Your challenge, night after night: Make a healthy dinner, fast.
It takes true talent to turn a handful of ingredients into a ready-in-mere-minutes, delicious meal.
So we asked these Boston chefs with serious culinary cred for their speedy-meal tips and a favorite recipe.
Executive Chef, Boston Urban Hospitality
Maybe you caught Wright competing in early 2019 as a Season 16 Top Chef finalist (she placed fifth). A rising star since she entered the Boston restaurant scene in 2011, she made Zagat Boston’s “30 under 30” 2015 list.
As a busy executive chef of Boston Urban Hospitality, she creates locally sourced, seasonally changing menus for Boston-based restaurant Deuxave, which Forbes Travel Guide (2019) rated four stars as a “modern French wonder.” She also handles dbar, a popular Dorchester neighborhood restaurant and night club, and two locations of Boston Chops.
When she and her husband welcomed their first child earlier this year, preparing family meals pronto became her new priority. “When you work in a restaurant, you eat at least 50 percent of your meals there,” explains Wright, “so being at home on maternity leave was the first time in about a decade I had to answer the question ‘what are we going to eat,’ three meals a day, week after week.”
To make that happen at home: “A lot of what I put together for a meal that’s delicious is about working with leftovers; cooking extra rice and quinoa so that it’s always ready in the fridge; having pickled veggies and marinated salads that are delicious and fast; making an extra portion of salmon for something else the next night (like the Sesame Salmon Toast below).”
Recipe: Sesame Salmon Toast
1 slice sourdough bread
4 ounces cooked sesame ginger or teriyaki salmon (or plain cooked salmon drizzled in sesame oil)
24 thin slices English cucumber
1 tbsp. sriracha mayonnaise
Toast 1 slice of your favorite sourdough bread. Spread with sriracha mayonnaise. Layer cucumber slices (pack as many as possible onto the toast for the fresh crunch). Sprinkle with salt and dress with a squeeze of lime juice. Flake salmon to cover the toast and finish with another squeeze of fresh lime juice.
Carla and Christine Pallotta
Nebo Cucina & Enoteca
When you grow up in Boston’s North End with a mom who’s always ready to whip up dinner for five or 25 — depending on who drops by for a visit around dinner time — fixing up a fabulous, fast meal is in your DNA. At least that’s how Carla Pallotta, who we spoke with, and her sister Christine — co-owners and head chefs at Boston’s Nebo Cucina & Enoteca — see it.
“At home, I always have great quality dried pasta, fresh garlic, a chunk of Pecorino, capers and kalamata olives, dried lentils, canned cannelloni beans, chickpeas, San Marzano tomatoes on hand, rice and dried porcini mushrooms for risotto,” says Pallotta. “It’s really easy to make a meal with those ingredients; even a mushroom risotto can be ready in only 18 minutes.”
One caveat: “dinner” in her family often means a meal at mid-day. “We like to eat like Europeans, having our big meal earlier in the day,” says Pallotta. “That’s the reason Nebo offers a full dinner menu from 2 p.m. (a lunch menu is also served earlier).”
“People don’t visit anymore,” laments Pallotta. “A lot of that has to do with everyone thinking a meal has to be so fancy, but you don’t need to get dressed up to visit friends. Come over in your pajamas — we’ll whip up a nice dish of pasta and enjoy it together!”
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
4 ounces 1/4-inch-sliced pancetta, cut into small cubes
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
3/4 cup minced onion
1/2 cup baby tomatoes cut in half
1 28-oz. can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes blended for 30 seconds
16 ounces rigatoni pasta
1/4 cup finely grated Pecorino
Ricotta cheese, optional
Heat oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add pancetta and sauté until crisp and golden, about 4 minutes. Add pepper flakes and stir for 10 seconds. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until soft. Add tomatoes, reduce heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens, 15-20 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season with salt; add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until 2 minutes before al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta cooking water.
Add drained pasta to sauce in skillet and toss vigorously with tongs to coat. Add 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water and cook until sauce coats pasta and pasta is al dente, about 2 minutes. (Add a little pasta water if sauce is too dry.) Stir in cheese and transfer pasta to warmed bowls.
Top with Ricotta cheese if desired
Executive Chef, Toro
Chef Josh Elliott expanded his long and impressive resume by heading to Boston in 2018 to work with James Beard Award-winning chefs Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette. Elliott is now Executive Chef at Toro in the South End, inventing and cooking traditional and modern Barcelona-inspired tapas.
“For a fast meal I like pasta, roasted vegetables, marinated vegetable salad, good charcuterie and cheese boards. Just simple and easy,” says Elliott. “Keep your pantry stocked with good quality evoo, kosher salt and a good fleur de sel, high-fat unsalted butter, fresh shallots and garlic, fresh herbs, and lemons for juice and zest.”
Recipe: Chicken Piccata
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. Kosher salt
Freshly cracked pepper
4 ounces white wine
1 tbsp. capers in brine
4 sprigs of parsley, roughly chopped
1 tbsp. butter
Preheat oven to 385 degrees Fahrenheit.
Pound the chicken thighs with a meat tenderizer or rolling pin until they are even in thickness. Dust them in flour seasoned with the salt and pepper, shaking off any excess. Cook them in a sauté pan over medium high heat, two minutes on each side until golden brown. Then finish in the oven for 6-8 minutes.
While that’s cooking, slice the tomatoes in half. And slice the lemon into wheels.
Place a pan on the stove on medium high heat. Add the wine, capers and a splash of the brine. Add your lemon wheels and tomatoes. Season with black pepper and add parsley. With everything in the pan and the sauce bubbling, add the butter. Bring sauce to warm simmer. Remove from heat and spoon over chicken.
Finish with cracked pepper and serve with warm capellini.