IF YOU’VE RECENTLY TAGGED A FAVORITE RECIPE FROM BON APPETIT, THE NEW YORK TIMES OR CHERRY BOMBE, YOU PROBABLY HAVE ALISON ROMAN TO THANK. The former editor at Bon Appetit, Roman has created, concocted and tested countless recipes in the famed BA Test Kitchen and moved on to develop recipes for some of the most esteemed national publications–not to mention a mouth-watering Instagram feed. Her latest oeuvre? The latest buzziest cookbook Dining In, which hit bookshelves and home cooks’ kitchens earlier this fall. A Cali native, the Brooklyn resident infuses a love for good, fresh ingredients in all of her cooking – and now, with the release of her new cooking bible, you, too can learn the art of a “fork and knife salad”–one of Roman’s hearty veggie-centric specialties. With 125 gorgeous recipes and Roman’s signature sense of humor guiding the way, Dining In reads like your cooler sister teaching you how to get sh*t done in the kitchen. Below, Roman takes on the importance of local produce, the three best pantry essentials for any home cook, and her favorite secret masseuse in the city (it happens to be mine, too.)
By Ariel Okin
Photos by Jeffrey Rose
Your book covers so many types of cuisines, ingredients and regions while making them super approachable. When it comes to cooking vegetables, what is your take on the plant-based trend – where do veggies belong in a meal?
I grew up on vegetables. I’m from California, and it’s always been a huge part of the way we eat. We grew up on artichokes and asparagus. I love that people are paying attention more now. You could serve a dish of roasted cauliflower to my dad and he would enjoy it as he would a plate of pork. Every Thanksgiving, I make the Brussels sprouts and they’re a huge hit.
Is there anything you don’t eat?
I don’t have a restrictive diet – I don’t not eat anything.
Your go-to markets?
I go to the Union Square farmer’s market or Grand Army Plaza. There’s a little Korean bodega down the street from me and they have amazing produce. They prune every dead leaf. It’s nice. And Whole Foods! I learned this from testing, though – if your produce doesn’t work, then it’s probably not a great recipe and not everybody has access to [local produce.] For bread, I love She Wolf Bakery. I also love Sahadi’s in Brooklyn Heights – I can get my tahini, olives and preserved lemons there. I’ll go to Mermaid’s Garden for my fish and Fleisher’s for meat.
Must-have pantry ingredients?
I like honey from farmer’s markets because it’s local honey. When I’m testing recipes, I use orange blossom honey from the bear. Aleppo pepper is my favorite ingredient. It’s just really smoky and fruity and it’s not that spicy and it always looks fantastic.
With all the decadent recipe testing you do, what’s your favorite healthy meal to make that counterbalances it all?
Soup and broth is kind of my answer to juicing. I make tons of chicken stock throughout the fall and winter and then stash them in the freezer. When I don’t have any chicken handy, I’ll make a vegetable stock, throw in chilis and I have this awesome smoky vegan broth to drink like tea when I’m home working. I don’t always want to eat something heavy (mostly because I’m always eating) and broth is a nice way to get some actual nutrients (which I’m definitely not getting from that jar of pickles or whatever else I’m snacking on).
We eat a lot of kale in my house, which I know is very 2001. Otherwise, I’m more “healthy-ish” which is to say I don’t use a ton of butter but I love olive and I love giant salads but there is probably cheese on it. For my basic salad, I just get beautiful greens from the farmers market and I squeeze lemon and flaky salt, olive oil, add in some herbs and fresh cracked pepper. Sometimes I’ll throw in seeds or toasted buckwheat. The greens are important when you eat as much pizza as I do.
Popcorn tossed in coconut oil, nutritional yeast and Aleppo pepper is the most glorious snack in the world. When I was writing the book, that’s all I ate because I was too busy to stop for meals. I have this little vintage pot just for making popcorn and beans. I heat it ‘til it’s hot, then I add coconut oil, then I add popcorn, season with salt, put a lid on, shake it, and wait for them to start popping. Then I add nutritional yeast afterwards.
What are your pantry essentials?
–A fish spatula. Something to flip things and transfer things. It’s wide and flat and thin. You can stick it under things without ruining whatever you’re trying to move.
–Tongs are wildly underrated. A pair of stainless steel tongs. I find myself using it for everything, turning meat to brown, etc.
–Flexible littler pastry scrapers, they’re for baking, when you transfer to a bowl, but I use them to clean the countertop. When I was a pastry chef I would keep it my pocket.
What is your best advice to female chefs just starting out in the industry?
Say yes to everything! It’s the only way to figure out if you like something or not. There is so much more available these days, there is truly something for everyone. Explore what interests you and go from there. You’ll never know what speaks to you unless you explore.
How do you keep on a healthy routine when you travel?
Weirdly enough, I feel like I’m more healthy when I travel, especially if it’s traveling for work. Taking myself out of my usual routine lets me be the person I think I am rather the person I actually am (lol). You know, start my day with a juice, not a bagel. Classpass is also fantastic because it’s in almost every major city, so there’s no excuse.
What’s going on in your fridge right now?
My fridge is a crazy place. I always have anchovies, capers, parmesan cheese; kale and parsley and green things. I’ll use finely chopped kale if I don’t happen to have parsley. I’ll make pesto with all of the parsley. The key to cooking at home is don’t afraid to be imperfect. If I tell you to microplane a lemon and you don’t have a microplane, don’t panic. You can chop it. People take cooking really seriously sometimes.
Knives are key to any prepped kitchen. Which are the best brand?
