Simple, Tasty Recipes That Make Weeknights the Best Nights of the Week

Elizabeth Hewson

In her first column for MyDomaine Australia, cook, food blogger, and author, Elizabeth Hewson from Eating Out Moving In shares her easy, go-to weeknight recipes.  

I find cooking during the week one of the hardest times to get motivated in the kitchen.  Especially after a long, busy day—which now seems to be more frequent for me than ever before—the last thing I want to do is head home and get stuck slaving away in the kitchen, or worse still, reaching for the takeaway menu and spending the money I don’t have on ridiculously expensive Thai food. Then there’s the mid-afternoon ponder on what you should cook, which normally consumes a good hour going over ideas in my head (or is that just me?!). But, never fear friends, I’ve found the secrets to creating satisfying midweek meals that can be whipped up in a flash, with hardly any clean-up for those nights when it all seems just too difficult.

1. Be sure to have a well stocked pantry—apart from being economical it is also convenient, saving a trip to the shops every time you want to cook.

2. Limit what you cook to using just one or two pans—saves time for the washer upper.

3. Read the whole recipe first—you don’t want to go home and find out you have to soak something overnight, or worse still, that something takes an hour and half to cook.

4. Don’t choose a recipe with much prep—chopping vegetables, prepping meat etc. all takes time–I’d rather be on the couch.

5. Don’t be afraid to colour outside the lines—if you don’t have an ingredient see what else could work. Just thinking about texture, flavour and of course, cooking time.

6. Have a midweek recipe repertoire. Sure the first time you cook it, it might take a bit longer but the more practice you have the more confidence you will get, resulting in quick midweek meals.

To kickstart your recipe repertoire, read on for five of my favourites—happy cooking! 

Pantry Pasta

PHOTO:

Michael Wee

This pasta can be whipped up in a few minutes with ingredients you probably already have on hand. Better for the wallet, better for the washer upper. It’s great for an after-work dinner and the leftovers are also delicious the next day.

Serves 2

Ingredients

200g dried linguine pasta

2 slices day-old bread

pinch of sea salt

1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 garlic cloves

½ cup (about ½ bunch) oregano leaves, plus extra to serve (optional)

2 tablespoons baby capers, drained

400ml can cherry tomatoes or chopped tomatoes

2 x 185g cans tuna in oil, drained

toasted bread, to serve (optional)

Method

1. Cook the pasta in a large saucepan of salted boiling water according to packet instructions or until al dente. Meanwhile, blitz the bread, salt and chilli flakes in a food processor (or use a stick blender) until it resembles breadcrumbs. Heat one tablespoon of the oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Add one whole garlic clove then the breadcrumb mixture and fry until golden. Keep an eye on your crumbs—they can burn quickly. Tip the mixture onto paper towel and set aside.

2. Discard the garlic clove. Heat the remaining oil in the same pan over medium heat. Crush the remaining garlic clove and add to the pan with the oregano, capers and tomatoes. Cook for 3 minutes or until the sauce starts to come to the boil. Add the tuna and cook for a further minute or until heated through.

3. Toss the sauce through the drained pasta, divide among bowls and sprinkle with the chilli crumbs. Top with oregano leaves and serve with toast if desired.

One tray Italian sausage and cannellini bake

PHOTO:

Nikki To

Another midweek favourite is my one tray Italian sausage, cannellini and silverbeet bake. While this bake is not only a super-quick meal (you throw everything into the one tray and wham-bam thank you mam dinner’s done), it’s also wonderfully comforting on a cold winter’s night.

Serves 4

Ingredients

4 cups silverbeet (½ – 1 bunch), leaves finely chopped, stems removed.

1 x 400ml can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

1 x 400ml can cherry tomatoes (or mini roma tomatoes)

1 tbs Dijon mustard

2 tbs olive oil

1 tsp dried chilli

pinch sea salt

2 garlic cloves, crushed

½ cup white wine

3 x good quality Italian sausages from your butcher

½ cup Parmigiano Reggiano, finely grated
Toasted bread, to serve

Method

1. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C. In a casserole dish or baking tray, place the chopped silverbeet, cannellini beans, canned cherry tomatoes, Dijon mustard, olive oil, dried chilli, salt, crushed garlic and drizzle with white wine. Using your hands give the mixture a good toss to ensure everything is mixed well.

2. Snip the end of the sausage and squeeze the meat out to form little meatballs. Nestle these evenly around your bake.

3. Pop into the oven and cook for 25-30 minutes. Sprinkle over Parmigaiano Reggiano and serve immediately with toasted bread for dipping.

