Read this cookbook: “Dining In: Highly Cookable Recipes” by Alison Roman (Clarkson Potter, $30)
By Wendell Brock
Some years ago I got hooked on Laurie Colwin, the late novelist and Gourmet columnist, a fine writer who knew as much about roast chicken and hummus as she did love and melancholy.
Alison Roman, who has cooked in restaurants (Milk Bar, Momofuku) and editorial kitchens (Bon Appetit), reads a little like a contemporary Colwin–in that her voice dances with energy and wit and self-awareness and intelligence. She seems to have little interest in precious cooking, fancy kitchen gadgets or anything that distracts from honest ingredients and foolproof techniques.
To read Alison Roman is to feel a kind of instantaneous kinship. Or at least a desire to run in the kitchen and make her Anchovy-Butter Chicken with Chicken Fat Croutons.
“I’ve cultivated my own personal cooking style, which is hard to classify,” Roman writes in the intro of her first cookbook. “I wouldn’t call it lazy—I prefer the term lo-fi—but to give you some insight into my life as a home cook, I don’t own a blender, and up until a few months ago, I didn’t even own a food processor.” (She reneged on the latter for the love of good breadcrumbs.)
A Los Angeles native who lives in Brooklyn, Roman wants big flavor: “pork chops almost too salty, salad almost too lemony, bacon so crisp most would call it burnt.”
Thus she gives us ideas for simple bright veggie dishes (Raw Broccoli and Basil Salad with Peanuts and Shallot; Raw and Roasted Carrots and Fennel with Feta and Pistachios); amazing “knife-and-fork salads”; killer fruit salads (Persimmons and Pears with Blue Cheese and Spicy Pecans); “savory breakfasts” (no syrupy pancakes, waffles or pastries for her) and lots of wonderful recipes for grains, proteins and sweets. (She’s a former pastry chef.)
She claims to be quite the biscuit whisperer, and I can’t wait to test hers, as well as her Cocoa Banana Bread and Frozen Blackberries and Labne with Honey. (The latter is a no-churn ice cream, though she doesn’t call it that). If I want to impress a someone, I’ll make that famous Anchovy-Butter Chicken, a crisp salad and spring for a good bottle of wine.
And when I’m feeling lonely for Laurie Colwin, I’ll comfort myself by re-reading Roman’s “I Love Boiled Potatoes,” “Creamsicle, or the Most Delicious Thing,” “Meeting ‘The One’ ” (about East Village’s Prune), “How to Casually Frost a Cake” (nailed it!) and “A Perfect Tomato Recipe” (indeed!).
Roman is a dreamy cook, a food writer who can actually write, and she makes it all look so effortless and so delicious. Put “Dining In” at the top of your wish list; it’s among the best of the year.
Wendell Brock is an Atlanta-based food and culture writer, frequent AJC contributor and winner of a 2016 James Beard Foundation Award for journalism. Follow him on Twitter (@MrBrock) and Instagram (@WendellDavidBrock).