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Make weeknights a winner

Savoring a weeknight meal made in less than 30 minutes with a glass of wine may sound like a miracle to most people, but Sam Gugino, author of Cooking to Beat the Clock — Delicious Inspired Meals in 15 Minutes has the solution. He offers flavorful dinner recipes and tips for hasty cooks, and suggests everyday wines to pair with anything from shrimp to pasta. Weeknight meals can be easy to prepare and just as easy to enhance by enjoying a glass of wine.

A simple choice
It doesn’t need to be a special occasion anymore to savor a homemade dinner and a glass of wine. Enjoying a glass of wine on an ordinary Wednesday night with a plate of pasta can be just as quick and easy as popping open a can of soda or beer and having a pizza delivered. And with all the affordable wines in grocery stores these days, it’s easy to pick up a bottle when shopping for your dinner ingredients.

There’s nothing to be afraid of when choosing wine with weeknight meals. The general rule of thumb is to drink what you like with the foods that you like. If that means enjoying a glass of red wine with chicken fajitas or a glass or white wine with beef stir fry, go for it.

Here are some recipes that focus on fresh, natural flavors and ingredients and are straightforward enough to appeal to both beginner and gourmet cooks.

Shrimp Scampi with Basmati Rice
Wine recommendation: Chardonnay is always a winning combination with Shrimp Scampi, and the dry, ripe fruit flavors of Chardonnay will serve well both as an ingredient and accompaniment to this dish.

1 cup basmati rice
1 teaspoon salt plus more to taste
1 pound large shrimp, in or out of the shell
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 large cloves garlic
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 lemon
1/4 cup dry white wine
4 sprigs parsley, preferably flat leaf variety
1 tablespoon butter

1) While the hot-water tap runs, put the rice in a 2-quart saucepan. Add 2 cups hot tap water and 1 teaspoon salt. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low and cook for 10 minutes. Turn the heat off and keep covered until ready to serve. (Or put the rice, 2 cups hot water, and 1 teaspoon salt in a 2-quart microwave-safe container. Cover and put in a microwave oven on high power for 10 minutes. Keep covered until ready to serve.)

2) Meanwhile, if using shrimp in the shell, peel the shrimp but leave the tails on. Put the olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat. Peel and chop the garlic. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

3) Add the shrimp to the skillet, increase the heat to medium, and cook for 2 minutes on one side. While the shrimp cook, season them with salt and pepper to taste. Juice the lemon half. Turn the shrimp over and cook for 1 minute. Then add the lemon juice and wine to the skillet. Raise the heat to high and cook for 2 minutes, stirring to mix well. Chop the leaves of the parsley and cut the butter into 4 pieces.

4) Add the parsley and the butter to the skillet. Stir just until the butter is melted and incorporated, giving the sauce a creamy texture. Remove from the heat and serve with the rice.

Serves 4.

Nutrition information per serving:
Calories: 420 Fat: 15 g Saturated Fat: 3.5 g Sodium: 870 mg Protein: 28 g Cholesterol: 230 mg Carbohydrate: 41 g

Pasta with Rapid Ratatouille Sauce
Wine recommendations:The m�lange of vegetable flavors in the Pasta with Rapid Ratatouille Sauce and the touches of basil and garlic call for a medium-bodied red wine with a little spice of its own, like Chianti, or a Sangiovese (the grape variety native to the Chianti region of Italy and now also grown in the US). White wine lovers will find a crisp Sauvignon Blanc a fine match for these flavors.

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, about 8 ounces
3 cloves garlic
1 green bell pepper
10 to 12 ounces eggplant (about 2 Japanese or baby eggplants)
2 small to medium zucchini, 10 to 12 ounces
Two 14.5-ounce cans diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons salt plus more to taste
12 ounces dried capellini (angel hair) or any fresh unstuffed pasta
20 large basil leaves
1/2 cup pitted black oil-cured olives
Freshly ground black pepper
Red pepper flakes to taste
Grated Parmesan passed at the table

1) Run the hot-water tap and put 2 quarts hot tap water in each of two pots (one large enough to eventually hold all the water and pasta). Cover and bring both pots to a boil over high heat, 8 to 10 minutes.

