In the Kitchen

One-pot meals to make you swoon

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Simplicity has become my daily calling card. Instead of jumping back into an intense routine, I’m focusing on some of my New Year’s resolutions: walking in the sun, yoga, hiking, skiing and plain recovering from the hectic past couple of months at the end of the year. I’m looking for good books to read, good friends to visit and good meals to eat. But I’m not all that interested in spending hours in the kitchen cooking.

That’s where one-pot meals come in. One-pot meals are a godsend, whether you use a slow oven or a slow flame on top of the stove. You do a bit of food prep, and then relax and enjoy some “me time” in which you can ignore the food as it slowly prepares itself.

I want all my food groups represented in a single dish, so each recipe I share today covers the bases. Accompaniments might be rice, good crusty bread, and/or a leafy green salad… but if you don’t feel like it, these dishes also can stand alone.

I also want my meals to offer me a variety of flavors. So even though one-pot meals can be as uncomplicated as a straightforward stew, they can be as appealing as any elaborate and elegant repast worthy of being served for a dinner party.

With that in mind, I offer a few favorite recipes that will satisfy your need both for free time in your life and for enticing cuisine. The preparation time will vary, but the result will be worth the effort.

From an elegant but easy Osso Buco made from affordable beef shanks to a vegetarian roasted butternut squash stew with coconut milk, you should find something to satisfy the gourmands in your life as well as the pickiest eaters. And the bonus is that your kitchen will fill with fragrant, inviting aromas that will comfort you in the knowledge that a delicious dinner will indeed be served… later. In the meantime, you can spend your time doing something else or doing nothing at all. Enjoy.

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Butternut squash stew with chickpeas, almonds and coconut milk

Vegetarian dishes typically cook much more quickly that dishes that contain meat. But by simmering this stew slowly over the lowest possible flame, the squash should almost caramelize beautifully.

1 medium onion, diced

1 tablespoon garlic, finely chopped

1 cup grated zucchini

1 tablespoon olive oil

Large butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 2-inch cubes (about 6-8 cups)

2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" cubes

2 cups canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1/2 cup slivered almonds

1/2 teaspoon curry powder

1 can coconut milk

1/2 cup chopped mild green chile (optional)

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Finely chopped cilantro

Heat oil in a large, heavy Dutch oven until sizzling. Add the onion and garlic and stir. Add the zucchini and sauté until most of the moisture is evaporated. Add the butternut squash, sweet potatoes, and chickpeas,. Reduce and cook for a minute or two until the vegetables gain a little color. Sprinkle with the curry powder and the almonds. Add the coconut milk and mix well. If using, add the green chile (which would offer the dish a little more bite), and stir. Give the whole thing a few grinds of pepper and about 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

Bring mixture to a boil, and then reduce heat to lowest possible setting. Cover and allow to simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, until vegetables are tender. Check after 20 minutes, and if too soupy, partially cover instead of fully covering the pot.

Turn off heat and allow flavors to meld for a few minutes. You may leave the stew for as long as 30 minutes off the flame, but you may also choose to undercook it and finish the cooking when you reheat later, if cooking ahead.

Sprinkle with cilantro. Serve with rice.

Roasted chicken with olives and figs

I like using boneless chicken for this dish because it’s easy and cooks more quickly. But if you have the time, this dish can also be made in a metal baking pan using a whole cut-up chicken, about 8 regular bone-in pieces. Should you choose to do that, be sure to increase the temperature to 375 degrees, and also increase the cooking time to about 1 hour and 45 minutes to 2 hours.

2 POUNDS BONELESS CHICKEN BREASTS AND THIGHS, TRIMMED AND CUT INTO LARGE CHUNKS

3 TABLESPOONS OLIVE OIL

2 TABLESPOONS FRESH LEMON JUICE

1/2 CUP CHICKEN BROTH, PLUS MORE IF NEEDED

1 TABLESPOON FINELY CHOPPED GARLIC

1 HEAD FENNEL, SLICED INTO THIN SLIVERS

1 CUP COMBINATION OF PITTED KALAMATA AND GREEN GREEK OLIVES

1 CUP DRIED FIGS, TRIMMED OF STEMS AND QUARTERED

1 TEASPOON CHOPPED FRESH ROSEMARY

SALT AND FRESHLY GROUND PEPPER

1 TEASPOON GRATED LEMON ZEST

1/2 CUP CHOPPED FRESH PARSLEY

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, toss together the chicken, garlic, fennel, olive oil, lemon juice and chicken broth. Spread evenly into a medium glass or ceramic baking dish. The ingredients should be a little crowded. Arrange the figs and the olives over the the top of the chicken mixture. Sprinkle with the fresh rosemary, some salt and about 8 grinds of pepper.

Place in oven for 45 minutes. Check to see that the chicken is cooked through, and stir ingredients. If needed, add a little more chicken broth. Spread evenly in dish once again, and place in oven for another 15 minutes.

Sprinkle with lemon zest and fresh parsley before serving.

Easy osso buco

Although Osso Buco is traditionally made with veal shanks, I prefer beef shanks, which are meatier and more affordable. I have simply increased the traditional cooking time to ensure the end result is tender and falling off the bone.

4 BEEF SHANKS, ABOUT 4 INCHES WIDE AND 2 INCHES THICK

1/4 CUP FLOUR, OR MORE AS NEEDED OLIVE OIL

1 CUP DICED ONION

1/2 CUP DICED CARROT

1/4 CUP DICED CELERY

1 TABLESPOON MINCED GARLIC

2 TABLESPOONS TOMATO PASTE

1/2 CUP WHITE WINE

3 CUPS BEEF OR CHICKEN BROTH

2 BAY LEAVES

SALT AND FRESHLY GROUND PEPPER TO TASTE

1 TABLESPOON GRATED LEMON ZEST

3 TABLESPOONS FINELY CHOPPED PARSLEY

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Dredge beef shanks in flour and set aside. Heat a heavy Dutch oven over high heat for 3 or 4 minutes. Add about 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and swirl to cover bottom of pan. Reduce heat to medium-high and add beef shanks in one layer and brown well on both sides. Remove to a plate. Add the onions, the carrots, the celery, and the garlic, and sauté for about five minutes, until vegetables have softened. Add the tomato paste and mix well. Add the white wine and the broth, and stir to combine. Tuck in the bay leaves, and arrange the shanks into the mixture so that they’re partially submerged and cover.

Place in oven, covered, and bake for 3 hours, checking occasionally. Remove cover for last 30 minutes of cooking. Taste for seasonings and add salt and pepper as needed. When beef is very tender, the dish is done. Remove from oven and evenly sprinkle on the lemon zest and the chopped parsley.

The traditional way to serve Osso Buco is with Risotto Milanese, but you can also serve it with plain rice, mashed potatoes, or simply a good crusty bread to sop up the juices.

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