Dinner needs a game plan, and we've got you covered: Versatile menus and meal prep guides for the week ahead — every Thursday for 12 weeks.
If you open my comically packed freezer and a pint of gelato doesn’t immediately tumble out and hit you in the face, you’ll see a few things, without fail: aforementioned frozen treats, a big ol’ bag of chicken bones for stock, actual stock, frozen peas/berries/pineapple chunks, bread and a couple giant jars of homemade tomato sauce.
Our leadoff hitter in this series is summer’s most coveted fruit and the source of that sauce: the humble tomato.
Grabbing a few pounds of tomatoes and making a versatile sauce, either for the week’s dinners or your freezer arsenal, is a pro move if you subscribe to Sauce Theory, the idea that any meal can be instantly elevated by the inclusion of sauce. And you should.
A sauce that captures the sweet and savory essence of ripe tomatoes can salvage even the saddest of fridge and freezer stragglers. The last two eggs in the carton? Time for a dip in the sauce tub. Frozen fish and a lone potato?
Tragic Magic, thanks to sauce. Farmers market veg on their last legs? SAUCE THEM.
If Sauce Theory was a religion, the following menu would be my gospel.
This week's game plan
Breakfast for dinner feels less like an act of desperation when you’re poaching eggs in a spicy, earthy tomato sauce.
Dad’s Cod and Dijon Mashed Potatoes
Grab your artfully folded napkins, because we’re getting restaurant fancy — in under 30 minutes.
Simple Stove Top Ratatouille (V)
Congrats, you’ve found the perfect outlet for those last few pieces of produce in the crisper at the end of the week.
(V - vegetarian)
Are you on board? Fantastic. Click this link for an easy-to-save shopping list that includes ingredients for all three recipes.
All-Purpose Tomato Sauce
It would be pretty bold of me to call this tomato sauce “all purpose” if it wasn’t. It can hold its own next to the best mashed potatoes you’ll ever eat, literally and figuratively coddle eggs and speak French. (C'est magnifique!) The tomato-flavored icing on this cake? Any sauce left over at the end of the week will taste just as good served on top of a heaping pile o’ bucatini or haphazardly blended for pizza sauce when your end-of-week cooking efforts, well, aren’t. If you don’t think you’ll use up the last cup or so by week’s end, just chuck it in the freezer, where it can chill for up to 6 months.
Prep time: 10 to 15 minutes. Cook time: 45 minutes.
Makes about 5 cups. You’ll need:
One 14.5-ounce can whole, peeled tomatoes, with juices
⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, cut into small dice (about 1½ cups)
5 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 pounds fresh roma or vine-ripened tomatoes, seeded and diced (see TIP)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano (from about 10 stems)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (from about 15 stems)
½ teaspoon salt, plus more as needed
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
1 bay leaf
Pour the can of whole, peeled tomatoes into a gallon-size freezer zip-top bag. Seal and squeeze like it’s a stress ball, crushing the tomatoes.
Let’s warm up the oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Diced onion is going in first. Stir every now and then and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until pale yellow and soft.
Add the garlic and tomato paste. Stir to break up the paste and blend it in, then cook for 2 minutes, until slightly bubbling.
Add the fresh and canned tomatoes, herbs, salt, pepper and bay leaf and give it all a good stir. Cook until everything starts rapidly bubbling, then reduce the heat to medium-low so the liquid is just barely bubbling — this would be a “simmer.”
Cook for 30 to 35 minutes, stirring every now and then. You’ll know the sauce is done when it’s “reduced” by about a third — we’re cooking down the mixture to really condense and blend the flavors. A good bit of liquid will evaporate, thickening the sauce in the process. To determine when the sauce has cooked down enough, I like to stick the handle end of a wooden spoon straight down into the pot after I first pour everything in and take note of how deep the mixture is. Make a tiny mark with a pencil (or just eyeball it) and use that as your guide to determine when the sauce is sufficiently reduced.
