COOK THIS: Nothing Fancy by Alison Roman - Modern Farmer

COOK THIS: Nothing Fancy by Alison Roman

Twice a month, our writer cooks from the book and decides if these farm-to-table recipes are worth the investment.

Whatever you do, don’t call Alison Roman’s latest volume an “entertaining cookbook.” It’s just a book full of recipes for when you “have people over.” One brings about anxiety dreams of undercooked chicken, while the other is just good ol’ Saturday night fun. To wit, Nothing Fancy (Clarkson Potter; $32.50) doesn’t include a section on canapés or hors d’oeuvres, but instead there’s a chapter on “snacks”—these are things that you plonk on the kitchen island for your friends to nibble on while you finish getting dinner ready, and they might include tricked-up dips, fancy canned fish on crackers, marinated olives, and breadsticks. Roman’s approach could be described as “low-barrier”: The recipes in here are straightforward, most ingredients will be available at your local supermarket, prep time is kept to a minimum, and many components can be made ahead. But rest assured, with dishes such as Crispy Haloumi with Honey and Pistachios, or Hibiscus-Roasted Peaches with Brown-Sugar Bread Crumbs, your guests will still be impressed.

A spontaneous Saturday night with friends was the perfect opportunity to try out Roman’s Spicy Pork Meatballs in Brothy Tomatoes and Toasted Fennel. The meatballs are made from ground pork (I also used some turkey), garlic, fresh herbs, Greek yogurt, fennel seeds, smoked paprika and red pepper flakes. They’re browned before being simmered in a broth of fresh tomatoes and shallots spiked with a little vinegar. We served the lot over some steamed kale and mopped up all of that delicious broth with chunks of baguette. These were simple, tender and so satisfying!

We’re coming to a time of year full of opportunities (and expectations) for “having people over,” and most of us could do with some inspiration. Flipping through Roman’s book, I was hard-pressed to find something I didn’t want to make, although it is a little short on vegetarian main course options. Her breezy, encouraging and no-apologies-required approach paired with creative recipes makes Nothing Fancy a winner.

Wendy Underwood tests out cookbooks weekly on Instagram at @kitchenvscookbook.

Reprinted from Nothing Fancy. Copyright © 2019 by Alison Roman. Photographs copyright © 2019 by Michael Graydon and Nikole Herriott Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.

Creamy Sesame Turmeric Dip
makes about 2 cups

8 ounces cream cheese or ricotta, preferably room temperature
¾ cup sour cream or labne
¼ cup tahini
2 tablespoons water
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons white sesame seeds
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
Flaky sea salt

1. Combine the cream cheese, sour cream, tahini, and water in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until well blended and creamy (alternatively, use a fork or spoon; there might just be a few lumps, which is actually fine). Season with salt and pepper.

2. Heat the olive oil and sesame seeds in a small skillet or pot over medium heat. Cook, swirling occasionally, until the sesame seeds are toasted and fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the turmeric and remove from heat.

3. Transfer the cream cheese mixture to a cute serving bowl and top with the sesame-turmeric oil. Finish with flaky salt and more pepper before serving.

Spicy Pork Meatballs in Brothy Tomatoes and Toasted Fennel
Serves 4 to 6

6 garlic cloves (2 grated, 4 thinly sliced)
½ cup finely chopped fresh chives
½ cup finely chopped fresh parsley, tender leaves and stems, plus more for garnish
½ cup full-fat Greek yogurt
2 teaspoons fennel seeds, plus more for garnish
2 teaspoons hot smoked paprika
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, plus more for serving
1½ pounds ground pork, lamb, beef, and/or turkey (feel free to mix!)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
2 pints Sungold or cherry tomatoes (about 1½ pounds), halved
¼ cup distilled white vinegar or white wine vinegar
3 cups water
1 cup fresh mint leaves
Piece of pecorino or parmesan, for grating
Toast or crusty bread, for serving

1. Place the grated garlic in a medium bowl along with the chives, parsley, yogurt, fennel seeds, paprika, salt, and crushed red pepper flakes. Mix until well combined.

