Food|It’s Not Entertaining. It’s Having People Over.
Alison Roman’s philosophy of cooking for others: Make it about unfussy food and unfussy vibes. Here’s a full menu for a meal.
There is no such thing as a perfect roast chicken, but this slow-roasted number with oregano and buttered tomatoes comes close.
“Roasting a nice chicken for people is such a good way to say ‘I love you.’” I recently found this note to myself scrawled on the back of an electric bill I had probably forgotten to pay, written one night after a dinner party. There was most likely a lot of wine that night (the best ideas always come from a lot of wine), which explains my poor penmanship and well-intentioned but fragmented deep chicken thought.
Not exactly poetry, but it does articulate my general feelings about having people over: Using your time and resources to cook for those you care about is the ultimate expression of love. And love is about expressing joy, not producing anxiety, so the other thing I want you to know is this: You can do this.
I have always been allergic to the word “entertaining,” which to me implies there’s a show, something performative at best and inauthentic at worst. But having people over? Well, that’s just making dinner, but with more people. Unfussy food, unfussy vibes and the permission to be imperfect, no occasion necessary (other than to eat, of course).
For anyone looking for tips on how to fold linen napkins or create floral arrangements, I am not your girl. I don’t have any clever hosting tips, and I will not teach you the secrets to mood lighting. But I will give you low-stress and high-impact recipes and ideas intended to make your life easier when you’re cooking for others.
I don’t love rules (mostly because I can’t seem to stick to any, even my own), but when I’m planning what to serve, I generally start by making sure I have something from each of these categories represented: snacks, salads, sides, mains and sweet things. Not all of these things must be present in order to have a complete experience, but using that general framework is a good place to start.
Here, we have four out of five, which I think we can still call a complete meal (but I think being a few minutes late is still punctual, so what do I know).
For snack time, there’s an easy-to-love dip that tastes a little like ranch dressing and is good with everything, whether it’s paired with raw vegetables (don’t call them crudités) or crackers or swooshed under roasted vegetables.
Moving on to the main event, we’ve got a salady side of almost spicy, anchovy-tossed white beans with lightly wilted escarole and a showering of Parm. It goes with just about anything, but is especially nice with my all-time favorite roast chicken: slow-roasted oregano chicken with buttered tomatoes. I don’t believe in perfect roast chickens, but this one comes as close as I’ve encountered.
Dessert is not essential, but it is nice to end the meal with a little sweet something, even if it takes 10 minutes to throw together using mostly pantry ingredients. Luckily, these tiny, salty, chocolaty cookies fit the bill.
This is not about living an aspirational life; it’s about living an attainable one. You know, the one that comes with not really having enough time to braise a whole pot of short ribs before people arrive (but you try anyway), accidentally burned cakes (just cut those parts off), and not enough chairs to seat everyone at once (sit on the floor?). It’s the life we live, it’s little bit messy, it’s nothing fancy — I’m sure you wouldn’t want it any other way.
This article is an excerpt from “Nothing Fancy: Unfussy Food for Having People Over” by Alison Roman (Clarkson Potter, 2019).
Recipes: Labneh Dip With Sizzled Scallions and Chile | Lemony White Beans With Anchovy and Parmesan | Slow-Roasted Oregano Chicken With Buttered Tomatoes | Tiny, Salty, Chocolaty Cookies