Your kitchen might brim with gadgets – cherry pit remover, anyone? Or, at the other extreme, a can of tomatoes might double as your rolling pin.
Either way, your cupboard doubtless contains a skillet, an incredibly accommodating piece of equipment you can use to cook almost anything.
In “The Best Skillet Recipes” (2009, America’s Test Kitchen, $35), the cooks at America’s Test Kitchen celebrate the skillet’s versatility with more than 250 thoroughly written, exhaustively tested recipes – everything from pasta and pizza to beef and casseroles to stir-fries and curries to eggs, vegetables and sides.
We’ve culled some of the cookbook’s best skillet dinners, recipes that make reliable, one-pan meals a reality for home cooks.
Baked ziti with sausage features canned whole peeled tomatoes for fresh taste and the right mix of water and cream for a smooth, rich sauce. As the ziti cooks in the sauce, not separately in water, it absorbs flavors.
Strata is a classic brunch dish, but it makes a fine supper, too. A simplified skillet strata offers the same cheesy pleasure as the standard specimen but doesn’t need to be prepared hours ahead.
Ramen noodles with beef, shiitakes and spinach takes inspiration from Japanese noodle bowls and upgrades the dorm room staple. First step: Ditch the seasoning packets with their baleful blend of copious sodium and strange ingredients.
With a skillet, you see, almost all things are possible.
Cook’s note: Be sure to use the skillet size the recipe calls for. Size is determined by measuring at the widest point from lip to lip. All recipes from “The Best Skillet Recipes” by the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated.
Baked ziti with sausage
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
1 pound Italian sausage, casings removed
6 medium garlic cloves, minced OR pressed through garlic press (about 2 tablespoons)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 cups water
12 ounces (about 3 3/4 cups) dry ziti or penne
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 ounce parmesan cheese, grated (1/2 cup)
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
Ground black pepper
4 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded (1 cup)
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat to 475 degrees. Pulse tomatoes with their juice in food processor until coarsely ground and no large pieces remain, about 12 pulses.
In a 12-inch ovensafe nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, cook sausage, breaking apart meat, until lightly browned and no longer pink, 3 to 5 minutes.
Stir in garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in processed tomatoes and one-half teaspoon salt.
Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes no longer taste raw, about 10 minutes. Be sure to simmer gently or sauce will become too thick.
Stir in water, then add pasta. Cover, increase heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring often and adjusting heat to maintain vigorous simmer, until pasta is tender, about 15 to 18 minutes.
Stir in cream, parmesan and basil; season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle mozzarella evenly over top. Transfer skillet to oven and bake until cheese melts and browns, 10 to 15 minutes. Serves 4.
SPINACH AND GOUDA STRATA
6 large eggs
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
Ground black pepper
4 ounces Gouda cheese, shredded (1 cup)
4 tablespoons (one-half stick) unsalted butter
1 medium onion, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 slices high-quality white sandwich bread, cut into 1-inch squares
2 medium garlic cloves, minced OR pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed in microwave, wrapped in towel and squeezed as dry as possible
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat to 425 degrees. In bowl, whisk eggs, milk, thyme and one-fourth teaspoon pepper together, then stir in cheese and set aside.
Melt butter in 10-inch ovensafe nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and salt and cook until onion is softened and lightly browned, about 6 minutes.
Add bread and, using rubber spatula, carefully fold bread into onion mixture until evenly coated. Cook bread, folding occasionally, until lightly toasted, about 3 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Remove skillet from heat and fold in reserved egg mixture until slightly thickened and well combined with bread. Stir in spinach. Gently press top of strata to help soak up egg mixture.
Transfer skillet to oven and bake until edges and center are puffed and edges have pulled away slightly from sides of pan, about 12 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes before serving. Serves 4 to 6.
Note: For cheddar and thyme variation, substitute cheddar cheese for Gouda and omit garlic and spinach.
RAMEN WITH BEEF, SHIITAKES AND SPINACH
Cook’s note: Do not substitute other types of noodles. Finished sauce will seem brothy, but liquid will be absorbed quickly by noodles when serving.
1 pound flank steak, partially frozen
8 teaspoons soy sauce, divided
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, wiped clean, stemmed and sliced thin
3 medium garlic cloves, minced OR pressed through garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
1 tablespoon minced or grated fresh ginger
3 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
4 (3-ounce) packages ramen noodles, seasoning packets discarded
3 tablespoons dry sherry
2 teaspoons sugar
1 (6-ounce) bag baby spinach
Place partially frozen steak on clean, dry work surface. Using sharp chef’s knife, slice steak lengthwise into 2-inch-wide pieces. Next, cut each 2-inch piece across grain into very thin slices.
Pat beef dry with paper towels and toss in bowl with 2 teaspoons soy sauce. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until just smoking.
Add beef, break up any clumps and cook without stirring until beginning to brown, about 1 minute. Stir beef and continue to cook until nearly cooked through, 1 minute longer.
Transfer beef to bowl, cover to keep warm and set aside.
Wipe out skillet with paper towels. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil and return to medium-high heat until shimmering. Add mushrooms and cook until browned, about 4 minutes. Stir in garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Stir in broth. Break bricks of ramen into small chunks and add to skillet. Bring to simmer and cook, tossing ramen constantly with tongs to separate, until ramen is just tender but there is still liquid in skillet, about 2 minutes.
Stir in remaining 6 teaspoons (2 tablespoons) soy sauce, sherry and sugar. Stir in spinach, 1 handful at a time, until wilted and sauce is thickened. Return beef and any accumulated juices to skillet and cook until warmed through, about 30 seconds. Serves 4.