Whether you’re a good meal planner or a last-minute shopper like me, cooking (almost) every night is easier when you rely on a handful of tested and beloved recipe formats. On a given week, I tend to sketch out meal formats, rather than meals – which I’ve mentioned here before. Today, I’ve got more to say about my process, and I’m aiming to pass on some ideas about formulating your own go-to list of dinner types rather than dinners, whether you plan ahead of time or stop at the market nightly.
For me, the scoping goes like this: I pick a couple of formats for the week ahead, shop for ingredients that will work with them, and then let spur-of-the-moment plans, unexpected cravings, and random bursts of creativity take over. I don’t come home to an empty pantry, but I also don’t tie myself to saucy stir-fried pork on a night when it turns out I need pork fried rice.
Here are the 11 formats I turn to again and again.
1. Pasta with tomato sauce. The one, the only. Here’s how to make it the best ever. Make sauce by sauteing onions and garlic in oil, then adding broken-up whole canned tomatoes, salt, and oregano. Cook the pasta in salted water and scoop it right into the sauce. Finish with a lot of olive oil and a lot of parm. Also, put cubes of fresh mozzarella in the bottom of your bowl before filling it with pasta for a gooier delight.
2. Pasta with vegetables or other sauces. This gets a separate entry, because pasta is the best weeknight dinner in the world. Saute a few garlic cloves in some olive oil, then add a lot of a vegetable (zucchini, kale, broccoli, carrots, winter squash, or a mix!) and a little water and then cook, covered, until the veggie is really tender. Add the pasta straight from its pot of boiling water, plus some of the cooking water to make a sauce. Add a lot of parm and serve. And maybe some breadcrumbs, as in this brown butter-broccoli number. Alternatively: make pesto and toss pasta with that. Peanut noodles also count.
3. Soup & sandwich. The soup part can be really simple: broth with veggies or tomato soup. The sandwich could be a grilled cheese, a quesadilla, or even avocado toast. Honestly, the s&s pairing is so solid that two don’t even really have to match, flavor-wise, so whip up whatever you’re in the mood for. Here are some sandwiches and here are some soups. Come summer, consider replacing one of those s’s with a salad.