Back-To-School Snack Tips

Muggy summer weather browns bananas in days—if not hours. We turn them into our favorite lunchbox snack: banana bread.

In this case, we ramp up its flavor with a stiff shot of cardamom and browned butter, which appeals to kids and adults alike. The loaf will stay moist at room temperature for up to three days—or freezes well for a month or more.

Our Tahini Swirl Brownies store beautifully at room temperature for a couple of days—or freeze well too.

Wrap individually in foil, freeze, and throw in the lunchbox, where they’ll defrost before the lunch bell.

After a summer of lazy meals and casual cooking, it’s time to get back to the rigid schedule of workweeks and school nights. Now, more than ever, a well-stocked refrigerator can help maintain household equilibrium.

It’s still too hot to cook the braises, roasts and soups that lend themselves to big-batch cooking. Instead, I prepare a host of lighter options that can be easily combined for simple meals. Serve the chicken and following pilaf together with a simple salad or vegetable side on Sunday, and then repurpose each through the week.

If I’m not firing up the grill for chicken, I roast it with this dead-simple recipe that produces juicy, crisp-skinned chicken in under one hour. Coat chicken with a za’atar-based spice rub and roast—unattended—on a baking sheet. The sauce is then smashed together right on the baking sheet from a handful of garlic cloves (roasted along with the chicken), the browned bits of “fond” left on the pan, lemon, and olive oil. Light and bright, the chicken’s flavor is neutral enough to match all manner of dishes and is as good warm as it is chilled.

Double the Recipe: Prepare two full batches and place the baking sheets on oven racks positioned on the upper-middle and lower-middle positions (switching racks midway through. It’ll take an additional 10-15 minutes longer than the single-batch recipe).

Chicken Salad: Blend 1 to 2 tablespoons of the lemon-garlic chicken sauce with ½ cup mayonnaise or Greek yogurt and lighten with lemon juice. Mix with shredded chicken blended with crispy chopped vegetables, like sugar snap peas, radishes or fennel. Top with crumbled feta if you like—or tuck into a pita with a handful of arugula and a few pickled peppers.

Harness Your Oven’s Heat: Before or after the chicken roasts, capitalize on the oven’s heat by roasting vegetables like eggplant, zucchini and peppers to use throughout the week. Flavor lightly with lemon juice and olive oil for a quick salad or side dish, add to sandwiches or chop up and mix into the pilaf. And top with a fried egg. Double the recipe to have enough for the week.

A flavorful pilaf should be all-purpose enough to match a variety of dishes. Robustly flavored with lemon, tarragon and hazelnuts, this Turkish pilaf pairs well with almost anything.

Lemon and Herb Pilaf with Smoked Salmon: Hot-smoked salmon is an ultra-convenient way to add protein to salads and pilafs. Flake hot-smoked salmon into the pilaf, drizzle liberally with extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice and serve over baby arugula. If you like, add a diced fennel bulb for crunch.

This is your secret weapon capable of anchoring a bowl of pasta or dressing up salads, vegetables and side dishes. Make a double or triple batch of pesto, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for three days or more.

Double the Recipe: When you’re making the pasta for the pesto, double it, oil it well and refrigerate for use later in the week. For the pesto, prepare all of the ingredients and process each batch individually (don’t bother cleaning the processor between batches). It takes moments.

Pesto Pasta with Green Beans and Potatoes: For a classic alternative to plain pasta, try adding blanched green beans and sliced potato—the contrasting textures are a winning combination. Figure 8 ounces of trimmed and halved green beans and two or 3 medium Yukon Gold potatoes per 12 ounces of pasta. Cook both the green beans and potatoes in the simmering, seasoned pasta water—about 3 minutes for green beans and 7 minutes for ½-inch pieces of potato (start the potatoes, then add the green beans after 4 minutes). Scoop the vegetables out of the boiling water with a spider strainer and transfer to the colander in which you’re going to strain the pasta. The hot water will reheat the vegetables before finishing the pasta dish (make sure to save at least ½ cup of pasta cooking water to thin the pesto).

Pasta Frittata: We learned our how to make this hearty pasta frittata from cookbook author Deborah Madison. It tastes as good hot as it does at room temperature, making leftovers perfect for lunch. Skip the pasta in the recipe and use whatever you have left over from the night before—the volume is pretty flexible. If you have two skillets, make two at once to have some for lunch the next day. Serve the frittata on its own or dolloped with pesto or a quick tomato aioli.

Fried Pasta: Fry leftover pasta crisp in a medium-hot cast-iron skillet slicked with olive oil, turning occasionally, until crisped in spots and chewy, 5 to 8 minutes. Top with coarse-ground black pepper, a shower of Parmesan and a fried egg. I eat it for breakfast, but it’s perfect for a simple supper (works best with chunky pasta shapes, especially orecchiette). For extra texture and earthy flavor, add a tablespoon of poppy seeds to the toasting pasta.

Pesto Panzanella: Thinned out with lemon juice and extra-virgin olive oil, pesto is a terrific dressing for sturdy greens or my favorite, panzanella. Toast 4 cups of cubed sturdy bread (pan levain, baguette, ciabatta) in a skillet over medium heat with 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper. While the croutons cool, mix together a large chopped Romaine heart, a couple of chopped juicy Beefsteak tomatoes, shaved fennel bulb, thin-sliced radishes or sugar snap peas (even fresh corn kernels) in a large salad bowl. Add cooled croutons and toss with ⅓-cup pesto blended with 3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice or white balsamic vinegar to taste. If you like, add crumbled goat cheese or torn pieces of fresh mozzarella.