Low Effort, Big Reward

Hello and welcome to Five Weeknight Dishes. These days, I find myself swinging from wanting to cook beyond the boundaries of my routine and wanting to cook whatever requires the least effort. (I also order more pizza delivery than I ever have in my life, and I love it.)

Last week, breaking the routine meant making stuffed shells. Why stuffed shells? I don’t know. They somehow entered my consciousness and refused to leave. And so I made them, and wow — the saucy, molten joy. I also made chimichurri to enliven roast chicken, which meant I had to roast potatoes, too: Chimichurri and potatoes are a celestial pairing. But I also boiled pasta to toss in jarred marinara, and threw salmon in the oven with salt, olive oil and lemon. Low effort, solid reward. Home cooking is often about finding the balance.

Tell me what you’re cooking or just drop me a line at [email protected] I’ve gotten several emails from Brazil, Australia and New Zealand, from readers who would prefer fewer casseroles because their weather is hot; from Valencia, Spain, where a reader was cooking pulpo a la Gallega, or Galician-style octopus; and Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon territory in Canada, where meatloaf and potatoes were served. Tell me more.

Here are five dishes for the week:

1. Stuffed Shells

Ali Slagle’s stuffed shells are very doable on a weeknight if you take her suggested shortcut and use 3 cups of jarred tomato sauce rather than simmering your own. I served this with garlic bread and a salad. No one ate the salad.

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2. Sheet-Pan Chicken With Potatoes, Scallions and Capers

You don’t need to make chimichurri to have a delicious roast chicken-and-potato dinner. Kay Chun adds scallions to the pan, and stirs capers and lemon into the drippings to make a remarkably flavorful meal.

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3. Baked Tofu With Peanut Sauce and Coconut-Lime Rice

I never used to cook tofu, despite liking tofu dishes at restaurants. My efforts just never tasted that good. But Yewande Komolafe’s tofu recipes helped me turn the corner. Allow extra time for prep, but the payoff is big: The tofu is both baked and served with a complex sweet-salty sauce, atop a bed of coconut rice, finished with a flourish of pickled peppers.

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4. Roasted Salmon Glazed With Brown Sugar and Mustard

This recipe by Sam Sifton is one of the simplest we’ve published, easy to memorize and ideal for when you just want to get a good dinner going. (I always keep Dijon in the fridge because I put it in my salad dressing: oil, lemon juice, little bit of mustard.)

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5. Spicy Sheet-Pan Sausage and Squash

I rely on this Ali Slagle dish every winter. Like the combination of chicken and potatoes, it is extremely simple: You roast sliced butternut squash with sausages. That’s it. I make it with sweet Italian sausage, not spicy, so my kids will eat it, and I serve with farro. Buy the squash precut in cubes, and this gets even simpler (though it might take a few minutes longer to cook).

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