Nothing Fancy has survived to the end of the month with us, and while it may have been a poor choice for this moment in time where none of us are hosting dinner parties anymore, Alison Roman remains an American powerhouse of cookbookery. We did a recipe a week, and while I did not manage to cover every section of her cookbook during my time in the kitchen, I found a lot of enjoyment in her recipes.
In her first book, Roman guided the reader carefully through each of her recipes, and this method was not forgotten. Her recipes are easier to read and follow than some that we’ve covered during our cookbook of the month process. This remains true in Nothing Fancy. Most people are not going to struggle, especially if you have some previous cooking experience.
That being said, the last recipe I did encapsulates my feelings on the cookbook pretty well. I fucking love stuffed pasta anything. Lasagna, manicotti, stuffed shells, all of it. I want noodles and cheese for all things all the time forever, so when I found a recipe for ricotta stuffed shells with burrata and mushrooms in Nothing Fancy, it was one of the first I marked for testing in the Eating Normal kitchen. The introduction to the recipe gives you the option to make it however you like, as far as stuffed pastas go. I went for the shells per the title, but as I sat down to cook, I found myself wanting more.
The ricotta mixture is pretty vanilla. Ricotta, salt, pepper, cream, and parmesan. I want MORE than that in my stuffing, and it was hard to resist the temptation to crack a can of artichoke hearts or cut some herbs to throw in. This first run is always about the original recipe, so I told myself a hundred times that I could not start freestyling yet. Cooking is about freestyling a lot of the time, but not now.
Another barrier to this recipe is the sheer amount of good mushrooms called for. You don’t realize how much two pounds of mushrooms is until you go to pick it up. I must have cut and cleaned about four whole little tubs of mushrooms to get a mix that I liked to go on top of this sucker, but when they came out of the oven after their initial roast, I was pleased with them.
This is a multistep process that begins with those mushrooms and a little roasting. They’re snug in your oven while you mix your cheese and get your shells to al dente. The recipe is simple if a little labor intensive with cutting a ton of mushrooms and stuffing as many giant pasta shells as your little hands can shove into your baking dish.
The result, however, is a pretty fucking beautiful vegetarian plate of pasta. Like much of what Roman provides for your consideration, it looks great on the plate, in the dish, and on paper. There are, however, times where I felt like I needed to make personal adjustments to the recipes to find some more satisfaction. The ratings are as follows:
Accessibility: 4 out of 5
Ingredients are not hard to find, and I often had all of what I needed already in my pantry since I started stocking up for quarantine pretty early. This is a blessing as far as cookbooks go. The less special trips to the grocery store I have to make even in normal times, the better.
Difficulty: 2 out of 5
It’s easy to read, and the writer does well at guiding you through each individual step in the recipe. As always, you should read the whole recipe before you start cooking either way. There are enough difficult recipes in the book to challenge a veteran, but she also has a great deal of recipes to start you down a path to better cooking.
Originality: 3 out of 5
Nothing Fancy is the spiritual successor to Dining In in ever way, shape, or form. Roman leans on chicken recipes as much now as she did then, and that’s okay. The only difference is that many of these recipes are meant to be shared with a larger number of people. I would probably suggest you get one or the other unless you are, like me, a big fan.
An idea born in Normal, Illinois, Eating Normal hopes to chronicle the eating Experiences of a Red bird.
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