Photo: Lido Vannucchi

Bruschetta with a Big Bang for Its Buck
The 10-minute prep time for this colorful bruschetta, from Damiano Carrara's new book, A Taste of Italy, is just one reason to love it. Among the other perks: You can make the appetizer with day-old bread (since you're going to be toasting it anyway), and there's a surprising ingredient that's so simple yet brings an unexpected delicious element to the app: sliced Bartlett pear. To make the topping, you cook sliced onion and bell pepper (red, yellow and green) then stir in the pear and diced tomatoes. The savory-sweet peperonata mixture has complex flavor (thanks to the fruit, as well as a splash of white wine) and is fantastic served on top of the crunchy crostini.

Get the recipe: Bruschetta con Peperonata

Photo: Amy Neunsinger

What to Serve Before the Food Arrives
Even if you're having friends over and ordering in, making an appetizer can be a welcoming way to kick off an evening with friends. Here's a supereasy one from model and entertaining expert Molly Sims. In her new book, Everyday Chic, she calls it "no-fail nachos," and we'll attest to its simplicity. You just arrange tortilla chips on a baking sheet, sprinkle them with shredded cheese, spoon black beans on top and broil for a minute or two. Sims scatters diced tomato, avocado, red onion, sliced radishes, jalapeño and chopped cilantro over everything—and after her guests have dug in, she clears the table for takeout boxes.

Get the recipe: No-Fail Nachos

Photo: Steve Giralt

The Guaranteed Main-Course Hit
Italian cookbook author Lidia Matticchio Bastianich loves to entertain, and one of her go-to dishes for hosting friends or family is pasta, because it's cheap and everyone—kids and adults—loves it. This homey meal from her new book, Lidia's Celebrate Like an Italian, combines the carbs with meat and veggies, so you don't even have to serve a side. First, you brown sausage in olive oil; then add garlic, red-pepper flakes and chopped escarole. The greens wilt, the sausage browns and you pour in some chicken stock to create a savory sauce. Meanwhile, you boil pasta (Bastianich uses mezzi rigatoni but you can also swap in another tube-shaped pasta such as ziti, penne or rigatoni—anything that will catch the bits of sausage and escarole). When it's done, use a slotted spoon or spider strainer to scoop the pasta straight into the sauce, toss everything together and serve with grated cheese.

Get the recipe: Mezzi Rigatoni with Sausage and Escarole

Photo: Courtesy of Time Inc. Books

A One-and-Done Meat, Potatoes and Veggies Supper
Casual, easy, great-tasting—this sheet-pan supper has it all. The ingredient list is music to our ears: four ingredients, plus olive oil, salt and pepper. And the cooking method is right up our alley, too, since the entire meal is cooked on one baking sheet under the broiler. The recipe, from the new cookbook, One Sheet Eats, has a smart hack, where you place halved Brussels sprouts and sliced sweet potatoes on the sheet with oil and cover them with a wire rack. Then, you season a steak with oil, salt, pepper and thyme and place it on top of the rack. As the meat cooks, its juices baste the veggies, giving them mega flavor.

Get the recipe: Broiled Flat-Iron Steak with Brussels Sprouts and Sweet Potatoes

Photo: Courtesy of Time Inc. Books

The Cake with a Time-Saving Secret
Today show food contributor Elizabeth Heiskell comes from a very long line of amazing cooks, going back to her great-grandmother, a master cake baker. But that doesn't stop her from leaning on instant pudding and box cake mix when she's in a pinch. Her chocolate-chip Bundt cake, featured in her new book, What Can I Bring?, is a busy host's dream: You combine seven ingredients in a bowl, mix and pour into a greased Bundt pan. Less than an hour later, you'll have a gorgeous cake that's moist, delicious and beautiful (especially sprinkled with powdered sugar).

Get the recipe: Chocolate-Chip Bundt Cake