So like a lot of you guys out there, we’ve cut back on meat in our house pretty significantly in the last few years, which probably seems pretty obvious to anyone reading this blog with regularity. For the most part, it’s been a gradual process, one that has been helped along by the ever-growing body of research on the environmental impact of a meat-dependent world; and also by getting older, making me way more in touch with idea of Controlling the Controllable if you know what I mean. Another major factor? The steady stream of vegetable-forward cookbooks landing on my desk (in my capacity as a reviewer). What’s so inspiring about all of them is that so few call themselves full-on vegetarian — they just reflect the way a lot of us aspire to eat, i.e. they are cookbook versions of the famous Michael Pollan prescription: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Take Cal Peternell’s most recent collection, Almonds, Anchovies, and Pancetta. The subtitle encapsulates my current eating life perfectly: A Vegetarian Cookbook, Kind Of.
I say “kind of” because there’s literally zero chance we’d ever make it through a winter without multiple helpings of Pork Ragu. Or though a week without chucking our no-brainer mustardy-panko chicken thighs in the oven. Or through a diner breakfast without ordering bacon alongside our eggs. But in the past few months, we’ve decided to enact an official policy about meat-eating, similar to our drinking policy that has been such a surprising success. In other words, we are weekday vegetarians. We do our best to avoid meat during the week, then allow ourselves submit to the inevitable Shake Shack craving on a Saturday or Sunday…ok fine, Friday counts too….if the situation calls for it. (Let me just say, the situation somehow always calls for it.) As always, it’s been great for my cooking, forcing me out of my comfort zone (you can only eat so many salad pizzas and black bean burritos in a month) and far away from the mindset of meat-starch-veg when conceptualizing a meal. I’ve been stockpiling my new recipes, and promise to post them as soon as everyone is out of the holiday hedonism frame of mind!
Of course there is one problem with the whole enterprise. Two problems actually: Our daughters. They’re not exactly complaining — in fact, we didn’t tell them we were doing this and it took almost three weeks before Abby said “I feel like we haven’t eaten chicken in a while” — but one kid doesn’t eat beans, one doesn’t eat grains or quinoa, one doesn’t eat pasta, neither of them eat eggs. Suddenly the horizon didn’t seem so vast and here I am, back in the toddler world of relying on a handful of meals that everyone eats unless I want to cook three different meals for four people. I miss a lot of things about the toddler days, but being a short order cook is not one of them.
So while I figure things out, I’ve decided to share two super easy vegetarian mains that are easily tweak-able for the meat-eaters at the table, and that allow me to cook one thing for everyone. (OMG Remember Deconstructed Dinners?) I don’t see them winning any James Beard Awards, but they should do the job for a weeknight family dinner, which should win some award somewhere for someone.
Pasta with Sheet Pan Broccoli, Greens, and Optional Sausage (above)
Mom and Dad ate the pasta with vegetables. Phoebe, who doesn’t like pasta, got one sausage and a huge helping of vegetables. Abby got the whole shebang.
1 large bunch broccoli, chopped into florets
handful greens (I used chard, you could also use kale or spinach)
3 tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
shake of red pepper flakes
2 links sweet Italian sausage (or as many links as you have meat-eaters at the table)
1 pound penne
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup shredded Parmagiano-Reggiano
handful mozzarella if you have it (I happened to have a little knob of the fresh stuff and I didn’t want it to go to waste; but this is not a deal breaker ingredient)
Heat oven to 425°F. In a large bowl, toss broccoli, greens, oil, salt, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper to taste until every floret is covered with oil. Dump onto a foil-lined cookie sheet, spreading everything out. Nestle two sausages into the middle of the vegetables. Roast for 15-20 minutes, until sausages are cooked through and greens have wilted. (Test sausage to make sure they are done; if they are not, add back on a piece of foil.)
While sausage and vegetables roast, prepare penne according to package directions, using a large pot. Drain and toss immediately with butter, then add back to the pot. Toss cooked vegetables to the pasta along with Parm and mozzarella if using. Slice sausages separately. Toss pasta into four bowls, topping the carnivore bowls with sliced sausages.
Tortilla Pie with Beans and Optional Pork
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Abby said when she saw the meat-veg line of demarcation.
8 tortillas (cooked over stovetop flame briefly or pan-fried in basically no oil)
2 cups shredded cheddar
1 bunch scallions (white and light green parts only), chopped
pickled jalapenos or canned hatch chiles to taste
1 cup frozen/thawed corn
1 15-ounce can refried beans (spicy or whatever your favorite kind is), heated on stovetop until smooth
Shredded cooked meat such as leftover Pork Ragu, rotisserie chicken, chorizo or andouille sausage crumbles
Toppings such as sour cream, chopped cilantro, avocado, salsa (store-bought or Fresca)
Heat oven to 400°F. Alternate layers of tortillas, cheddar, scallions, jalapeños, corn, and refried beans (you’ll want to spread the beans as opposed to dolloping them), cutting tortillas into pieces that work with the shape of the pie dish. On one side of the pie, add pork/chicken/sausage as you go, too, keeping track of the side that is meat-friendly. For the final layer, add a tortilla and a handful of cheese, then demarcate the meat-side with a strip of tortilla and an “M” monogram as shown. Bake 25 minutes. Cut into slices and garnish with toppings. I served with a simple green salad.