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Weeknight Dinners

[Dinner the other night, November 2008.


Some nights you cook and it’s just dinner, and some nights you cook and it’s dinner. I think you know the distinction? I’m happy most of the time with ‘just dinner’ though when I come up with ‘dinner‘ I can’t help but pat myself on the back a bit for actually managing it. And when I do so by incorporating lots of things left languishing in the vegetable drawer it’s a very good dinner indeed.

I fall into patterns sometimes, and lately, since I’ve been mostly cooking for one, I’ve been keeping things very, very simple. One night I might roast half a head of cauliflower and a few potatoes; on another I might caramelize a bunch of brussels sprouts and eat them doused in tahini sauce alongside a baked potato. Of course there’s always quinoa — I’ve been loving the red variety especially — or even just some bread and cheese on the nights when I come home late and have little energy to cook.

But I do like to make stuff up, even if it’s still fairly simple. Case in point: a sort of potato-spinach gratin made complete meal by the addition of fresh mozzarella and vegan ‘sausage.’ This came about on a particularly brisk October evening a few weeks ago when I blew in from my run chilly and starving. It was the kind of night where you can just feel winter nagging at the doorstep, and on nights like that I want to eat something hearty, filling, and completely comforting (also I had a lot of potatoes and spinach and thought I should do something interesting with ’em).

This is pretty much one of the easiest things to make in a hurry, particularly appealing when you’ve worked all day and are just feeling a bit worn out in general. All you do is slice some red potatoes, wilt some spinach, layer it all together with lots of cheese and salt and pepper, slide it into the oven, and 30 minutes later sit down with a few salad greens, glass of red wine, and the latest Goumet you’ve been meaning to read for ages.

The wind may rattle the windows in their sills and you may wince a bit that it gets dark now at 5:30 in the afternoon, but when you have a real dinner to dig into it’s sort of not so bad at all.

Plus: lots of leftovers!

Potato-Spinach Bake

5 red potatoes, scrubbed
1 bunch spinach washed and chopped
4 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese
2 faux sausages (or real, if you prefer), sliced into rounds
parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
2 tsp. dried oregano

Preheat oven to 350 F. Smear some olive oil in a medium-sized baking dish.

In a frying pan, cook the spinach with a bit of water until wilted. Meanwhile, thinly slice the potatoes and put in a pot, cover with water, and cook for about 10 minutes, or until just tender.

To assemble, make one layer on the bottom of the baking dish. Scatter about 1/2 of the spinach, mozzarella, and sausage over the potatoes, and sprinkle with salt and pepper and 1 tsp. oregano. Repeat with another layer of potatoes and ingredients, and finish with a layer of potatoes. Cover the top layer with a good layer of parmesan.

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until potatoes are lightly browned and the cheese is bubbling.

Vegans: omit the cheese, or substitute soy cheese … I have a feeling it will taste just as good.


  1. Mmmm…that looks so warm and comforting. I’m with Robin–perfect for after a run in the San Francisco fog.

    I’ve been digging veggies out of the crisper lately too. We’ve had roasted tomato and fennel soup, which got rid of a lot. And sweet potato fries with rosemary-yogurt. And last night I baked butternut squash with chicken, sage, cream and parmesan for a really splendid one-dish gratinesque meal. With gingerbread for dessert. I haven’t been to the store in a week and a half though, and I guess I’ll have to come out of my cave sooner or later or starve!

  2. Oh, I totally get the difference between just dinner and dinner. So glad you were able to create a dinner to warm you up after a chilly run! And I think Jim will go nuts for this with real sausage in it. :)

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