In New York, we’ve just exited the ‘season’ named Second Summer, and it’s exactly what it sounds like: A weird period of time—mostly in early September—where temperatures fluctuate to briefly mirror the summery hell we just left behind. This ‘season’ (I say this loosely, as this is not an official time, just an observation by other New Yorkers) is bookended by False Fall (a brief reprieve from the heat, usually three to five days long), and Actual Fall. And Actual Fall is off to a cold, foggy, rainy start. Yay.
To get me through this weird week where I feel deeply unmotivated, but very hungry (always), I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite weeknight dinners I like to make while watching fall-themed rom-coms (Practical Magic anyone?) or hosting pals for a mid-week social boost.
1. Braised Moroccan Chicken & Olives
I started making this recipe often when I was doing a lot of backpacking and camping in 2020. Just me and a cast-iron pan, settled in over an open fire. It’s endlessly adaptable (change the spices, add dried figs, etc), can easily be scaled up to feed more people, and makes for some superb leftovers. The thing I love most about this recipe, that is usually lacking from other one-pot format recipes, is the slow building of flavor, layering item after item, so that each flavor note weaves within the others, creating a quilt of savory aromas and flavors.
2. Chicken-Fried Mushroom Steaks
Spoiler: You’re not going to see a lot of “cooking for one” content here, because even though I live alone, I love sharing meals with friends, and also love leftovers, because the idea of cooking an amazing meal from scratch every single night is frankly, exhausting. These chicken-fried mushrooms steaks, from my column Plus One, are not only veggie-friendly, they’re very easy to re-purpose. Eat them as an appetizer one night, and then transform them into a sandwich—complete with coleslaw and a toasty, plush burger bun—the next day. Simply reheat them in a 450-degree oven for 10 minutes.
3. Baked Cod With Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto
I love sun-dried tomatoes, and I believe they should have a bigger stake in the Tomato Girl discourse. Ready to provide big, acidic flavor whenever, this recipe applies them to Pesto Rosso—a brilliant Italian pivot to traditional verdant pestos. This is a dish I reserve for my weeknight hosting, as few things are as spectacular as presenting an entire fish to your table. But, feel free to take the sauce and apply it anywhere you’d use traditional pesto.
4. Polish Dill Pickle Soup (Zupa Ogórkowa)
Whenever the weather stinks, our Test Kitchen requests I make this soup. A good work-from-home, stir-while-you’re-in-meetings recipe, this Polish Dill Pickle Soup scratches that deep itch of wanting something salty and savory that also has a bit of a bite. Though there’s a ton of back-and-forth online about how boiling potatoes in salt makes them tough (sorry y’all, but babcia was just incorrect!) this low-and-slow simmer produces delightful aromas and tender, fall-apart potatoes and vegetables.
5. Asparagus & Bacon Carbonara
Carbonara is my go-to comfort food. Maybe it’s the slow, hypnotic process of turning golden egg yolks into silky, creamy pasta sauce, or the ability to make breakfast for dinner without making breakfast for dinner (IYKYK). Throw in some veg (this spectacular version features spring-y asparagus, but I’d opt for some seasonal green beans), and you have yourself a well-rounded meal.
More from Food52