I was delighted when Alison Roman’s cookbook “Nothing Fancy” was proposed as our following review. I am a long-time fan of Alison’s unfussy approach to preparing delicious food. I suspected that many of the participants in this project would enjoy reading her cookbook. So when Jeen and Michiel, from https://cookanddrink.org, sent me the following review, I wasn’t surprised that they enjoyed creating some of her beautiful recipes.
‘Unfussy food for having people over’, is the subtitle of Nothing Fancy by Alison Roman. A cookbook with ‘low-stress and high impact’ recipes. A book that promises to help you serve colorful plates, casually roasted meat, and desserts, even when you’re struggling timewise. An interesting idea having guests over for dinner or lunch, serving tasty food, remaining relaxed, and enjoying every minute of it.
We prepared three dishes and asked our panel (Carolien, Hans, and Joke) for their thoughts.
The first dish we prepared was a Tomato Salad with Anchovies and Fennel Seeds. The recipe mentions ‘ripe tomatoes’, but we quickly found out that it should read ‘ripe and tasty tomatoes’, otherwise, the salad is rather bland and unbalanced. It also suggests making the fennel flavored oil on medium heat, with the risk of burning the seeds, causing a bitter taste.
Alison Roman is probably a big fan of anchovies; we reduced the number of anchovies in the dressing, and we didn’t add additional ones to the salad. We think the anchovy should work as a condiment, not as an ingredient on its own, because of its overpowering flavor, which is not liked by everybody.
Our panel was very happy with the salad. The combination of tomatoes and fennel is a trouvaille and the salty, umami flavor of the anchovy gives the salad an extra dimension. It didn’t combine very well with the citrus chicken; probably better to combine it with swordfish or skate.
The second dish (a Salad with Green Peas and Burrata) was very easy to make and absolutely delicious. We added some extra grated lemon and mint. Our panel was pleasantly surprised by the refreshing flavor, the aroma, and the velvety, juicy mouthfeel.
The third dish was casually Roasted Citrus Chicken with Herbs. The recipe suggests setting your oven to 230 °C or 450 °F. Isn’t that a bit too hot, we thought? But okay, let’s do as suggested and follow the recipe. We transferred the chicken to the hot oven. Five minutes later, we were busy turning off the smoke alarm. Our panel had a good laugh (although we couldn’t hear them very well because of the noise). So far, for remaining relaxed!
According to the recipe, the chicken should marinate between 30 minutes and 24 hours, which is a significant window. We marinated our organic chicken for 2 hours, which was clearly not long enough. The panel was happy with the taste, but not every part of the chicken benefitted from the flavor of the marinade. Sometimes we tasted juicy, citrusy-flavoured, slightly spicy chicken and sometimes, we just tasted chicken.
The charred citrus is colorful, but doesn’t add much to the dish in terms of flavor or depth.
We served the citrus chicken with a glass of red wine made by Domaine La Tour Beaumont in the French Loire region. It is made using Gamay grapes, well known from the Beaujolais region. A very fruity, juicy wine that should be served slightly chilled. We also served a glass of zero alcohol rosé produced by Domaine de L’Arjolle, made with Cabernet Franc and Syrah grapes. The wine is dry, aromatic, and has long-lasting taste (raspberry, strawberry). Beautiful color, not sweet (as many other zero alcohol wines), and light. Both worked beautifully with the chicken and the herbs, thanks to the lightness and the fruity flavours.
Should this book be on (y)our shelf? Definitely yes if you’re looking for tasty food that doesn’t require too much work. If you want to remain relaxed while cooking and entertaining, be sure to test the recipes before having people over because some aspects of the recipes may need adjusting.
Green Pea Salad with Burrata and Black Olives (recipe Alison Roman)
What You Need
– Black Olives (preferably Taggiasca olives)
– Olive Oil
– 150 grams of Fresh Peas
– Various Greens (Rocket, Parsley, Celery, Watercress, Sorel etc)
– Handful of Mint Leaves
– 1 or 2 tablespoon(s) of Lemon Juice
– 1 Lemon
– 1 Burrata
What You Do
Cook the green peas for 1 minute and cool immediately. Remove the pits from the olives and quarter. Combine olive oil and olives and set aside. Crush half of the peas using a fork. Add the other peas and mix. Tear the mint leaves. Chop the chives. Combine greens, mint, chives and lemon juice. Tear the burrata into pieces and arrange on a plate. Scatter the peas on top. Now add the olive mixture and finish with the greens. We added some extra mint and grated lemon.
Tomato Salad with Fennel and Anchovy (recipe Alison Roman, slightly tweaked)
What You Need
– 60 ml Olive Oil
– 1 tablespoon Fennel Seeds, coarsely crushed
– Piment Doux
– 1 Anchovy Fillet
– 500 grams of tasty Tomatoes
– 1 tablespoon White Wine Vinegar
– Black Pepper
What You Do
Warm the olive oil over low heat and add the fennel seeds, the anchovy and some piment doux. Stir. After a few minutes the anchovy has melted and your flavoured oil is ready. Wash, dry and slice the tomatoes. Scatter the tomatoes on a large plate, drizzle with vinegar and then with the oil. Finish with some black pepper.
Citrus Chicken with Herbs (recipe Alison Roman, slightly tweaked)
What You Need
– 125 ml Lime and Lemon juice
– 125 ml Orange Juice
– 2 tablespoons Soy Sauce
– 2 tablespoons Olive Oil
– 1 tablespoon Sambal
– 2 Garlic Cloves
– 4 organic Chicken Legs
– A generous mix of chopped Cilantro, Parsley, Rosemary, Thyme and Oregano
What You Do
Use a very sharp knife to remove the bone of the thigh (the femur). Peel and crush the garlic. Combine the lime/lemon juice with the orange juice, the soy sauce, olive oil, sambal and garlic. Mix well and add the chicken. Leave to marinate for 12 hours.
Pre heat your oven to 180 °C or 355 °F, remove the chicken from the marinade, use kitchen twine to close the thigh, drizzle oil on a baking tray and transfer the chicken to the tray. After 30 minutes add sliced lemon and orange to the plate. Turn the slices 10 minutes later. After 50 minutes in total the chicken should be ready and nicely browned. If in doubt, grill for 5 minutes. Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes. Add half of the chopped herbs to the cooking liquid, stir. Serve the chicken with the liquid, some lemon and orange slices and a generous amount of herbs.
PS don’t forget to ask you guests if they are okay with eating cilantro. Some people will only taste soap when eating cilantro.
Michiel and Jeen (also known as Mr. Cook and Mr. Drink) enjoy tasty food and good wine. On our website we try to show that with the right ingredients and a few skills it’s possible to prepare great food at home. We believe in flavours and aromas and are inspired by French, Italian, and Japanese cuisine. Amongst our favorite authors/chefs are Hilaire Walden, Antonio Carluccio, Akira Oshima, and Alain Passard.
And finally: we strongly recommend using organic ingredients. Better for you, better for the world
Thank you, Jeen and Michiel, and your merry band of reviewers. I know everyone will enjoy your tips for making these yummy dishes and choosing a wine to accompany the flavors of the dishes.