I don’t have a color-coded family calendar. Or cubbies in the entry hall assigned to each family member—though I envy those moms who do. On Sundays, however, I do try to cook a couple of different things so that I’m not starting from scratch every weeknight come dinner time. When I don’t get around to doing this for whatever reason, I realize how much my sanity relies on knowing I’ve got at least a few meal building blocks banked. On the right burner is a turkey Bolognese sauce simmering. On the left is the beginning of lentils, which I will serve during the week with grilled or sauteed shrimp, chicken in any form, a nice browned or grilled sausage, or even a poached egg. These dishes are all slam dunks in my house. Knowing that I have a couple of favorites on deck allows me to be more experimental other days of the week or with other parts of the meal.
For the Turkey Bolognese:
Olive oil (a couple of glugs to start the saute, add more later)
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 large carrot (or two smaller), chopped
1 celery stalk (or two smaller), chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 pound dark ground turkey meat or uncased turkey sausage meat
5 Roma tomatoes chopped (or one can imported Italian whole peeled, lift out of juice)
1 pound of pasta, anything your family likes, we love penne rigate or thick spaghetti
1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg (a generous grate if using whole)
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
Pour a 1/4 cup of olive oil into a dutch oven or saute pan (or a couple of glugs so that the bottom of the pan is generously covered), saute onions until transparent, about 7 minutes. Add carrots and celery and cook for another 10-12 minutes, or until soft. Add garlic, cook for another few minutes.
If I have a bottle of half-drunk white on hand, I will usually add a little bit at this point, maybe a half a cup. And usually a little more oil. Then add the meat, folding it in until it’s no longer pink.
Add your tomatoes. (If you are low on tomatoes, you can throw in what you have and supplement with a little tomato paste). If you are using canned, pluck the whole peeled tomatoes from the juice and use your fingers to crush the flesh right into the sauce, making sure you are low enough in the pan so as not to splatter yourself. Add nutmeg, the bay leaf, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then simmer for as long as a couple of hours, or as little as 30 minutes. You get a slightly different flavor depending on the length of time you spend simmering.
For the Lentils:
I do a slight variation on Mark Bittman’s Lentils with Bacon (from How to Cook Everything), substituting pancetta for the bacon. I also finish it off at the end with a little red wine vinegar, the trashy Italian kind, not fancy Balsamic.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 lb slab bacon (or pancetta), cut into small cubes
1 medium onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3 to 4 cups chicken, beef, or vegetable broth
2 cups lentils (I like the French lentils, but they are all good)
1 bay leaf
2 to 3 sprigs of tarragon
Heat oil in pan, add bacon and brown for 10 minutes. Bittman calls for bacon removal, I leave the pancetta in the whole time. Either works well.
Cook onion and carrot in remaining bacon fat and oil until soft, about 5-7 minutes. Add garlic and cook for a minute. Add 3 cups of liquid, bring to a boil, and add lentils, salt, pepper, bay leaf, and thyme.
Cover partially and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until lentils are tender, about 40 minutes. Add liquid as needed, making sure the mixture is neither too soupy or too dry. When the lentils are soft, raise heat to burn off any excess liquid. Stir in a splash of vinegar. Serve as a side or with any protein–salmon, shrimp, chicken, sausage.