2. Add the meat, season with pepper, and, using your hands, mix until well combined. Roll the mixture into balls about 1½ inches in diameter (about the size of a plum; I like these meatballs on the smaller side). Place on a baking sheet or large plate.

3. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add a few meatballs at a time, taking care not to crowd the pot. Cook, using tongs or a spatula to occasionally gently rotate them, until they are all golden brown all over (they may not hold their perfectly round shape, but that is more than okay), 8 to 10 minutes. As the meatballs are browned, transfer them to a large serving platter or plate. Leave the remaining bits and fat in the pot.

4. Add the shallot and sliced garlic to the pot and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallot is tender and the garlic starts to brown a bit, 2 to 3 minutes.

5. Add the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they burst and start to become all saucy and caramelize a bit on the bottom of the pot, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the vinegar and water, scraping up any bits along the bottom. Bring to a strong simmer and reduce the sauce by about one-fourth, just until it thickens slightly (it should still be relatively brothy), 5 to 7 minutes.

6. Return the meatballs to the pot and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer until the meatballs are cooked through and the flavors have melded, 10 to 15 minutes.

7. Remove from the heat. To serve, top the meatballs (either in individual bowls or right in the pot) with the mint and more crushed red pepper flakes and fennel seeds, if you like. Drizzle with some olive oil and serve with the cheese for grating and some toast for dipping.

The meatball mixture can be made up to 1 day ahead (either kept in a bowl or shaped into meatballs), wrapped, and refrigerated (or up to 1 month in the freezer). The whole dish can be made up to 2 days ahead, covered, and refrigerated.

These meatballs and their tomato-y broth really want something to dip in, like simple crusty bread, or perhaps very good garlic bread. They also want some bitter green, which can actually be eaten out of the same bowl, the leaves taking a brief dip in the broth to soften slightly—wow, yes please.

tiny, salty, chocolatey cookies
I am not a chocolate person, but there are some occasions when I want a lightly sweet, definitely salty, chocolatey little something. In those moments, there is nothing better than this something, which I can best describe as the edges of a chewy brownie but in cookie form. No special equipment, fancy techniques, or chilling time are needed, which means that even if you only bake cookies once a year, you can still make these. Perfect for the end of a meal, when you, too, have decided you’ve just got to have a chocolatey little something.

makes 24 cookies

6 tablespoons (¾ stick) unsalted butter
2½ cups confectioners’ sugar
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (see Note)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large egg whites
1 large egg
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (at least 67% cacao), chopped
½ cup finely chopped hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios, pecans, or walnuts (optional)
Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon or Jacobsen

This is the time to invest in some high-quality unsweetened cocoa powder, since that’s mostly what you’ll be tasting here (that, and browned butter).

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment.

2. Melt the butter in a small pot over medium heat, swirling, until starting to foam and brown, 3 to 4 minutes (whisk the butter from time to time so that the solids don’t stick to the bottom of the pot). Let cool.

3. Whisk the confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder, and salt in a medium bowl, ridding it of as many lumps as possible (if you really want to, feel free to sift everything).

4. Using a spatula, mix in the egg whites, whole egg, and browned butter, stirring until you’ve got a good, smoothish mixture (any small lumps will take care of themselves), followed by the chocolate and any nuts you may want to add.

5. Using a spoon, drop quarter-sized blobs of dough (the texture is really somewhere between a dough and a batter), spacing about 2 inches apart on the baking sheet (they spread a lot). Sprinkle with flaky salt and bake until the cookies have flattened considerably and look baked through and a little wrinkled, 6 to 8 minutes. Let cool before eating so they can firm up.

Cookies can be baked up to 2 days ahead, wrapped tightly, and stored at room temperature.

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3 years ago

Hi! Am I supposed to toast the fennel seeds before I add them to the mix for the meatballs? Thanks!