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Best One-Skillet Meals for Summer


It’s the end of the long workday (or the start of an extra-long week) and we’re hungry. Like, “can’t-think-straight” hungry. Luckily, Food52 contributor EmilyC wants to do all the thinking for us. In Dinner’s Ready, her monthly column on weeknight wonders, she shares three simple, flavor-packed recipes that are connected by a single idea or ingredient. Stick with Emily, and you’ll have a good dinner on the table in no time. Today, Emily shows us how to make summer dinners sing—using just one skillet.

One-skillet dinners are alluring. What’s not to love about easy-to-prep, virtually mess-free meals assembled in one pan? I’ve long been a fan of this no-frills style of cooking—but cut to the eleventh week of quarantine, when I feel like I’ve cooked a gazillion-and-one dinners and washed as many dishes, and this approach seems downright essential.

Done right, one-skillet dinners offer layers of developed, nuanced flavors. With any type of skillet (cast-iron, nonstick, or stainless steel), we can start building dimensions from the get go using different cooking techniques. Sear chicken thighs hot and fast to develop a golden crust, sauté onions low and slow until they’re deeply caramelized, or fry anchovies in a slick of oil to develop umami. You may be tempted to skip over these initial steps, but the favor payoff is worth it.

From there, we can put all of that well-laid savory goodness to use. Take, for example, those seared chicken thighs. Sure, we could sauté a vegetable in a separate skillet (or roast one on a sheet pan) to serve alongside the chicken. But here’s a better path: Set the chicken aside and deglaze the skillet with a little water (or rosé or stock) to release the caramelized bits of fond, then sauté or roast the vegetable in the same skillet. It’ll take on another dimension of flavor, and you’ll have one less pan to scrub. Win-win.

But what’s most compelling to me, especially in this moment, is that this type of cooking makes the most of the ingredients we have on hand. A few handfuls of greens may not be enough for a salad or side, but when cooked in the same skillet as, say, crispy tofu or spicy shrimp, they complete a satisfying dinner. Plus, I appreciate the opportunity to focus on one preparation versus several at once. Less multitasking means I can take greater care with each step and be more deliberate with seasoning.

Every time I make a good one-skillet dinner, I vow to find more versions for my rotation. The seemingly endless possibilities led me to develop these three recipes that exemplify these flavor-building, pantry-leveraging mantras. I’ve included lots of ideas for substitutions on each recipe page to help guide the way.

This simple but bold-flavored meal comes together in two parts: First, coat bite-sized pieces of chicken thighs in Spanish smoked paprika and turmeric, then sauté in a skillet in a pool of butter and olive oil until well browned on each side before setting aside. Next, add chickpeas to the empty skillet—tossing and turning them in the golden, spiced fat—and cook them low and slow until they get ultra-crispy on the outside, still soft and creamy on the inside. I like to serve the chicken and chickpeas with lemony yogurt sauce and warmed flatbread, but they’re also swell on top of mixed greens or on their own.

This one-skillet farro is inspired by Deb Perelman’s One-Pan Farro with Tomatoes on Smitten Kitchen; Deb credits Martha Stewart’s famous One-Pan Pasta for inspiring hers. The concept behind both recipes is simple—cook farro and a fresh sauce together in a single pot—and it’s just too good to not play around with. My version turns to a skillet versus a saucepan, which provides plenty of surface area for sizzling anchovies in olive oil and toasting the farro until browned and nutty. Then, it calls in lots of sliced fennel, lemon zest, garlic, cherry tomatoes, and vegetable stock to form a bright, velvety sauce. But my favorite part? Using the fennel fronds to make a maybe unconventional, very delicious take on pesto to spoon over the dish before digging in.

This hearty, meatless pasta strewn with white beans, greens, and tomatoes has been one of my go-to dinners this spring. Start with a base of sautéed onions, garlic, and caramelized tomato paste (tip: Cook the paste until it changes from bright red to brick red for maximum flavor), then add the pasta, beans, and greens to the skillet. Concentrate that flavor even more by sticking the skillet in a hot oven, uncovered, letting the top layer get brown and crispy while the bottom layer stays creamy. Quick-marinated mozzarella, which adds more texture and flavor still, is here to gild the lily.

What’s your favorite one-skillet dinner? Let us know in the comments.

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