Another fine-but-lackluster home cooking book from a popular chef! I find it so hard to write about these that I think I’m going to take a page from fellow-cookbook-reviewer Helen Rosner and swear off “dinner at home” books for awhile. Sorry, Alison Roman. The ones written by chefs especially tend to grate because the main takeaway is “wow, this person doesn’t cook at home very often and yet they are telling me how to!” Which is how it should be- they get the book contract because they cook very well, at high levels, for other people in a professional kitchen every night and that’s where their skills take them. In this case, Missy Robbin’s restaurant is less than a mile away from my apartment so this mainly reminded me to make a reservation there.
I don’t mean to come down too hard on this well-meaning book. There are a lot of solid, even great ideas to like here. I’ve been eating “broccoli-macaroni” weekly since I could chew and I’ve completely switched to her version of it (see below). I loved her rich Italian take on hot chocolate. And I really appreciate that she’s trying to watch what she eats and many of the recipes reflect that – a year of writing about cookbooks has left me feeling a bit, well, stuffed. Cookbooks are often either all-diet or all “treat yoself” so I appreciated that this hits a middle ground between eating well and not treating every night like it’s a restaurant where you’re always cooking for other people (ie, with “mounds of pounds” of butter as Helen Gurley Brown would say). I made many of the pasta and vegetable dishes and I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for a few more to come in seasonally so I can try them.
That said, a lot of stuff in this book just plain didn’t work for me. I loved the concept of hazelnut yogurt but mine was never anything but gritty and chewy, and who wants chewy yogurt? (The photo was pretty, though.) The roasted fennel went rock-hard and again, chewy, on me. But I think the biggest misstep was the chapter of Asian recipes, which just left me reaching for Charles Phan and Danny Bowien’s books. I’m a little torn on this – books should allow people space to try out new ideas and get far outside their comfort zones, so I appreciate that she tried, and that she had a personal connection to all of these recipes. But I think an editor could have taken a closer look at some of them.
Overall, this book felt meandering and in want of a central concept or thesis to guide it. It was conceived during an aimless gap year for the author, after she left A Voce without an idea of what she should do next except “take some time off and maybe write a book.” In the end, she found a new business partner and started a restaurant of her own, a small space in Brooklyn that is by all reports very well done and tightly edited. Perhaps this book should have waited for her to find that new discipline as well.
PS – some food-adjacent books I’ve really enjoyed lately are My Soul Looks Back, a memoir of a lost relationship and the food that sustained it by esteemed cookbook author and food historian Jessica B. Harris, and What She Ate, a look at the diets and regimens of six fascinating women from history. Next up, David Lebovitz’s L’Appart.
make this one thing:
whole-wheat pasta with broccoli
1/4 cup olive oil
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 can anchovies, drained and chopped
1 1/2 tbsp crushed chili flakes
1 head broccoli, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 cup white wine
1 pound whole wheat spaghetti (I used ziti apparently)
1 tbsp butter
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
12 basil leaves
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and generously season with salt.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan over low heat, warm the olive oil. Add the garlic and sweat it until fragrant but without color, about 1 minute. Stir in the anchovies and chili flakes and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Add the broccoli and saute 1 minute.
Stir in the white wine. Bring to a simmer and cook until the broccoli is tender and bright green, about 5 minutes.
Place the spaghetti in the boiling water and cook until al dente, about 7-8 minutes.
Use tongs to transfer the spaghetti to the pan of broccoli. Add 1/2 cup of the pasta water and toss over medium-low heat for 2 minutes. Add the butter and continue tossing until well coated. Remove from heat and stir in 1/4 cup of the cheese. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt if desired.
To serve, evenly divide the pasta and sauce among four bowls. Top each portion with some of the remaining cheese and torn basil leaves.