Roasted veggies with plenty of cheese
My family is hardly vegetarian. We tend to live more by the joke that “vegetarian is just an ancient Indian word for ‘bad hunter.'” My father would die without the New York steaks he tosses on the grill every week, and my standard is a Subway turkey sandwich. My mother eats meat, too . . . sort of. Give her a grilled chicken breast and only a small, cut-off corner will make it onto her plate. She doesn’t have any of the moral indignation or animal-rights fervor that’s boiled into most vegetarians. She just isn’t a fan of meat.
So when I cook for my mother, nine times out of ten it’s a meatless recipe. When I added some chopped ham to a chowder recipe, she came close to picking it out with her fingers. When I make sausage pasta bakes for her own father to keep in the freezer, the Tupperware that stays home stays unopened and uneaten. I sort of like cooking with meat – it’s magic, almost, the way heat turns it from a bunch of slimy pink blobs into edible, tan chicken fingers – but I also like the zen state induced by dicing endless vegetables.
This baked penne recipe from Food Network’s Giada De Laurentiis is about as easy as vegetarian cooking gets. (OK, salad-in-a-bag might be easier, but that hardly counts as a meal.) I cook mainly to eat up time – it gives me something to do besides stick my nose in a book – but this dish left me with the majority of the evening stretching before me. That’s good news for the rest of you, though, who aren’t necessarily longing for two hours in the kitchen. (I’m lookin’ at you, corn chowder.) This recipe is the first time I’ve come within spitting distance of the prep time listed in the instructions. Twenty-five minutes? Not quite. But give me another ten and I’m there.