You may or may not know Alison Roman, but her influence in the world of home cooking is such that you have probably eaten some of her food. Alison is a food writer and recipe developer, author of gone-viral recipes whose cult status is epitomised by the use of the definitive article ‘the’ before their name, such as the stew, the cookies, the chicken.
Alison’s approach to food is unfussy, letting key ingredients do the heavy work, using simple but clever techniques, modern in its non-cohesive harmony of pairings such as fat, juicy green olives and bright, bitter turmeric in a sheet pan chicken recipe where the vinegar and oil sauce gets emulsified straight in the sheet; slivers of marinated anchovies are piled atop shatteringly crispy potato chips (yes, I do mean crisps, and I like an alliteration, but ‘crispy crisps’ verges on silliness). Most recipes, even one for roast potatoes, involve a generous dose of clean and bright white vinegar. Her food is at the same time very simple and complex, rich with full-fat dairy and just-green olive oil, salty with anchovies and pickled lemons, fresh with just-cooked greens and pickled chillis.
But there is more to my love of Alison Roman than her recipes: it’s her red-lipstick-wearing, natural-wine drinking, strikingly beautiful persona; her printed silk blouses tucked into high-waist jeans, her small New York kitchen cluttered with utensils and plants, her genuine surprise and shame when she realises her fridge is packed and getting an ingredient out will be a little like a game of Jenga. There is something fun and soothing about watching her flap because every square inch of her kitchen is already covered in bowls and sheets of food; she is funny and witty and a little grumpy when she says that pumpkin pies are horrible, and so is mash (she is wrong on both counts, of course, but it doesn’t matter). Alison truly makes me want to invite people over, bake some crispy chicken thighs, serve jewel-red salmon roe on fluffy potatoes and drink dry martinis until our tongues feel a little fuzzy. She inspires me to take a bright yellow lemon loaf to a friend’s house, the crackling sugared top decorated with soft and caramelised lemon slices; and makes me cross London with a tub of labnah and a crispy chilli oil in my bag.
Her new book, Nothing Fancy, is beautiful, with overly-saturated, brash pictures of creamy tahini dips and close-ups a deeply-browned pot of short ribs, the edges dark and caramelised; bright green-and-red pots of flat beans in a pool of vivid harissa oil; thinly sliced pale green courgette dusted in parmesan shavings, adorned with tiny, tender leaves of basil; Roman’s hands, the nails always a fiery red, carefully placing anchovies on crisps, her equally red ribbed top just in the frame. Its tone is confident but colloquial, like a note your friend may have left you when you asked for her chicken with buttered tomatoes recipe. More importantly, every recipe is as inviting and achievable as the next. No list of ingredients too long, no technique too daunting: every recipe is case of something being more than the sum of its parts.
I have cooked many recipes from this book; meatballs bound by only thick Greek yogurt, light and springy in their late-summer broth; a lemony, super simple cake which comes together in minutes and looks like a centrepiece; and these wonderful, wonderful creamed greens, fresh and heavy, simple and indulgent.
As I heated up the cream with a little nutmeg and a lot of crushed garlic, it transformed into something butter-yellow and thick, and tasted like the most complex French sauce, except it was nothing but reduced cream, left to simmer gently for fifteen minutes; I knew I was onto a winner. You can make this with any greens you want: spring greens are a great choice as they are plentiful in this season and generally locally sourced in the UK. I also made a small adjustment, substituting creme fraiche with Greek yogurt – partly because that’s what I am likely to have at home, and partly because it makes me feel better about my consumption of cream.
Traditionally, creamed greens are a side, but inspired by my other chef crush, I love any dairy-forward sauce with pasta, so it makes a luxurious pasta sauce, one that doesn’t feel out of place on a Sunday table, either on a prettily dressed table, or in a sturdy bowl to be eaten on the sofa.
Pasta with creamed greens
2 tablespoons olive oil
250ml of double cream
125g of Greek yohurt (unsweetened)
about 500g of greens: spinach or spring greens work well, chopped
4 garlic cloves
a pinch of nutmeg
300g of pasta of your choice
parmesan (optional, if you felt like two types of dairy was not enough)
Bring a pot of water to the boil. In a saucepan, heat up the cream with the crushed garlic cloves, some salt and pepper, and nutmeg. Let this simmer gently for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until reduced by about half. It will be very thick and take on a yellow hue.
Meanwhile, heat up the olive oil in a large plan and add the copped greens in batches, letting them wilt as not to overcrowd the pan. Add salt and pepper and stir until they are soft and the water is absorbed, about 5-7 minutes.
Once the cream mixture is ready, add it to the cooked greens, together with the yogurt. Taste and season with salt and pepper again, and let it cook until the water evaporates again, about 3-5 minutes. In the meantime, generously salt the pasta water and cook the pasta as per instructions on the packet; you may want to take it out a couple of minutes earlier as it will finish cooking in the sauce.
Once the pasta is ready, drain and add to the cream and greens mixture until each pasta shape is well coated and glistening.
You can serve with some grated parmesan.