It’s tasting time. Take a spoon and see where you’re at. Does it need more salt? A little pepper? When you’re satisfied, get rid of the bay leaf and let the sauce cool completely in the pot.
I like to store my sauce in two large, wide-mouth Mason jars in the fridge (the cup markings on the sides make it easy to measure as I cook). You could also use heavy-duty zip-top bags or small food storage containers to divide out the portions you’ll need for this week’s recipes (1¾ cups, ½ cup, 2 cups). The sauce is good in your fridge for 5 days; any extra you have will freeze wonderfully in a freezer-friendly zip-top bag or glass container (and will come in handy in future newsletters).
Adapted from “Cravings” by Chrissy Teigen (Clarkson Potter, 2016).
Two things worth mentioning: 1) Do me a solid and don’t skip the fresh oregano if you can help it. (You should have some leftover from Sunday’s tomato sauce.) If you have to pass on it, at least substitute another fresh herb or spice, instead of a dried alternative. 2) If you’re like me and grew up in the South, you probably subscribe to the wisdoms of never washing your cast-iron with soap and never cooking acidic foods (like tomatoes) in it. Maybe don’t tell Grandma, but we’re ignoring the latter and opting to cook this tomato-based dish traditionally — in cast iron. In reality, tomatoes are no problem for a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet, and most nowadays are sold pre-seasoned. If you’ve been cooking with yours for a while, don’t sweat acids. But if your loyalty to Grandma runs deep, feel free to swap cast-iron for a nonstick pan.
Prep time: 5 to 10 minutes. Cook time: 20 minutes.
1 to 2 servings. You’ll need:
3 thin slices prosciutto (Vegetarian? Just leave it out!)
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
½ jalapeño pepper cut lengthwise, seeded and minced [see TIP]
1¾ cups All-Purpose Tomato Sauce (the good stuff you whipped up on Sunday!)
¼ teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika (sweet pimentón)
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional, or use as much as your tastebuds can handle)
2 large eggs
Fresh oregano leaves from 2 stems, for garnish
Freshly ground black pepper
Crusty baguette, for serving
Preheat your oven — or toaster oven! — to 400 degrees, friends and fam (hi Mom!), because we’re about to make a bougie bacon brother. Line a small baking sheet with aluminum foil and spread out those slices of prosciutto. Roast for 8 to 10 minutes, until they’re lightly browned and curling up at the edges. Let ’em cool; they’ll only get crispier from here.
While that’s happening, good things are about to go down on your stove top. Heat the oil in your skillet over medium heat. Add the jalapeño and cook for 2 minutes, until just softened. If you want to cough up a lung, stand over the skillet and inhale. (Don’t actually do that; I have regrets.)
Pour in the tomato sauce and hit it with the paprika, cumin and the crushed red pepper flakes (or not; give things a taste, first!) Stir things up and cook until the sauce is like, how’s it going, thrilled to be here, and bubbles like it means it. Press the back of a ladle into the sauce to create two little nests for the eggs; now crack them in. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes, until their whites start to firm up. Cover with a glass lid (so you can keep an eye on things) and continue to cook for 2 more minutes, until the whites are actually, well, white. Turn off the heat and let the pan rest, covered, for another 2 minutes. Go pay that electric bill you totally didn’t space on in the meantime.
Don’t even think about skipping the fresh oregano garnish. When the herbs hit the steaming dish, it’s a downright aroma bomb. Season the eggs with a three-fingered pinch each of salt and pepper. Crumble the prosciutto crisps to top things off.
Wolf down everything straight from the pan, with the help of some crusty bread.
Dad's Cod and Dijon Mashed Potatoes
You can’t build a great house on a weak foundation, and you can’t build my dad’s signature dish on any old spuds. Presentation is key here: We’re stacking greens on top of fish on top of tomato sauce on top of arguably the best mashed potatoes you’ll ever eat (yep, it’s the mustard). When you’re looking over the ingredients and thinking to yourself, “She’s really asking me to make two mini recipes? What’s she gonna ask me for next, a kidney?” Fret not. Each piece of this dish comes together rather quickly, but you can absolutely make the mashed potatoes ahead on Sunday. Just mix in another splash of heavy cream after reheating them.
