Alison Roman: love her or hate her, she seems to be everywhere these days, remaining one of the most popular figures in the food media landscape. Her recipes, of course, are hits, but that’s not where her appeal ends. While millennials may have grown up watching their mothers taking tips from Martha Stewart to achieve a careful, somewhat finicky aesthetic, many have realized that their cramped apartments and stagnant salaries cannot support the same level of perfectionism. Enter Roman.
In her cookbook Nothing Fancy, she instructs readers to ask their guests for help. She insists that hosts should never apologize for their mismatched dishes or lack of wine glasses. And she tells us that not everything has to be hot when the guests arrive. Most importantly, she informs us that going from being a “two-martini person” to a “one-martini person” is personal growth, an allowance we all need in the midst of such stressful and uncertain times. (Full disclosure that I’m still totally a two-martini person though.)
So it’s no wonder she’s become one of the most celebrated figures in the home cooking scene. Her breezy lack of fussiness is reflected in her simple but sophisticated recipes, some of which are ideal for solo dinners and others that are more suited for large gatherings. No matter how many people you’re feeding, we think these Alison Roman recipes should be staples in your home cooking repertoire.
1. Tomato-Poached Fish with Chile Oil and Herbs
For all those who would never dare to prepare any kind of fish that didn’t come out of a can, Roman’s tomato-poached fish with chile oil and herbs sounds like it could be intimidating. But truthfully, it’s difficult to mess this one up. Basically half of the recipe just involves making the chile oil, which involves sizzling shallots with — you guessed it — chile. Then, you add some tomatoes to the pan and cook until they’re rich and jammy, pour in some water and poach your fish for just a few minutes. That’s pretty much it. Topped with fresh herbs like mint and drizzled with a squeeze of lime juice (don’t you dare use the bottled stuff around me), this is an unbelievably flavorful dish.
While Roman says the fish sauce in this recipe is optional, I personally would never dream of omitting fish sauce from anything that called for it. It doesn’t add a fishy flavor but rather ups the umami, salty factor that complements the fresh herbs so well.
2. Caramelized Shallot Pasta
Roman’s caramelized shallot pasta has now reached iconic status. You could at one point literally buy a sweatshirt from her website with a picture of the famous pasta plastered right on the front. Roman says that this shallot pasta was “one of the most wonderful things to happen to me,” and even though the first time I made it I broke a wine glass and burned the shallots while cleaning up the mess, I can say that the same is true for me. It looks basic but is anything but. Garlic, heaps of shallots and a whole tin of anchovies (plus olive oil, and lots of it) come together to create an unctuous sticky red sauce perfect for coating silly, floppy strands of bucatini.
The best part about this recipe, though, is the jarful of extra sauce you get to spread on your toast the next morning: a dream come true for those of us who never think more than one meal in advance.
3. Low and Slow Rib Roast with Anchovy and Rosemary
If you’re throwing a party for people you love, I truly believe the best way to show them your affection is by making them this low and slow rib roast with anchovy and rosemary from Alison Roman. And I don’t just say that because I’m an Aquarius and the thought of a verbal expression of affection would instantly annihilate my appetite. Rather, it’s because this recipe yields a huge hunk of meat that’s perfect for sharing. The roast comes out perfectly tender and a beautiful shade of pink, so slicing into it feels like a celebration.
The real magic here is all in the anchovy mixture that’s smeared all over the roast before it’s placed in the oven. Even if you’re not the type of eat anchovies plain out of the tin, you shouldn’t skip them here — they add an incredible amount of (non-fishy) flavor that makes this recipe stand out.
Clams are the platonic ideal of the bivalve (don’t tell scallops), little gems of juicy meat hidden in bulky rocks that clang around your dish, requiring messiness and noise usually only reserved for the end of the second bottle of wine when everyone’s dishes are nearly cleared. And while combining clams with pasta is nothing new, Roman’s clam pasta with spicy, toasted breadcrumbs feels like a simple but slightly altered version of the classic linguine vongole. The secret here is the breadcrumbs (spicy! toasted!) that add a layer of crunchiness to an otherwise light, lemony dish.
The key here is finding fresh, juicy clams. Believe me when I say they’re worth an extra trip to the fish market if you happen to have the time.
