by Tara Davis

Dinner used to be an event. A time when families came together, connected and caught up over bubbling pots in the kitchen and clinking dishes at the table.
Over the decades, our Norman Rockwell romantics have faded. For most of us, dinner after a hectic work day can be a chore. We need fast, easy, inexpensive ways to feed our families and ourselves.

I have a proposition. What if you started slowly, and prepared for just one meal over thirty to sixty minutes one Sunday evening between church and laundry or boating and bath time? You can make most components ahead, freeze or refrigerate them, and on your craziest weekday throw together a great meal in about 20 minutes? The following is a great start, and worth a go. I promise.

It looks like this- Make ahead: meatballs (10-15 minutes), marinara (10 minutes prep), dressing and marinade (10 minutes), dessert (in part, except egg whites, or cook fully up to 3 days ahead- 15 minutes prep). That’s less than an hour of work.

The day of the meal: marinate tomatoes (15 minutes), heat marinara (15-20 minutes), cook meatballs (15-20 minutes, while marinara heats), cook pasta (15 minutes, while all else heats and cooks), dress salad, bake dessert (10 minutes to mix and spoon, 20 minutes to bake while you eat dinner). Because it all happens at once, dinner is on the table in less than 30 minutes.

Don’t like an ingredient? Leave it out, or substitute it for something you love!

Prepping twice as much for 2 separate meals only takes an extra 10 or so minutes. Less than 2 hours total for 2 home cooked dinners for 4? If that sounds like a reasonable compromise, the recipes follow. I wish you happy cooking!


Each recipe is for 4 servings.
Starter: Marinated Tomatoes

2-3 large red tomatoes, diced into large cubes
1/4 cup each olive oil and balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp each minced garlic, red pepper flakes and salt

Mix marinade and toss with tomatoes, or reserve refrigerated for up to 7 days. Top with fresh basil and parsley to serve.

Entree: Pasta with meatballs, marinara and fresh dressed salad greens

Salad dressing: 1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp each garlic (fresh or granulated), salt and pepper
1 tsp dijon mustard

Whisk or shake all ingredients together. They can be refrigerated up to 7 days. Dress salad greens of choice just before serving.

Marinara: Tomatoes- 1 lb fresh or 2 cans, diced
1/4 cup each diced carrots and celery
1/2 cup diced white onion
2 Tbsp minced garlic
1/2 red wine (or substitute water)
1/2 olive oil
2 Tbsp each parsley, basil (fresh or dried), salt and pepper

Sautee vegetables except tomatoes in oil on medium high heat until softened. Add all dried seasonings and cook 1 minute to toast.
Add wine and cook 5 minutes, stirring to clean the bottom of the pot.
Add tomatoes and simmer on medium low 30 minutes. Add fresh seasonings if you have them and season to taste. Refrigerate for up to 5 days or freeze in zip top bags for up to 6 months.

Meatballs: 1 lb ground beef
1 egg
1 Tbsp each garlic (minced), parsley, salt and pepper
1 slice bacon, finely diced

Mix all ingredients, form into 1 inch balls
Bake at 375 degrees 10-15 minutes or until cooked all the way through and browned on the outside.
Mix can also be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen.

Dessert: Ricciarelli (cookies)

2 cups almonds
1 1/4 cup sugar
2 egg whites
Zest of 1/2 lemon
1/2 tsp each vanilla and almond extract
Confectioners sugar for dusting

Mix all but the egg whites in a food processor or blender. Beat egg whites until stiff, then fold them into the rest of the mixture. Form into balls using a dining spoon and slightly flatten in a baking sheet. (They should be about 1/3-1/2 inch think and 1 inch or so wide).
Bakeat 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Dust with sugar.