One-Dish Wonders: These meals are great for fantastic flavors and ease of preparation
Cooking doesn’t get much easier than throwing a bunch of ingredients into one pot and letting the mixture of goodness transform into a delicious dinner. From pasta primavera to fried rice, or broccoli cheese soup to beef and vegetable stew, these one-dish wonders are usually quick to prepare and often require little attention during cooking, while the wafting aromas from the stovetop entice the entire household. Getting in and out of the kitchen with ease is the focus, and a large pan full of food to share is the goal.
by Carol Ritchie
Preparation is the key to quick, yet truly memorable pasta dishes. When a large pot of spaghetti sauce is simmering on the stove, everyone comes running to grab a plate of pasta. Creating your own special spaghetti sauce does not have to be difficult or require a lot of kitchen prep. There are plenty of good bottled sauces that you can easily make “your own” by simply adding ingredients you like. Try adding cooked sausage, fresh mushrooms or black olives. Combine two different jars of pasta sauces, add pinches of favorite herbs or add any combination of chopped fresh vegetables. Let the sauce simmer on the stove, allowing the flavors to blend, and serve over spaghetti noodles cooked perfectly al dente (“to the tooth”) — not overcooked.
Refrigerate any leftover noodles to add to a frittata — an Italian omelet — a one dish meal that’s equally good for brunch as it is for dinner. Any pasta shapes are great to cook ahead and refrigerate. Pasta primavera, for instance, is a quick fix when precooked pasta and chopped vegetables are waiting in the refrigerator for a stovetop mingle. In a large skillet on medium heat, sauté chopped onions (or shallots) in 1 to 2 tablespoons of butter for a few minutes. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of flour and stir and cook for 30 seconds. Add a cup of milk, salt and pepper to taste and cook for a few minutes to let the sauce thicken. Stir in 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Add chopped vegetables — carrots, broccoli, zucchini, yellow squash, asparagus, mushrooms, bell pepper — and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables reach the desired doneness. (A quick zap of the veggies in the microwave before adding to the pan will help to speed-up the stovetop cooking.) Add the precooked pasta from the fridge and cook for another few minutes to heat through. Stir often and serve the creamy pasta primavera hot off the stove.
Rice is also handy to have on hand for memorable meals. For the dedicated home cook, risotto can be an easy and delicious one-dish meal to prepare, but it does require constant stovetop stirring attention as the Arborio rice slowly soaks up chicken stock and white wine as it cooks. Mushrooms and finely chopped vegetables enhance this dish for a filling dinner entrée.
Another one-dish rice meal—fried rice—also requires a lot of stirring, but the delicious results don’t take nearly as long to achieve. Like the pasta prep for primavera, cook the rice ahead and refrigerate. Any medium grain rice will do. Chop a selection of vegetables — carrot, celery, bok choy, sugar snap peas, snow peas, broccoli, onion, bell pepper — into uniform bite-size pieces. Heat a large skillet or stir-fry pan on medium-high heat. Add a teaspoon of vegetable oil and add the vegetables, stirring often for 2 to 3 minutes. (Strips of cooked egg and diced ham are also good ingredients to add to this mixture.) Add the cooked and chilled rice (about 3 to 4 cups), 2 to 3 tablespoons soy sauce, and 1 teaspoon sesame oil, stirring to combine with vegetables. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring often, until rice is heated through.
Other one-dish meals to consider that highlight rice include Spanish paella — a delectable rice, meat and seafood dish named after the pan in which it is cooked and served in — and Cajun/Creole gumbo. While the gumbo itself — a combination of seafood, okra, onion, green bell pepper, celery, garlic, tomatoes and seasonings cooked in a flour-and-vegetable oil roux — does not include rice, it is often served over a bowl of hot, steaming rice. Rice is often a great base for one-dish dinners.
Nothing speaks more simply for the stovetop than a simmering pot of soup. Starting with a good chicken, beef or vegetable stock base, options abound for fantastic flavors that fill the stomach and soothe the soul. Chicken soup (with vegetables and noodles), corn chowder (with potatoes and onions and milk and cream), split pea (with carrots and ham) and minestrone (with tomatoes, onions, carrots, celery, zucchini, garlic, cabbage, navy beans and pasta) are all wonderful soups to easily call a meal when served with a salad and freshly-baked-and-buttered bread.
Homemade broccoli cheese soup is as easy as it is rich and creamy. Chop fresh broccoli (and carrots, if desired) into uniform bite-size pieces, using about 2 cups of vegetables. Place in a microwave-safe dish, add 1/2 cup of water and heat in the microwave on high for 3 to 4 minutes. In a heavy gauge, medium saucepan, combine 2 cups of milk with 2 cups of chicken broth. Cook on medium-low heat until warmed through, about 5 minutes. Thoroughly mix 1/2 cup of cornstarch with 1 cup of water in a mixing cup. Raise heat on stove to medium-high, add the cornstarch/water mixture to the broth and stir occasionally until broth thickens, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add 8 ounces of cubed pasteurized-process cheese (a smooth blend of cheeses that tend to melt evenly), salt and white pepper to taste and a pinch of grated nutmeg. Cook, stirring often until cheese has melted, about 2 to 3 minutes. Garnish with thinly sliced green onions, if desired. This is easily adapted to a cheesy potato soup — just add chunks of precooked red or yellow potatoes.