2) Meanwhile, put a 12-inch saut� pan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Peel the garlic. Drop the garlic down the chute of a food processor with the motor running to finely chop. Stop the motor, then peel and quarter the onion. Add the onion to the food processor. Pulse just until chopped. (Or chop by hand.) Add the oil to the saut� pan and increase the heat to high. Add the garlic and onion and stir.

3) Cut the eggplant into 1/2-inch cubes. (Do not peel.) Add to the saut� pan and stir. Cut the top from the bell pepper. Stand it upright and cut down inside the four walls, separating the walls from the center core and seeds. Then cut the walls and top into thin strips. Add to the saut� pan and stir. Trim the ends of the zucchini. Cut into quarters, lengthwise, then crosswise into 1/2-inch wide pieces. Add to the saut� pan and stir. Open the cans of tomatoes and add to the saut� pan. Stir and cover.

4) As soon as the pasta water boils, pour the water from the smaller pot into the larger pot. Add 2 teaspoons salt and the pasta. Stir well, cover, and return to a boil. Stir well again, partially cover, and cook for about 4 minutes, stirring at least one more time, or until the pasta is done to your taste.

5) While the pasta cooks, stack the basil leaves, roll in cigar fashion, and cut crosswise into thin ribbons. Coarsely chop the olives. Add all but 2 tablespoons of the basil, the olives, and salt, black pepper and hot pepper flakes to taste to the saut� pan. Lower the heat to medium, stir well and cook, uncovered, until the pasta is done.

6) When the pasta is cooked, drain and divide among 4 individual soup plates or pasta bowls. Spoon the ratatouille sauce over each and sprinkle with the remaining chopped basil. Serve with grated Parmesan at the table. Serves 4.

Nutrition information per serving:
Calories: 460 Fat: 15 g Saturated Fat: 1.5 g Sodium: 1940 mg Protein: 14 g Cholesterol: 0 mg Carbohydrate: 67 g

Southwestern Flank Steak with Warm Potato and Black Bean Salad
Wine recommendation: Southwestern Flank Steak with Warm Potato and Black Bean Salad is full of spice and a perfect match for a classically rich and spicy red wine like Zinfandel. A peppery Syrah or Australian Shiraz will also pair well with these hearty flavors.

Two 8-ounce, red skinned potatoes
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper plus additional
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1 � pounds flank steak
One 15-ounce can black beans
1 rib celery
Half of a sweet onion such as Vidalia, about 4 ounces
1 tablespoon sliced, pickled jalapeno peppers
2 limes
1/3 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves

1) Turn on the gas grill or broiler.

2) Cut the potatoes in quarters lengthwise (do not peel). Then cut crosswise into 1/4-inch wide pieces. Run the hot water tap while you put the potatoes in a saucepan with 1 teaspoon salt. Barely cover with hot tap water. Put over high heat, cover and cook 10 minutes or until barely tender, then drain well.

3) Meanwhile, combine the cumin, chili powder, cayenne, 1/8 teaspoon black pepper and salt to taste in a small bowl. Rub the steak with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil, then with the spice mixture. Grill the steak over high heat on the gas grill about 5 minutes on each side for medium-rare. Or put the steak 3 inches from the broiler heat source and cook for 5 to 6 minutes on each side. Remove to a cutting board. (If using a cast iron skillet, put the skillet over high heat until hot, then cook the steak about 5 minutes on each side.)

4) Meanwhile, open, rinse and drain the black beans in a colander. Cut the celery rib crosswise into thin crescents. Cut the onion into thin slices. Coarsely chop the cilantro. Put the celery, onion, cilantro, and black beans in a mixing bowl.

5) Mince the jalapeno. Juice the limes. Put the jalapeno, lime juice, the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste in a small bowl and mix well.

6) Add the drained potatoes to the black beans. Add the dressing. Toss well and check for salt and pepper. Slice the steak on the diagonal into 1/4-inch thick slices. Serve with the salad. Serves 4.

Nutrition information per serving:
Calories: 810 Fat: 27 g Saturated Fat: 9 g Sodium: 520 mg Protein: 60 g Cholesterol: 115 mg Carbohydrate: 84 g

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