While I love eating out around Chicago, particularly visiting my favorite neighborhood restaurant Monteverde (I’ll talk about this and other fave spots in another post!) I find cooking at home relaxing and enjoyable. Yet between social schedules, work events and recreational sports/gym visits, I don’t have much time to cook a meal from start to finish during the week. I know many people fall in the same boat, whether you’re juggling similar commitments, children, travel or long work commutes. So instead of pressuring myself to cook as often as possible, I choose one evening to prioritize cooking dinner from scratch a week. For me, that day is typically a Wednesday.
I enjoy physically going to the grocery store, chopping fresh garlic and spending time in the kitchen by myself with a glass of wine. Curling up on the couch in my yoga pants to enjoy the meal is also a welcome bonus. My fiancé and I don’t cook together, one or the other gets control of the kitchen. Typically he goes for the grill and potatoes and I go for pasta dishes, bakes and roasted veggies. To me, cooking at home feels more indulgent with less guilt both in the financial & caloric sense. Financially, I allow myself to spend a little more money on the ingredients and wine since we don’t have the markup of a restaurant. Calorically, because I control everything going into the dish which will be fresh or at least minimally processed, I don’t pay attention to calories on the evenings we cook. I’m a big believer in balance, making a meal once a week that you look forward to is a privilege that should be fully enjoyed on all fronts.
Among the thousands of weeknight recipe options available, I gain inspiration from newsletters & websites but also the ‘old-fashioned’ way from my collection of cookbooks & magazines. I’m going to plan on sifting through my resources and sharing a recipe for weeknight cooking each week. First up – Ina Garten’s “Weeknight Bolognese” from her book How Easy is That? Without running down a rabbit hole talking about my love of Ina, I will say in short that her recipes are reliable and delicious. You can be confident going into the kitchen that it will be time well spent, which is important during the week when we are more limited. Traditional bolognese typically takes hours to prepare. A chef in Tuscany once taught me that you can leave the sauce simmering on the stove all day, adding water to the sauce intermittently to avoid having it dry out or burn. The sauce develops and builds flavor over time. Sounds romantic in theory, very challenging in real life. Ina’s recipe is the perfect combination of easy and fast, with the added benefit of being tasty.
I made the Bolognese as outlined, adding some extra basil to the sauce near the end. Next time I’ll substitute 1/2 pound of spicy Italian sausage for 1/2 of the sirloin to give it just a bit more of a kick and extra flavor. I rarely half quantities and as this recipe serves 4-5, I ladled the leftovers into some storage containers and popped them in the fridge so I could reheat the next day for lunch or dinner.
This is a great go-to recipe for a weeknight date night in or a crowd-pleasing meal for friends or family. Pour yourself a glass of wine, cook and enjoy!
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large (12-inch) skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground sirloin and cook, crumbling the meat with a wooden spoon, for 5 to 7 minutes, until the meat has lost its pink color and has started to brown. Stir in the garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes and cook for 1 more minute. Pour 1 cup of the wine into the skillet and stir to scrape up any browned bits. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper, stirring until combined. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a tablespoon of salt, a splash of oil, and the pasta, and cook according to the directions on the box.
While the pasta cooks, finish the sauce. Add the nutmeg, basil, cream, and the remaining 1/4 cup wine to the sauce and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until thickened. When the pasta is cooked, drain and pour into a large serving bowl. Add the sauce and 1/2 cup Parmesan and toss well. Serve hot with Parmesan on the side.
Recipe *2010, Barefoot Contessa How Easy is That?, All Rights Reserved
Photo from me about to finish off the pasta…
Staple ingredients from Whole Foods and homemade dried basil from my brother & his wife. I deleted the final product but wanted to get this post up – I’ll make it again soon!