Five Weeknight Dinners That’ll Make Your Week Better

Some of you may know that my husband Craig is a director. Last week he went back to work, directing four episodes of our friend Ryan O’Connell’s Emmy-nominated Netflix show Special. The protocols on set are intense, as they should be during Covid. Craig gets tested almost every morning, he wears an N95 mask all day, and when he gets home after a thirteen hour day he’s super tired because of all the extra rigamarole Covid’s causing.

That’s where I enter the picture. I remember one of the first cookbooks that I ever bought was Nigella Lawson’s How To Be A Domestic Goddess and, even though I have my own work to do during the day (I have a few projects in the works!), at night I’ve blossomed as a true domestic diva. Here are the five dinners that I made last week each night that Craig came home from work. They certainly made our week better, maybe they’ll help with yours.

Meal One: Parmesan Chicken Cutlets with Fennel Orange Salad.

In a week of excellent dinners, this was probably our favorite. It’s Ina Garten’s favorite thing to make and you don’t really need a recipe. Here’s all you do: buy some boneless, skinless chicken breasts (one per person is plenty), put each between two pieces of plastic wrap, and smack with a rolling pin until flat.

Then set up three pie tins or cake pans: in one put flour (about a cup or two), in one put three eggs that you whisk, and in the third breadcrumbs (ideally Panko, though my store ran out so I used Progresso plain bread crumbs). Season each of the components with salt and pepper, season the chicken breasts, then dredge them through each: first the flour, then the egg, then the bread crumbs. If you’re feeling fancy, you can put some ground Parmesan in with the breadcrumbs (that’s what I did here).

Heat 1/2 inch of neutral oil in a cast iron skillet and when it’s hot (toss in a few breadcrumbs; if they sizzle, it’s hot), carefully lower in your chicken and fry until deep golden brown on one side, then finish on the other side.

To serve, I made a fennel orange salad by slicing fennel on a mandoline slicer (one of the best times to use your mandoline is for fennel), cutting the peel off the orange and then slicing, and adding a good glug of olive oil, a splash of white Balsamic, salt, pepper, and chopped parsley.

Together, the salad and the chicken were great foils. The acid from the white Balsamic cut the richness of the fried chicken cutlet. A four star weeknight meal and not that hard to make.

Meal Two: Deconstructed Eggplant Parm.

The recipe for this one lives on my blog, though the chef whose recipe inspired it is something of a pariah. Let’s focus on the technique, then, which is pretty straight forward: you slice eggplant, rub with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast on cookie sheets in a 450 oven. Meanwhile, you make your favorite tomato sauce (mine’s basically olive oil, onions, garlic, red chili flakes, tomato paste, and two cans of San Marzano tomatoes).

To assemble, you layer in the roasted eggplant, the sauce, slices of fresh mozzarella, lots of Parmesan cheese…

…then you do it again and top the whole thing with breadcrumbs that you cook, briefly, on the stove top with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Pop that into the oven (now at 350) and after twenty minutes, it should be bubbling and the cheese should be melted. If you’re like me, you’ll want to turn on your broiler to get it extra crispy on top. A dreamy weeknight meal, and not that hard!

Meal Three: Ziti with Arugula Pesto and Roasted Cauliflower.

This was so easy and so fast. Have I told you my arugula pesto technique? Let me check. Ah: I have in this post about pistachio arugula pesto. Well this one is the same thing, only I changed the nut.

What’s so great about arugula pesto is that you don’t have to sit there picking leaves off a stalk of basil. You just tear open a bag of arugula, shove it in your food processor with toasted nuts of your choice and garlic, then slowly add olive oil until you have what looks like pesto. Then add a ton of Parmesan. The addition here is roasted cauliflower, for health purposes. Use any roasted cauliflower technique that you like. Me? It’s a 425 oven, olive oil, salt, and pepper on a cookie sheet until the cauliflower is golden brown all over and easily pierced with a knife.

Meal Four: Roasted Sausages with Onions and Potatoes.

This is one you’re going to want to memorize. It has a lot in common with my go-to roasted chicken technique, except in this case you’re doing it with fat sausages (it works best with fat sausages from the butcher because of all of the fat that’ll help coat the potatoes).

Preheat your oven to 425. Put little potatoes in a cast iron skillet with a red onion peeled and cut into wedges. Toss the veg with oil (I think I used olive oil), salt and pepper, and place the sausages — these are fennel thyme sausages from McCall’s Meat & Fish — on top. Cut some slits into them, to stop them from exploding, and drizzle with a little more oil.

Into the oven it goes for 20 to 25 minutes, until the sausages register 160. Then you take the sausages out of the pan, toss the veg around a bit, and pop back into the oven until they’re deep golden brown and just look delectable and amazing.

I sliced the sausages on the bias and served with lots of grainy mustard. YUM.

Meal Five: Pesto Chicken Thighs with Roasted Broccoli.

Finally, I had some leftover arugula pesto from the pasta night, so I slathered it all over some chicken thighs and also shoved some of it under the skin. I put the thighs into a skillet and roasted in the oven at 425 until they registered 165 on a thermometer and then, unhappy with their color, I blasted them under the broiler while, on the lower shelf, I was making the best broccoli of your life.

‘Twas a lovely end to the week and a good repurposing of leftovers.

Now before you ask “how do you eat all this and not gain five hundred pounds,” I just stepped on the scale and I think that I did. But at least Craig was comforted after work and, as for me, this week it’s all salads and Jane Fonda workouts. It’s hard work being a domestic goddess.

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