I use this classic Zwillling one a lot. One of my favorites is a more decorative one from Santa Fe Stoneworks. Their website is from 1997 but you can request a catalog, their stuff is awesome.
What does a typical day in the life look like you for meals?
Each day is so different for me. My boyfriend makes French Press coffee in the morning. I work out of The Wing and there’s a smoothie from Juice Press near there that I get, which is basically a green smoothie. I add almond butter and that will keep me full for a bit. I’m not a breakfast person, I just don’t think of it so I’ll do that and I’ll feel good. If I don’t have too much work, I’ll take myself out to lunch. I love eating lunch alone. I don’t like those fast casual places, I really hate it actually. I’ll go to Ootoya. They have an amazing lunch special.
Favorite clean beauty musts?
I use coconut oil for everything, I put it in my hair and skin. I also love Ritual vitamins; I notice a huge difference in my energy levels from taking them. I also have these Alder New York charcoal/aloe sheet masks that I like to use.
What about when you’re Dining Out?
I love ABCV, it’s delicious; I love Prune; and Cervos, it’s exactly the food that I want.
You travel a lot – how does that influence the food that you make and the ingredients you incorporate into your new recipes?
Every time I leave the country I’m insanely inspired. Even to other states. Any time I’m traveling, I’m thinking about how the food is made there. I just got back from Portugal and the best thing about Portugal is the quality of the seafood. I have an entire bag of tinned fish that I brought back. Their food is really simple, grilled whole fish with lemon and steamed broccoli. Everything is always perfectly seasoned. I always bring back stuff, dried chilis or tinned fish. I end up smuggling quite a bit back. You just have to pack with confidence.
The food world is pretty hectic, not to mention you just wrote a book, which takes a lot out of anyone. What do you do to slow down, for self-care?
I get my aura read, I get my tarot cards read; I definitely have that tendency. I love baths. I like eucalyptus and lavender oils. I burn a lot of Palo Santo and sage. My mom used to read tarot cards, and burned a lot of sage growing up. Not only that is a smell I love and feel close to, it’s something that’s important to me. I travel with it. I definitely believe in the clearing of energy. If I’m having a bad week, I’ll burn the shit out of this place. I love getting my haircut, I think hair carries a lot of energy. I go to Suite Caroline now. I try to take care of myself because I’ll often put work ahead of my well-being. But now I make more of a concerted effort. I do yoga, I go to Sky Ting or Tangerine. I try to do yoga three times a week and I notice a huge difference if I don’t. I try to get to a class before I get on a plane. I get facials at Hey Day, and I get my nails done wherever. There is a place near the Wing called Blooming Nails and there is a guy named Bobby and he gives the best massage in the world [Ed Note: I also go to Blooming Nails and can confirm that Bobby is the best masseuse in Manhattan.]
One thing I love doing, especially if I’m extremely overwhelmed and have no time to do anything, I’ll just shut it all down. If I’m past the point of getting anything done, I’m going to go to one of the restaurants I love, order a glass of wine, order some oysters or clams and just say fuck it. Because the day is done. And then I feel much better.
Alison’s Caramelized Winter Squash with Toasted Coconut Gremolata
I ate a lot of squash with brown sugar and butter while growing up. This recipe is my more practical “I can’t have ice cream for every meal” compromise, using honey instead of brown sugar and coconut oil instead of butter. I would probably eat this as dinner on its own, but I happen to know it’s also great as a side with things like roasted chicken or pork chops.
While tender, caramelized, salty-sweet squash is magnificent all on its own, it should be mentioned that the real reason for making this dish is for the toasted coconut gremolata: chips of nutty, unsweetened coconut tossed with herbs, lots of lemon zest, and a bit of Aleppo pepper. It’s wildly addictive, and there is no reason it couldn’t appear over roasted carrots, sprinkled onto a curry or stew, or even over salads as a stand-in for croutons.
2 medium winter squash, such as delicata or acorn (1½ to 2 pounds)
3 tablespoons coconut oil, melted, or olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
TOASTED COCONUT GREMOLATA
¾ cup unsweetened coconut chips
¼ cup finely chopped fresh chives
½ cup fresh cilantro, tender leaves and stems, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper or 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
DO AHEAD: Everything but the coconut can be made 1 day ahead; when ready to serve, toast the coconut and add it to the chive mixture (toasted coconut will start to soften once mixed with the herbs and refrigerated).
- ROAST THE SQUASH: Preheat the oven to 425°F.
- Leaving the skin on, slice the squash into ½-inch-thick rings. (I roast my squash with the seeds still inside, because they get all crispy and I love the texture they bring to the table, but you can remove them if you like. Best way to do that is cut the squash in half crosswise and scoop out the seeds with a spoon, then slice into rings.)
- Toss the squash with the coconut oil and honey on a rimmed baking sheet and season with salt and pepper. Roast, flipping the squash once, until it is completely tender, browned, and caramelized, 25 to 30 minutes.
- MAKE THE GREMOLATA: While the squash is roasting, heat a small skillet over medium heat and add the coconut. Shake the skillet occasionally until the coconut is starting to brown at the edges and smells all toasty and amazing, 3 to 4 minutes. Place it in a medium bowl to cool completely.
- Once the coconut has cooled, add the chives, cilantro, lemon zest, and Aleppo pepper, and season with salt. Using your fingers, mix this together until the oils in the lemon zest have released and everything is evenly distributed (especially the lemon zest, which can stubbornly clump up).
- Sprinkle the coconut gremolata over the roasted squash and serve.
Reprinted from Dining In. Copyright © 2017 by Alison Roman. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.