5. Lemony Turmeric Tea Cake
Let me preface this by saying I may well be the world’s worst baker. Literally nothing I’ve ever baked that didn’t come out of a box has exited the oven remotely edible. Nothing, at least, except Roman’s lemony turmeric tea cake. That’s all to say that even the most baked good-repellent among us is capable of throwing this tea cake together.
We are well into the era of the not-too-sweet dessert, and this tea cake certainly fits the bill. There’s plenty of acidity here, and the turmeric adds an earthiness you usually won’t find in a cake. The slices of lemon on top can be difficult to cut into, but they take an otherwise plain-looking cake and turn it into something anyone would be proud to serve alongside an espresso after a filling dinner.
6. Fancy Canned Cranberries
Canned cranberry sauce has for years gotten unfair treatment. Not only has it been nearly completely relegated to one holiday a year, but it’s often pushed off the menu entirely by homemade cranberry sauce. The homemade stuff can be good, but does it make that unholy, indecent plopping sound as you ease it out of its cooking vessel? Does it jiggle precariously in an otherworldly fashion that makes you appreciate the depths the capitalist food system has thrust us into? No. And for that reason, I propose that Roman’s fancy canned cranberries make an appearance at every Thanksgiving dinner hosted by someone with a healthy respect for the ease and predictability of prepared foods.
Sliced canned cranberry sauce, fresh citrus and rings of red onion just need some lemon juice, flaky salt and fresh ground pepper to be transformed into the brightly colored salad of your dreams. This dish feels fancy while still holding onto a sense of humor: something we can all aspire to.
7. Tomatoes Dressed in Toasted Fennel and Anchovy
If you don’t like anchovies, what are you even doing here at this point? Of all the anchovy-laden dishes on this list, Roman’s tomatoes dressed in toasted fennel and anchovy recipe is probably the dish where you can taste the little fish the most. They play a super-important role in this otherwise exceptionally simple salad. Combined with Aleppo pepper, vinegar, fennel seeds and olive oil, they create a salty, savory dressing that’s perfect for pouring over summer tomatoes.
But don’t limit yourself to tomatoes when it comes to this dressing. You can also add it to other veggies (raw or cooked), pasta salad, or even thinly sliced meat. The world is your… anchovy?
8. Sticky Chili Chicken with Hot-and-Sour Pineapple
Hot, sour, fresh, sticky… what’s not to love about Roman’s sticky chili chicken with hot-and-sour pineapple ? It’s everything we love about summer in one dish, though the heat can feel more intense on the hottest days of the year. Don’t worry about the chicken in this dish catching too much sweetness from the pineapple — the lime juice, rice wine vinegar and fish sauce balance it out nicely. The additions of sesame seeds, thinly sliced shallots (you can also use scallions) and freshly chopped cilantro ensure that this is a dish to serve at an outdoor festivity, preferably near a body of water.
Roman has said, “Roasting a nice chicken for people is such a good way to say ‘I love you,’” and I couldn’t agree more.
9. Grilled Corn and Scallion Salad
In such a meat-centric culture as the U.S., vegetables are so rarely given the love and attention they deserve. We will labor over mediocre cuts of meat, lovingly basting, brining and braising, but when it comes to the most beautiful of farmers’ market veggies, we just toss them unceremoniously into a side salad and move on with our lives, ignorant to the disservice we are doing to both our vegetables and ourselves. That’s why Roman’s grilled corn and scallion salad is such a triumph: It puts corn at the forefront and encourages it to be carefully handled without ever asking it to prove itself.
This is one of the few corn-based recipes where it’s best not to sub in canned or frozen corn because you really want the ears to get a nice char on them. And whatever you do, don’t forget the pepperoncinis or the corn nuts. They are essential not just for this recipe but for a good life in general.
10. Strawberry Shortcake Cobbler
Picture this: It’s mid-summer. You’re at a friend’s place, sitting on their stoop. They come out holding a heavy skillet full of ultra-ripe cooked strawberries placed underneath a web of buttery, homemade shortcake discs made from scratch. In that moment, you understand true happiness.
You, yes you, can give your friends this religious experience. Whip up Roman’s strawberry shortcake cobbler, the filling of which boasts strawberries, heavy cream, brown sugar and lime juice for some zippy acidity. Serve it with champagne if you really love them. And rest easy knowing that you will likely be placed in the will of every guest in attendance.