Soups on the stove are sure to spark some interest, but meats, beans and vegetables in a hearty stew will certainly satisfy hungry diners. In Texas, you can’t go wrong with a giant pot of chili. There are as many recipes for chili as there are cooks, but to call this a stew, you’d better start with good chunks of beef. Ground beef is commonly used, but adding stew meat or cubed round steak really defines this spicy “bowl of red” as the ultimate chili con carne. Of course, there will be chiles and chili powder to add as well, but don’t add beans and call it a Texas chili. Beans in chili, however, is a popular choice for many home cooks.
Beans can also serve as a terrific base for a hearty stew. Boston baked beans (with thick-sliced bacon), black-eyed peas (with onion, celery, garlic and smoked ham), red beans and rice, Brazilian feijoada (black beans and rice with meats, sausages and collard greens), French cassoulet (white beans and various meats) and lentils in a thick tomato-and-wine-based sauce are all delicious examples of dishes that easily serve as a main dish. And they are all recipes easily prepared to cook slowly throughout the day in one pot.
While stews can be made with any meats and/or vegetables, simmering slowly in just enough liquid to cover in a large, covered pot, beef is a popular choice for a traditional meat-and-vegetable stew. The long cooking time tenderizes tough cuts of meat and provides plenty of opportunity for flavors to mingle. Crock-Pots (electric slow cookers) are perfect small cooking appliances for stews, but a large pot on the stove will also do the job nicely. Irish stew traditionally uses chunks of lamb meat for the base. I like to make a similar stew using beef, with large chunks of potatoes, carrots, celery, onion and sweet potatoes in a rich beef broth. With freshly baked biscuits, dinner rolls or cornbread on the side, my Beef and Vegetable Stew (see recipe) is sure to satisfy when dinner is served.
From Stovetop to Table
Many meals make the transition from the stovetop to the dining table in just one pot. One-dish meals are a good idea for many reasons, including fantastic flavors and the ease of preparation. While many recipes require planning and advance prep — soaking beans, chopping and microwaving vegetables, browning meat or cooking pasta and rice ahead of time — ultimately, the ingredients all end up together (with seasonings and broth) in the same pot or pan. Then it’s just a matter of stirring and simmering — and voilà — it’s dinnertime!
One-dish wonders often arrive in quantities that far exceed a first night meal. They also fill containers — in the fridge and in the freezer — for future dining fulfillment. That’s great news, especially when the flavors just seem to get better as a quick and convenient meal is reheated to enjoy over and over again. That is, until the next great one-dish meal sits simmering on the stovetop … ready to enjoy again and again!
Beef and Vegetable Stew
Serves 6 to 8
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 pounds beef stew meat (or chuck roast), cut into 2-inch cubes
3 tablespoons flour
Salt and pepper to taste
1 (15-ounce) can beef broth
1 yellow onion, peeled and quartered
2 sweet potatoes
4 medium potatoes
2 to 3 carrots
2 to 3 stalks celery
Heat a Dutch oven (or large, deep saucepan) on medium-high, add oil and stew meat. Brown the beef on all sides. Add onion and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium, add flour, salt and pepper and stir, cooking for 1 minute. Add beef broth plus 1 1/2 cups water. Reduce heat to low, cover, and allow beef and onion to simmer in broth for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until meat is tender. While beef is cooking, peel and chop vegetables into 1- to 2-inch pieces, reserve. (Optional: Roast the sweet potatoes, whole and unpeeled, in a 400°F oven for 40 minutes to slightly caramelize and bring out the flavor. Allow to cool slightly, peel and chop as directed above.) When beef is tender, add reserved chopped vegetables and allow stew to simmer for an additional 30 minutes, or until vegetables are tender and reach the desired doneness.
Notes: When adding vegetables, adjust liquid as needed, adding water to just cover meat and vegetables. When stew is done, remove meat and vegetables to a platter, raise heat to medium-high, and thicken the broth for gravy, if desired. For gravy: Combine 1/4 cup flour with 1/2 cup water in a covered container. Shake to mix thoroughly. Add flour/water mixture to simmering stew broth, stirring to make gravy.
This is the type of dish that always seems better the second day! Refrigerate leftovers, and within a day or two, reheat on the stove or in the microwave for several dinners of delicious beef stew.
This is also a dish that works well in the electric slow cooker. Add all ingredients, except vegetables, and cook on high for 2 to 3 hours. Turn slow cooker to low and simmer until the meat is tender. Add vegetables an hour or two before serving. Beef stew is perfect for slow cooking all day.
Here are some complimentary recipes to go with the January-February Edition of Mansfield Magazine's Cookin' With Carol. Read More »