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Sheet pans are the new slow cookers—and I'm 100% on board.
Like your puffy winter jacket, chances are your slow cooker is now safely stowed away until next winter's first frost—but that doesn't mean you have to say goodbye to the convenience of one-pot meals. You probably already have the perfect vessel for making light, fresh, more seasonally appropriate one-dish meals (or desserts) in your cabinets right now.
Allow me to reacquaint you with your sheet pan. You use it to make cookies or catch the drips from a pie as it bakes, but maybe not much else. If that's the case, you're missing out on the incredible versatility of this kitchen staple. Perfect for one-pan meals toasting nuts and whipping up batches of granola, roasting vegetables and baking deep-dish pizza, this multitasker can handle just about everything. I even use a sheet pan for roasting whole chickens and turkey because I find it less heavy and cumbersome to maneuver than a roasting pan and they take up far less storage space in my cabinets.
The latest way to put these workhorses to use is as a handy way to create one-dish meals. Roasting your protein and veggies together on the same pan allows the juices that develop as your foods cook to mingle and create a savory sauce as they would in a slow cooker. Unlike slow-cooked foods, however, sheet pan meals retain their individual colors and textures, and develop a flavorful surface caramelization and attractive browning that you simply don't get in the moist environment of a slow cooker. And as with all one-pan cooking, there's less to clean up once dinner is served.
A sheet pan doesn't need to be fancy. In fact, I prefer the industrial ones that you find at restaurant supply stores. What you're looking for is actually called a half sheet pan (about 18" x 13"); full sheet pans are designed for commercial ovens and probably won't fit inside your oven. (To be safe it's not a bad idea to measure the interior dimensions of your oven before buying a large sheet pan in any event, something I've learned the hard way!) You may also find smaller, quarter sheet pans that are useful for making smaller batches of roast veggies, bar cookies, or dinners for 2. Regardless of size, sheet pans are designed to take a beating and won't break the bank to replace. I own some that have nonstick finishes, and they do make cleanup even easier, but it's not essential. Just make sure you choose one with a deep rim to keep the juices or other ingredients from running off the pan and scorching on the bottom of your oven.
To highlight the versatility of sheet-pan cooking, I've created a few seasonal dishes you'll want to try right now. The lemon-and-chili-rubbed chicken thighs are a cinch to prep and a cinch to serve: Just transfer to a platter, squeeze the roasted lemon on top, and sprinkle with a bit of parsley.
Another favorite for entertaining is my salmon puttanesca. The bold flavors of olives and fennel are a perfect foil for the richness of wild-caught salmon and it's a less heavy dish for spring than the traditional pasta preparation that inspired it.. And while you're enjoying dinner, put that sheet pan to use again to make a simple dessert. I like peaches drizzled with balsamic and olive oil and roasted with a bit of granola. Served with a dollop of yogurt it's a beautiful and slightly sweet warm-weather treat that would be lovely for breakfast, too, and is so much easier to put together than a crisp or pie.