Weeknight Dinners with an Italian Flair

Quick & Easy, Recipes
on December 9, 2007
Mark Boughton Photography / styling by Teresa Blackburn

About 10 years ago, the fad in the culinary world was recipes with only three ingredients. In addition to cookbooks with three-ingredient recipes, recipe writers and chefs stretched their imaginations to create a bare-bones kind of cooking. The fact that some of these streamlined recipes took hours to cook didn’t seem to matter.

Eventually, professional recipe writers realized that what home cooks wanted most was not short ingredient lists, but short cooking times. “Three” lost its spot as the magic number, and “convenience” took its place. “How long does it take to make?” is still the question most of us ask when we see a recipe for the first time.

For some of the world’s best food, which is traditionally cooked in a matter of minutes, the place to look is in Italian cookbooks. The Classic Italian Cook Book (Knopf) by Marcella Hazan, for instance, has been around since 1973 and is still a favorite. Hazan, an expert in Italian cooking, warns readers not to overcook pasta. For al dente, or firm to the bite, it is minutes from the time the noodles hit the water until they’re done. Hazan’s instructions for fettuccine Alfredo are filled with words like, “seconds,” “briefly” and “immediately,” and her basil and tomato sauce is ready in 15 minutes flat. These are not dishes for cooks who linger. Flattened pieces of veal or chicken, called “scaloppini,” are sautéed in seconds. Simple pan sauces with marsala or lemon add only a few minutes to the prep. As you might expect, a piece of fish is in and out of the oven in five minutes.

By Jean Kressy, a food writer in Ashburnham, Mass.