In case anyone is keeping track, I should note that this will be the last Lunchbox for a little while. We’re going on a hiatus that will test my ability to eat anything other than cheesy popcorn for lunch without the accountability of a blog post. Rather than go out with a sophisticated—and complicated—bang, we’re focusing on fewer ingredients, less cooking, and more overlap between meals this week. In other words: Getting back to the roots of this whole endeavor.

Shopping List

Seasonal vegetables:

Tomatoes

Fresh Figs

Spinach

Sweet Potato

Snap Peas

Grocery store additions:

Pine Nuts

Blue Cheese

Eggs

Roasted Red Peppers

Pasta

Cayenne

Paprika

Thyme

Chickpeas

Cream

Ciabatta

Garlic

Prosciutto

Sherry Vinegar

Pantry staples you probably already have (but should add to the grocery list if you don’t):

Olive oil

Weekend Prep

We’re using a version of a Romesco sauce in three different dishes this week, for which you’ll need roasted red peppers. We included the canned kind in the video and the shopping list but if you’re feeling ambitious, you could roast your own—like we did for a different set of lunches last week.

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For the sauce, and for Monday’s salad, you’ll also need pine nuts, which are always better toasted. Put a single layer in a skillet and keep an eye on them, they brown quickly and you don’t want to have replace nuts that are not priced to reflect the fact that they literally grow on trees (to that point: if you’re looking to cut costs, the pine nuts can be replaced with almonds in either or both uses). They don’t need to be warm, just browned, so pre-toasting will save time later.

While you’re at it, let’s make the Romesco. Blend in a food processor: One jar’s worth of roasted red pepper, half a tomato, a clove of garlic, a handful of pine nuts, a couple tablespoons of sherry vinegar, and about a teaspoon each of paprika and cayenne pepper. Add enough olive oil to reach the desired consistency, about a half a cup, and blend until just about smooth. Take most of the sauce out—two-third if we’re being precise—and reserve for later in the week. Blend the remaining Romesco with a splash of whatever dairy you keep on hand (milk, half-and-half, heavy cream).

Monday

We’ve done a lot with tomatoes this summer—in sauces and sandwiches—but by the end of the season, they need very little effort to be delicious. Since a salad that doesn’t have leaves in it is my favorite kind, I loved the idea of this tomato, fig, and blue cheese dish. As an appetizer in the kind of multi-course dinner parties I don’t have enough dishes to host, this is perfect as is. But to make it substantial enough to qualify for lunch, I wrapped the fig sections in prosciutto, which renders most of the additional salt unnecessary.

Tuesday

I endorse an awful lot of pasta consumption in this series (which has given me an earnest respect for people who meal plan without gluten) but this week we’re upping the ease factor with the embarrassingly pintrestable “one-pot pasta.” Add a crushed garlic clove and some salt to water and bring it to a boil. The garlic looks pretty silly floating around in the big empty pot of water right now, but it really will impart a subtle flavor to everything else. Add the pasta like normal, but about a minute before it’s finished cooking, toss in a generous heap of snap peas, cut into bite-sized bits. Right before you’re ready to pull it off the heat, add more spinach that seems reasonable to the pot and stir it around just long enough for it to wilt.

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Drain everything and split the pasta-peas-spinach mixture into two servings. For Tuesday’s, stir in blue cheese, a splash of cream, and heaps of fresh ground pepper to create a a sauce. Pack it up fully prepared and if your office keeps milk or cream on hand for coffee, add a drizzle of that before reheating.

Wednesday

The other half of the pasta gets doused with the Romesco sauce, and just like that you have lunch for Wednesday. If we’re going off shopping list, I’d say a handful of grated parmesan would put this over the top, but when is that not the case?

Thursday

Since I derive an outsized portion of my self worth from being able to reliably poach an egg, I was initially disappointed to learn that you can, apparently, poach an egg in the microwave—and that even Bon Appetit supports this shortcut. Fortunately, after many tests, I can assure you both that this method works—and that it is not as good as a stovetop poached egg.

But limited office kitchen appliances being what they are, this still counts as a revolutionary discovery in terms of mid-week lunches (or lazy, minimal-cleanup home-cooked meals). Fill a microwave-safe bowl with enough water to fully cover an egg, add a splash of vinegar if you have some on hand, crack an egg right into the water, cover with a small plate, and microwave for at least a minute. The trickiest part is predicting the particular strength of a given microwave, so you’ll want to check in 15-second increments after the first minute until you’ve established a reliable pattern.

For Thursday, pair your adequately poached egg with a few slices of prosciutto and smear of Romesco to make a sandwich. The sauce is doing a lot of heavy lifting in terms of flavor here, so if the idea of eating microwaved eggs sort of squicks you out, any other sandwich-fixings (tomato or spinach from earlier in the week, if you want to stick with a limited ingredient list) would make a suitable replacement.

Friday

Even the “very” in this recipe’s description of how patted dry the chickpeas should be before frying them doesn’t sufficiently express the importance of removing ALL MOISTURE from your legumes lest they turn into tiny boiling rockets. Frankly, no amount of patting with a paper towel will get the chickpeas dry enough that they won’t pop and sizzle to a dangerous degree in the presence of hot oil, so you’ll want to rinse them the night before frying and leave them out over night to sufficiently dehydrate. Even still, I’d toss them in an oven at very low heat for about half an hour just before adding them to the skillet if you have time. Once they’re really, really, aliens-from-Signs level dry, toss them in oil you’ve let come to a simmer and leave them to fry for about 15 minutes.

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Scoop the crispy chickpeas out and sprinkle them with salt, paprika and cayenne (not too liberally, you want them spiced but not spicy). Make enough to snack on throughout the week but pack a serving-size on Friday along with a sweet potato and the Romesco that had cream added to it. When it’s time for lunch, stab the sweet potato a few times with a fork and zap in the microwave for about six minutes. Split the “baked” potato and add crispy chickpeas and creamy Romesco for a surprisingly monochromatic lunch that will force you to contend with the swiftly approaching autumnal equinox.