I was having lunch with some friends a while back when the topic of weeknight dinners was broached and a collective groan landed on the table next to my French onion soup. Everyone at the table was a working parent trying to juggle our own diary demands, plus those of our kids and partners’, while trying to satisfy our desire to sit down for tranquil family meals. It’s one hell of an equation…how can I bring child x to child y’s birthday party whilst preparing a dinner that includes at least 2 of our 5 a day AND allows me to leave the house at 7 to dash off to colleague z’s leaving drinks? High school algebra was easier! (And that’s a strong statement coming from me…) In fact, I’ve had a draft of this blog post sitting on my computer for ages, but just haven’t had the time to proof and post it between meetings, appointments with the public health nurse, and managing the laundry.
Not everyday is like this in my house of course…I love to come home from work and lovingly stir a risotto, roast chicken with spring vegetables, or make homemade cornbread while a pot of chili con carne simmers on the stove. In reality though, this happens a lot less often than I would like, so in order to keep dinner a budget-friendly, relatively nutritious event, I have a few recipes on stand by that I’d like to share. I can almost make them with my eyes closed at this stage, but no one has ever complained when they pop up on the table – tried and true family favorites.
The first is a lovely, summery pasta dish from Neven Maguire, one of my all-time favourite chefs. (his restaurant, McNean House is one of my happy places – get there if you can…) This is a veggie dish with great substance and flavor without getting weighed down in too much cream, cheese, or butter.
Fettucine with Melting Courgettes (from Home Chef by Neven Maguire)
4 T. olive oil
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
450 g/1 lb courgettes (zuchinni where I come from!) or yellow squash
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1/2 t dried chilli flakes
250g/9oz dried fettucine
2T flat leaf parsley, chopped
4T. grated Parmesan cheese
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the olive oil in a heavy-based frying pan over a low heat. Add the shallots and saute gently for about 5 minutes. Add the courgettes& garlic, then saute for a further 15 minutes until a light golden colour before adding chili flakes & thyme, then season with salt and pepper. In the mean time, cook your pasta according to the directions on the packet. When the courgettes and pasta are both finished toss together with the butter & parsley, serve in bowls with Parmesan.
Another last minute favorite of mine is from Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals and is called (for whatever reason) Jools Oliver’s Pregnant Pasta. (In my house we just call it Yummy Sausage Pasta – it’s easier to sell it that way…) I omit the chillies, as my little guy thinks that anything spicier than chorizo is an attempt to poison him, and I’ve often used a yellow onion instead of a the spring onions listed. (Side note: If anyone in Dublin is wondering where to buy the best sausages, my absolute favorites are the breakfast sausages from the butcher counter at Fallon & Byrne)
These fishcakes from my home cook guru, Rachel Allen are also a crowd-pleaser in my house. You can serve them with any green veg/spud combo for a very healthy meal. In my house we favor steamed broccoli and wedges with a light dusting of paprika. Sometimes I stick them into burger buns with a bit of mayo and sell them as ‘fishburgers’ – not that they need much selling!
Spicy Salmon Fishcakes (from Rachel Allen’s Favourite Food at Home)