Fast and easy one-pot dinners

Most cooks feel proud of themselves when they pull off an amazing meal, and rightfully so.  A lot of hard work and careful planning  go into making sides and entrées harmonize with flavor. However, most of us live in the real world, where schedules are crazy and sometimes, we just don’t have the energy to put that much thought into something that’s going to be gone less than an hour after finishing it. Today, I bring you two one-skillet dinners that are great for hectic weeknights.

This well-rounded dish is full of vegetables and showcases their bright flavors. It’s great for on the go nights, taking only about 20 minutes to make, and even better, it’s only 445 calories a serving. I had never cooked with fresh okra before, and am delighted by how much I liked it – having only had the ingredient in gumbo (where flavors tend to get lost) it was great to feel its natural texture as well.

Bright flavors and many textures in this summer skillet. (Photo by Sally Michaelis)

Turkey and okra skillet dinner

  • 1 slices bacon, chopped 1¼ pounds turkey cutlets, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • ¾ tsp. dried thyme
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1½ tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ lb. Okra
  • ½ cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 4 ears of corn, kernels removed (about 3 cups)
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice

Cook the bacon in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat until slightly crisp, about six minutes. Toss turkey in a bowl with the flour, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste on both sides, but not cooked all the way through, about 3 minutes. Transfer the turkey and the bacon to a bowl and set aside.

Heat the remaining ½ tbsp. olive oil in the skillet, adding the okra and a pinch of salt, stirring for three minutes. Add the chicken broth, ½ cup water, corn, and tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Stir occasionally until the okra is tender and the tomatoes begin to fall apart, about three minutes. Return the turkey and bacon to the pan and simmer until turkey is cooked through, about two more minutes. Stir in lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.

The next dish I just love. It’s rustic, warm, and makes your home smell great. It’s not really low-cal like the turkey and okra, but it is filling. I must confess it felt strange to make an Italian dinner that didn’t have pasta with it, but the polenta provided the needed starch and a unique texture.

This is the first time I’ve had polenta in it’s original ethnic context. As a kid we had it (we always called it mush) with breakfast, or breakfast for dinner. My dad would very thinly slice it, fry it, and serve it with butter and syrup. Never a bad thing, I just grew up having no idea it was Italian. The following dish brings out the savory side of it, the slight saltiness adding to the tomatoes and sausage.

Polenta adds a unique texture to this saucy tomato and sausage dish. (Photo by Sally Michaelis)

Sausage and polenta parmesan

  • 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 17 of polenta, sliced into 8 rounds
  • 8 oz. sweet or hot Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 28 oz. can whole plum tomatoes, crushed by hand
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
  • 8 oz. mozzarella cheese
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

Heat the olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Fry the polenta slices until golden, about three minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Add sausage to the skillet and cook completely, breaking it up and stirring. Stir in the garlic and let cook one minute. Pour the canned tomatoes into a bowl, and crush with a potato masher, adding the parsley, then salt and pepper to taste. Pour into the pan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until slightly thickened, about five minutes.

Place the polenta rounds on top of the sauce, sprinkle with the Romano (or Parmesan) and arrange the mozzarella on top of that. Cover and let stand until the cheese is melted and bubbling, three to five minutes. Top with additional parsley as desired.

Tip of the week: It’s best to store herbs and spices in cool dark places that aren’t above the stove. Heat and light make the seasonings lose their flavor much faster.