“Nothing Fancy: Unfussy Food for Having People Over,” by Alison Roman, © 2019, is a delightful cookbook! While she maintains in large-type, bold print “This is not a book about entertaining,” it certainly maps out some really stress-free strategies for doing exactly that, in a most appealing way.
“Using your time and resources to feed people you care about is the ultimate expression of love,” she said in her introduction, adding that love is about expressing joy and not producing anxiety.
Don’t worry if your plates don’t match, you burn the cake, or dinner is late by two hours, just cut off the burned part, put out some snacks, and pour some good wine. It’s all good is the message here.
The book is organized by Snacks, Salads, Sides, Mains, and After Dinner. It is beautifully photographed, and the recipes are easy to follow, using approachable ingredients. There are suggestions on what to serve with the dish, little ideas and thoughts.
I chose two recipes to make one evening when it was just my husband and myself and I wanted to fuss. The photograph of the Swordfish with Crushed Olives and Oregano looked inviting, and since we hadn’t had swordfish in a dog’s age, I decided that would be the feature on the plate.
sted Fennel, Lemon, and Basil and let me tell you, this was the best part of the dinner. So delicious, the texture of the farro and the lovely scents of fennel and lemon (two of my favorites) were beyond satisfying. We both ate quietly, with only the occasional grunts of happiness. I loved that she uses the entire fennel bulb, stems included, and I’m not sure why so many recipes call for cutting these off and sending them to the compost bin!
The best part of this recipe was the leftovers two nights later. I charred a leek, a small pepper, and a few mushrooms in my wok, added the leftovers, and served up a Fried Farro and Fennel that we ate all by itself for dinner, nothing else was needed, and it was great the next day for lunch in a whole wheat wrap, with a little extra of the leftover olive sauce from the swordfish dish.
Swordfish with Crushed Olives and Oregano
· 2 cups Castelvetrano olives (or similar mild green olives), pitted and crushed
· 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice
· Leaves from 6 sprigs fresh oregano or marjoram
· ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
· Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
· 3 or 4 swordfish steaks (8 to 10 ounces each), 1 to 1¼ inches thick
· 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
· ¼ cup fresh parsley leaves, tender leaves and stems
· 2 lemons, halved, for serving
1. In a medium bowl, combine the olives, vinegar, half the oregano leaves and ¼ cup of the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and let it sit while you cook the swordfish.
2. Season the swordfish with salt and pepper. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a very large skillet over medium heat. Working in batches if necessary, add the swordfish steaks, making sure they’ve got a little space between one another. Cook until the steaks are a deep golden brown on one side, 5 to 7 minutes (mine were a little thinner, so 5 minutes did the trick). Using a fish spatula or regular spatula, flip the steaks and cook until they are equally golden brown on the other side, another 4 to 6 minutes.
3. Transfer the fish to a large serving platter or baking dish. Add the garlic to the skillet and cook until just softened, a minute or so. Add the olive mixture and remove from the heat.
4. Spoon some of the olive mixture over the swordfish and let it sit a few minutes to allow the sauce to marinate and really get to know that fish.
5. Scatter with the parsley and the remaining oregano, and serve with any extra olive mixture and the lemon halves for squeezing over.
I served with the following recipe, and they were delightful together. Roman said “This is a very good and very polite grain salad recipe, maybe my favorite one in this book. It is not offensive to any other dish on the table and it’ll get along with any other vegetable or protein you’re serving. It has interesting things to say but doesn’t dominate the conversation.”
Farro with Toasted Fennel, Lemon, and Basil
· 2 cups pearled or semi-pearled farro, barley, Israeli couscous, freekeh, or wheat berries
· 1⁄4 cup olive oil
· 6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
· 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
· 1 large fennel bulb, bulb and stem thinly sliced; fronds reserved
· 1 lemon, thinly sliced, seeds removed
· Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
· Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
· 1 cup fresh basil leaves, torn
1. Cook grains according to package instructions. Drain and set aside.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and fennel seeds, and cook, stirring occasionally until garlic is just starting to brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the sliced fennel bulb and half the lemon and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fennel is totally tender and starting to caramelize, 8 to 10 minutes.
3. Add the farro to the skillet and season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, if using. Toss to coat and cook a few minutes, letting the farro absorb some of that garlicky, fennel-y olive oil. Add remaining lemon slices and chopped fennel stem and remove from heat. Transfer to a serving platter or bowl and top with the basil and fennel fronds.
Since this grain salad is so accommodating, feel free to make it your own by adding more herbs (basil! tarragon!), a grating of salty cheese (ricotta salata or pecorino), or handful of toasted and chopped nuts for texture.
DO AHEAD: Farro can be cooked up to 5 days ahead, covered, and refrigerated. The whole dish can be cooked 2 days ahead, but wait to add the fresh herbs and fennel fronds.
Should you buy this cookbook? I highly recommend it, and I now have it on my own crowded shelf. If you like to have folks over for an evening of stress-free cooking and eating, there are lots of great ideas here – from a marvelous roasted chicken to playing around with pastas and pizza, even sweet endings that can be made a day ahead. There’s something for everyone here, with built-in confidence for even the novice cook.
I’m a writer, cook, gardener, photographer, poet, quilter, and accomplished daydreamer. I’m also a wife, mother, grandmother, and sister. cousin, aunt, and friend, in no particular order on any given day.
I’ve been a writer all my life, newspaper reporter and columnist, radio news writer, magazine contributor, and poet and short-story writer as the spirit moves. Now, I turn my attention to my cookbook, the blog, and a cooking column “Memorable Meals,” which runs in our county newspaper. Besides my family, I love dogs, cats, good coffee, and my never-dwindling pile of books I intend to read.
Our family ran a small Vermont Inn for 18 years, with our focus on local, organic ingredients. After many years of daily serving up our local delicacies, cooking classes, and catering, we are now only open for special events, and the odd cooking class as the spirit moves me. We also host musicians and artists, having helped produce a musical festival and other musical events for nearly 20 years. Many incredible artists have found a place at our table. Wonderful experiences, we will treasure always.
Please be sure and visit Dorothy at https://vintagekitchen.org. Dorothy Grover-Read writes the “The New Vintage Kitchen” blog. Dorothy’s blog is all about celebrating traditional cooking techniques and recipes, while incorporating fresh, locally-sourced ingredients into her dishes. She’s known for her creative approach to classic recipes, and her passion for using sustainable and seasonal produce. Dorothy’s blog is a great resource for anyone interested in learning more about the art of cooking and preserving traditional culinary techniques.