Finally, a Little ‘Go-To’ Grub



Recently, my niece mentioned a friend's successful career. "She's her boss's 'go-to' person."

" 'Go-to' person?" I asked.

"Yes, she's the one her boss turns to when she wants fast, reliable results," replied Susan.

At the time, I was making dinner and it occurred to me that I could use some fast, reliable recipes. As Susan extolled the efficiency of our friend, I decided the ideal "go-to" recipes would be fool-proof, prepared in a jiffy, tastier when made ahead of time, and unlikely to burn if time were spent entertaining guests.

I recalled some disappointing main courses from past dinners. As my guests were enjoying wine in the dining room, I was at the stove making sure my beautiful vegetables and roasts were not drying out. That's when it occurred to me that hot foods should be prepared in sauces or gravies that would keep them moist, even if the food was being reheated.

I also was not averse to serving some dishes at room temperature, as there are only so many foods that can be warmed at once. Some marinated salads would be both low-maintenance and refreshing on a spring menu.

Because I adore Sephardic cuisine — known for cooked vegetables that are cooled and seasoned with olive oil and spices — I located some of my favorite salad recipes from this genre.

And then I concocted my own version of "Coq au Vin." Variations of this elegant French chicken stew have been a crowd-pleaser for centuries. I have tried the recipe with dark meat, which stays far moister than chicken breasts. But if you prefer white meat, the dish's ample sauce will prevent it from dehydrating.

I've since been on the prowl for easy, saucy recipes. I now have a strategy for keeping foods fresh and delicious no matter how much time I spend with my guests — a repertoire of dependable recipes that get the job done.

Marinated Carrots

Inspired from Moroccan Jewish cuisine, these zesty carrots taste best when prepared a few days ahead of time.

lbs. carrots (about 20 jumbo carrots), scraped and rinsed in cold water 
kosher salt to taste 
6 cloves garlic, skinned and crushed through a garlic press 
1/4 cup olive oil 
1 tsp. cumin 
1/8 tsp. turmeric

Cut carrots into carrot sticks.

Steam them until barely tender on the outside, but still firm in the center, about 5 to 8 minutes. Drain in a colander.

Place in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle with salt and gently stir to coat carrots. Reserve.

Place oil in a small saucepan and heat on a low flame.

Add the garlic, cooking until just warm, about 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the cumin and turmeric.

Pour the mixture over the carrots and gently stir until combined. Add more salt, if needed. Cover and refrigerate.

Bring to room temperature 2 hours or so before serving.

Serves 12.

Steamed Cauliflower Salad

Exuding spring, this recipe calls for parsley — the symbol of greenery on the seder plate. It tastes best when made a few days ahead of time.

2 large heads of cauliflower 
kosher salt to taste 
1/4 cup olive oil 
1/8 cup red-wine vinegar 
4 Tbsps., plus 1 Tbsp., parsley, chopped

Peel off the leaves and core the cauliflower. Rinse under cold water and pat dry with paper towels.

Break into florets. Steam until tender on the outside but still firm in the center, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Place in a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and gently stir to coat florets. Reserve.

Pour the oil in a small saucepan and heat on a low flame. Add the garlic, cooking until just warm, 1 to 2 minutes.

Drizzle the oil over the cauliflower. Pour in the vinegar and gently stir until combined. Add more salt, if needed.

Mix in 4 tablespoons of parsley, tossing to combine.

Move cauliflower to a serving bowl. Sprinkle remaining parsley over the top. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Bring to room temperature 2 hours or so before serving.

Serves 12.

Zucchini-and-Tomato Sauce

4 cloves garlic, minced 
3 Tbsps. olive oil, or more, if needed 
2 Italian plum tomatoes, diced 
4 large zucchini, scrubbed and coarsely diced 
kosher salt to taste 
1/4 tsp. oregano 
4 cans (8 oz.) tomato sauce 
1/4 cup dry vermouth or dry white wine

In a large pot, sauté the garlic in olive oil on a low flame until softened, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and the zucchini. Sprinkle with salt and oregano. Stir occasionally until wilted, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Pour in the tomato sauce and the vermouth. Stir gently. Cover the pot and simmer until sauce thickens slightly, about 30 minutes.

Serve immediately, or cool to room temperature and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Reheat on the lowest flame. (Sauce will continue to thicken during the seder service.)

Serves 12.

'Coq au Vin'

While most "Coq au Vin" recipes call for pork or bacon to heighten flavor intensity, this one relies on leeks and shallots to equal the same palate experience.

2 chickens 
kosher salt 
freshly ground pepper 
2 Tbsps. olive oil, or more, if needed 
8 leeks, split in half, rinsed and cut horizontally into 1/2-inch slices 
11/2 lbs. mushrooms, sliced 
2 shallots, sliced into rings 
8 garlic cloves, minced 
11/2 bottles dry red wine, or more if needed 
2 bay leaves 
1/4 tsp. dried thyme, crushed 
2 Tbsps. parsley, chopped

Purchase the chickens cut into 8 pieces each (2 breasts, 2 wings, 2 legs and 2 thighs — or a total of 16 pieces).

Cut all 4 breasts in half. Rinse chicken under cold water and drain on paper towels.

Sprinkle chicken pieces with salt and pepper, but go easy on the pepper.

Sauté in olive oil to brown. (For ease, use 2 deep pots, dividing the chicken and all remaining ingredients, placing half in each pot.)

Remove chicken and carefully pour off most of the fat and oil.

Add half of the leeks, mushrooms, shallots and garlic to each pot. Braise until tender and vegetables give off a bit of liquid, about 5 to 8 minutes.

Return chicken to pots. Pour wine into each pot, making sure chicken is mostly submerged. If not, add more wine.

Add the bay leaf, thyme and parsley. Stir.

Cover the pots and on a low flame creating a gentle bubbling, simmer for 30 minutes, or until chicken juices run clear when pierced with a sharp knife. This recipe can be made 2 days ahead of time, if covered and refrigerated. Reheat on a low flame.

Makes 20 pieces of chicken.

Linda Morel is a writer based in New York City. E-mail her at: [email protected].



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