no water clings to the strands; in fact, you want just a touch of the pasta water to cling to the pasta. Toss the pasta in the skillet with the bread crumb mixture. Drizzle with oil—preferably quite a lot more oil for the best results. If the mixture seems dry, add a dribble of the pasta cooking water. If using, sprinkle with grated pecorino Romano to taste.