Prep time: 5 minutes. Cook time: 30 minutes.
2 servings. You’ll need:
For the potatoes
¼ teaspoon salt, plus more for the cooking water
8 ounces russet potato, peeled and cut into chunks
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon whole-grain Dijon mustard, plus more as needed
Freshly cracked black pepper
For the cod and sauce
12 ounces cod loin (this is the plumpest part of a cod fillet, about 1-inch thick), cut into two equal pieces
Freshly cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, or more as needed
½ cup All-Purpose Tomato Sauce (more of the good stuff you whipped up on Sunday!)
A handful of arugula, parsley or other fresh greens
For the potatoes (and keep in mind, you could also make these ahead, on Sunday): Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the potato chunks and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, until they’re so tender you can easily pierce ’em with a fork. Drain and dump in a mixing bowl.
Use a fork to break them up in their bowl. Sure, you could use a masher, but I like how the fork works through the lumps and smooths things out. Add the butter, heavy cream, mustard, salt and a few grinds of pepper. Use that fork to whisk them until smooth. Cover to keep warm.
For the cod and sauce: Season both sides of your fillets lightly with salt and pepper, then — and this step is crucial, because I definitely destroyed a piece of cod when I forgot it – use the 2 tablespoons of oil to coat the fish.
Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cod fillets and cook for 4 minutes, until they’re mostly opaque and they no longer stick to the pan. If the pan gets dry, go ahead and add an extra tablespoon of oil.
Carefully turn each fillet over (a fork on one side and a spatula on the other does the trick), pour in the tomato sauce and cook for 1 more minute.
Plating might be my favorite part of making this dish (apart from, you know, eating it). It looks like you’re fresh off a couple semesters at the Culinary Institute of America, but essentially you’re just making an aesthetically pleasing potato-and-fish mountain.
If the AC’s blasting in your apartment, give the potatoes a spin in the microwave first and maybe another splash of cream, then divide ’em between plates. Flatten the potato mounds with the back of a spoon and rotate each plate to spread them out evenly. You’ll have what looks like shallow wells on top. These are your sauce pockets; spoon warm tomato sauce into each. Follow with a piece of cod and finish with greens, a squeeze of lemon juice and a few cracks of black pepper.
Do the chef’s kiss thing, pal, because you’re all done.
Inspired by a dish by Andrew Sichynsky.
Leftovers: Simple Stove Top Ratatouille
You’ve always dreamed of becoming a chef. You befriend a young restaurant worker in Paris. Through a series of unlikely events, you find yourself cooking for a renowned critic. You’re a rat named Remy, and you’re grabbing another 2 cups of that All-Purpose Tomato Sauce and making ratatouille in less than an hour.
2 to 3 servings.
Slice a narrow eggplant, a zucchini and a summer squash crosswise into ¼-inch rounds. Salt the eggplant slices and let them drain in a colander while you cook the other vegetables, one kind after the other in a skillet with a bit of olive oil. You want them to soften and pick up a little color, so give them a couple minutes on each side. Then pat the eggplant dry, hit the skillet with a bit more olive oil and cook the slices for 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Once everything’s browned and out of the pan, pour in your tomato sauce. Make like Remy and arrange the zucchini, squash and eggplant slices by alternating colors into whatever fanciful pattern you think will get the most likes on Instagram. Cover and cook gently for 15 minutes, uncover and cook a bit more to reduce the moisture. Season with Salt-N-Pepa and top with basil leaves and crumbled goat cheese.
Loosely based on a recipe from “The Art of Simple Food” by Alice Waters (Clarkson Potter, 2007).
I want to see all you Sauce Theory converts.
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Week 2 sneak peek: Chicken thighs!