End of pay month stew

PHOTO:

Phu Tang

I’m a bad saver. I wasn’t always, but then I discovered expensive French cheese and Jamon from Spain—not to mention buffalo mozzarella imported from Italy. That stuff is really good. Occasionally, my pay will go on a vintage milk bottle or a pretty new dress but generally I like to spend my money on really good food and wine—it makes me happy. I know this isn’t the case for everybody and, even though I try and make my recipes as accessible and affordable as I can, I think it’s fair to say that (almost) everybody struggles at the end of pay month, no matter what they choose to spend their money on. This is when this little beauty of a dish comes in. Canned beans are cheap—they fill you up, are high in fibre, and are a great source of protein—a superfood some would say. You should almost have everything in your pantry for this dish, but if not then it won’t cost you more than $10 to buy. Did I mention that this also feeds four hungry people?

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tablespoon fresh thyme

1 carrot, diced

1 zucchini, chopped

2 x 400ml can chopped tomatoes

2 bay leaves

Sea salt

Pinch chilli flakes

1 ½ tablespoons red wine vinegar

¼ cup white wine

1 x 400g can chickpeas, rinsed

1 x 400g can borlotti beans, rinsed

Crusty bread to serve

4 tablespoons of Greek yoghurt (optional)

Chopped parsley to serve (optional)

Method

1. Place a casserole dish over medium heat. Add olive oil, onion, garlic and thyme and cook for 3 minutes, or until onion is starting to soften, but not brown. Add carrot and zucchini and continue to cook for 5 minutes. Add canned tomatoes to the dish along with bay leaves, sea salt, chilli flakes, red wine vinegar and white wine. Cook for 10 minutes until starting to thicken.  Add rinsed and drained chickpeas and borlotti beans and cook for a further 15 minutes.

2. Divide stew into bowls, dollop with a spoonful of yoghurt, sprinkle with parsley and serve with crusty bread.

Fried eggs with spiced chickpeas

PHOTO:

Nikki To

I live on this meal when things at work get particularly busy. I say meal because it really is very versatile—breakfast, lunch or dinner. Don’t you love that about eggs? Italians embrace eggs at any time of the day much better than we do. And why not? They are cheap, nutritious and tasty. This one is excellent for time-poor readers, but equally as rewarding for anyone who doesn’t have the energy to cook.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 x 400ml canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 red chilli, finely chopped

1 teaspoon paprika

½ teaspoon ground coriander

Half bunch silver beet, washed and chopped

1 lemon

Butter

2 eggs

Salt

Method

1. Toast sesame seeds in a fry pan over medium heat until golden. Do not add oil, this is called dry toasting. Remove and keep aside.

2. In the fry pan, heat olive oil and garlic over medium heat. Add chickpeas along with chilli, paprika and ground coriander. Fry for 5 minutes until chickpeas are starting to colour. Add silver beet to the pan along with a generous squeeze of lemon juice. Cook for another 3 minutes or until silver beet has wilted. Divide chickpea mixture between two plates.

3. Add a bit of butter and fry two eggs in the pan, sunny side up. You want to have your yolk running so you can mix it through the chickpeas.

4. Serve egg on top of chickpeas, season with salt and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Smoked salmon noodle salad

PHOTO:

Michael Wee

This salad is incredibly cleansing and easy to prepare. It requires only a little cooking and is a healthy after-work dinner. I make this on the nights that I don’t feel like doing much more than throwing something in a pot and eating 10 minutes later. For a vegetarian version, replace the fish with silken tofu. Grilled chicken works nicely too.

Serves 2

Ingredients

180g dried soba noodles

200g (1 bunch) broccolini

2 teaspoons black or white sesame seeds

240g smoked salmon, torn into small pieces

4 spring onions, thinly sliced

Dressing

1 tablespoon tahini (sesame seed paste, available from supermarkets and health food shops)

2 tablespoons sesame oil

1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted 

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar (available from supermarkets and Asian food shops)

¼ cup peanut oil

1 tablespoon soy sauce

Method

1. Cook the noodles in a large saucepan of salted boiling water according to packet instructions. When you have 2 minutes of cooking time left, add the broccolini to the water and boil for 2 minutes or until bright green and tender.

2. Meanwhile, toast the sesame seeds in a small frying pan over medium heat for 2-3 minutes or until golden. Drain the noodles and broccolini in a colander and rinse under cold water.

3. Divide into two bowls and top each with the smoked salmon, spring onion and sesame seeds and drizzle with the Japanese dressing. Mix gently to combine.

4. For the dressing, add all ingredients to a jar. Shake well until combined.

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