After long day at office, make short work of the evening meal

May 25, 1994|By Patsy Jamieson | Patsy Jamieson,United Feature Syndicate

Imagine a job where one of the primary responsibilities is to taste food all day. As Eating Well magazine's test-kitchen director, I do just that. After testing and editing recipes, is it drudgery to prepare dinner for my family? Not at all; I actually look forward to putting work aside and indulging in a more spontaneous kind of cooking when I leave the office.

An hour devoted to relaxed meal preparation provides essential punctuation to the day, making a pleasant transition from work to personal time. Of course, the amount of time is limited; after-work cooking cannot be fussy.

Charmoula is a classic Moroccan marinade for fish, but its vibrant flavor is wonderful with chicken as well. The recipe here was inspired by Joyce Goldstein's Moroccan Charmoula in her excellent book "The Mediterranean Kitchen" (William Morrow, 1989).

Precooked lasagna noodles make the next dish, pasta ruffles, a possibility for relatively quick weeknight cooking. The name of the third offering is loosely translated as "mozzarella in a carriage." Mozzarella en Carrozza, is a fried mozzarella sandwich with a pungent anchovy-butter sauce.

For this low-fat rendition, I brown one side on the stove top and finish crisping the sandwich in a hot oven. The result: a crisp "carriage" and savory mozzarella filling.

Charmoula chicken kebabs

Serves 4

1/4 cup nonfat plain yogurt

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, plus extra for garnish

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons paprika

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces

2 small bell peppers, cored, seeded and cut into 1 1/2 -inch pieces

1 medium-sized zucchini, cut into 1/4 -inch-thick rounds

1 cup couscous

In a medium-sized bowl, stir together yogurt, parsley, cilantro, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, paprika, cumin, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, black pepper and cayenne. Add chicken and toss to coat well. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in refrigerator 20 minutes. Put wooden skewers in water to soak.

Meanwhile, heat grill or broiler. Blanch peppers in boiling salted water 3 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon and refresh with cold water. Blanch zucchini for 1 minute. Drain and refresh with cold water.

Alternate chicken, peppers and zucchini on skewers. Grill or broil kebabs until chicken is no longer pink in center, 3 to 4 minutes a side.

Bring 1 1/2 cups of water to a boil. Stir in couscous and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Remove from heat, cover and let sit for 5 minutes. Fluff couscous with fork. Mound couscous on platter and place kebabs over top. Garnish with parsley.

Pasta ruffles

Serves 4

5 ounces "precooked" lasagna noodles

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 14 1/2 -ounce can whole plum tomatoes (with juice)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese

2 ounces lean ham, finely chopped

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Soak pasta in hot water 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, 3 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add tomatoes and basil; simmer, mashing tomatoes, until thickened, about 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

In medium-sized bowl, mix spinach, 1/2 cup Parmesan, ricotta, ham and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper. Drain noodles and blot dry. Spread each noodle with about 2 generous tablespoons of spinach mixture. At short side, roll up each noodle around filling. Cut each crosswise into thirds. Stand each piece on end and score an X about halfway through the roll.

Spread 1/2 cup tomato sauce in bottom of shallow baking dish. Arrange pasta rolls, scored ends up, on sauce. Dab remaining sauce over rolls, pressing lightly so they open to form ruffled top. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, until heated through. Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan and serve.

Mozzarella en carrozza

Serves 2 as a light supper or lunch

1/2 cup grated part-skim mozzarella

1 tablespoon mayonnaise

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

4 anchovy fillets, rinsed and finely chopped

1 teaspoon drained capers

freshly ground black pepper to taste

4 1/2 -inch-thick slices Italian bread

1 large egg

1/4 cup skim milk

1/4 cup all-purpose white flour

pinch cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon olive oil

Heat oven to 450 degrees. In small bowl, stir together mozzarella, mayonnaise, mustard, anchovies, capers and pepper. Spread mixture over two slices of bread. Top with remaining two slices, forming sandwiches. In a small shallow dish, whisk egg with milk. Combine flour and cayenne in another dish. Dip each sandwich into egg mixture, turn to coat, letting excess drip off. Dredge lightly in flour and dip again in egg mixture.

Brush oil over bottom of heavy oven-proof skillet; heat over medium-high heat. Add sandwiches. Cook until underside is golden, about 1 minute. Turn and put skillet in oven. Bake 8 to 10 minutes, until heated through. Serve at once.

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