Busy back-to-school season calls for easy sheet-pan suppers

  • This image taken Sept. 6, 2020 in Alexandria, Va., shows a recipe for roasted chicken, potato wedges and green peas prepared in a sheet pan. This easy-to-prep, easy-to-cook, easy-to-clean, all-in-one-pan method can be applied to lots of different dinners. (Elizabeth Karmel via AP)

If you are a teacher or a parent, back-to-school season can mean a ramped-up schedule with less time to cook. If you’re a college student in your first apartment or dorm room, you might be cooking for yourself for the first time. And no matter who you are, the pandemic means you’re probably cooking at home more than you used to.

Luckily, in this coming season of shorter, busier days, we’ve got sheet-pan meals to fall back on.

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Building a sheet-pan dinner is easy. Pick a protein, add one or two kinds of vegetables and/or a starch. If you want a quick-cooking vegetable, add it at the end while the protein is resting. I’ve done that with the green peas in my sheet-pan version of Chicago’s Chicken Vesuvio, below.

When creating these meals, place a piece of parchment paper on the sheet pan first. It prevents food from sticking to the pan and makes cleanup easier.

Make sure your ingredients are spread evenly in one layer. Don’t overcrowd the sheet pan, or your food will steam instead of roast and you won’t have those delicious, crunchy, caramelized edges.

Finally, choose foods that take about the same time to cook. That means using hard, dense vegetables like potatoes, hard squash, carrots and cauliflower for whole pieces of chicken, pork and beef, and smaller vegetables like asparagus, baby broccoli and sugar snap peas for seafood like salmon or shrimp, or chunks of meat.

The basic tenets of roasting apply. Coat the food with a thin layer of olive oil, and season it at with kosher salt. Add other seasonings to taste.

I often make simple sheet-pan meals with a medley of roasted vegetables, but I wanted to use this method to create something more special: one of my favorite Chicago classics Papa Milano’s Chicken Vesuvio. It was a simple dish of Italian-spiced roasted chicken, potato wedges and green peas, as delicious as it was old-fashioned. To give this recipe a sheet-pan supper makeover meant no more browning the chicken and potatoes on the stovetop and finishing them in the oven. It would all go into the oven at once, and cook and brown in one pan.

Chicago’s Chicken Vesuvio on a sheet pan

1 whole chicken (3 to 4 pounds), broken down into breasts, wings and thigh-leg pieces (leaving thighs and legs attached), or 4-6 bone-in chicken breasts and thighs

Extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning

Freshly ground white pepper

2-3 lemons, cut in half

3-4 pounds russet potatoes, cleaned and cut into wedges

8-12 cloves garlic, peeled

Fresh oregano, divided

2 large shallots, chopped

1/2 cup dry white wine

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

1 cup frozen peas, thawed

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

In a re-closable bag, pour olive oil over chicken pieces and massage to coat before placing on the sheet pan. Season both sides of the pieces generously with the Italian seasoning and salt and pepper. Add the cut lemons to the pan.

Place potato wedges and garlic cloves in another re-closeable plastic bag and add olive oil. Massage to coat evenly. Season potato wedges generously with the Italian seasoning and salt and pepper. Place the potatoes and the garlic on the sheet pan, spread evenly apart in one layer. Sprinkle all over with half of the fresh oregano.

Roast until chicken and potatoes are cooked through, 50-60 minutes. If chicken and potatoes are cooked through but not brown enough, let them sit under the broiler for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest. Pick up two of the roasted halved lemons and, while they are still hot, squeeze them over the chicken and the potatoes. Scatter the fresh oregano all over. Let chicken rest for 10 minutes.

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Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, melt butter and saute shallot for about 3 minutes. Add wine to the skillet and turn up the heat for 1 minute to deglaze the pan. Add roasted cloves of garlic and smoosh them with a fork. Stir well. Reduce heat and add the peas. Let simmer about 2 minutes. Taste the sauce for seasoning. If you want it to be richer, add the rest of the stick of butter. Pour the hot sauce over the chicken.

Serve immediately with the potatoes and a roasted lemon wedge. Squeeze more lemon over chicken and potatoes if desired.

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