When it comes to developing recipes, Melissa Clark is a master. She’s penned over three-dozen cookbooks and has been reporting on food and writing recipes for The New York Times since 2007. Despite this, there is always room to explore new recipes, cooking methods, and tactics, which is how she challenged herself in her latest cookbook, Dinner In One, which is all about cooking using a single Dutch oven, sheet pan, or casserole dish.
“I want people to cook every night and enjoy it and for it not to be a huge stress,” Clark begins, noting that the stress of clean up often deters people from wanting to cook. “I really believe that if you like to cook, even just a little, you can find a way to make cooking dinner for your family pleasurable a few nights a week. I think it adds to your mental health.”
It certainly does for Clark, who considers food a loving form of communication that has enveloped her since childhood. “I grew up in a household where food was our love language,” she explains. “We cared about one another, and showed it by making a great meal or planning a celebration in a restaurant. When I’d come home from school, my mother would say, ‘How was your lunch?'”
It’s something that has stuck with Clark-the idea of expressing love and understanding using food-and she asks her husband daily what he had for lunch, much to his own exasperation. “He’ll say, ‘My day was fine, thanks, how was your day?'” she laughs. “Don’t you understand? Me asking what you had for lunch is asking you how you are.”
Clark has spent decades folded into food’s comforting arms and could not picture having a career anywhere else. “Food is so baked into my identity,” she says, pausing. “Look, I’m even using food metaphors! I can’t get away from it.”
If cooking using a singular piece of kitchenware seems too simple, and the results less exciting than multi-step recipes that involve every kitchen gadget possible, Clark is here to prove naysayers wrong. For her, flavour can easily be developed using a single sheet pan, as long as homecooks are seasoning well and being strategic about how they use their cookware. “I tell everybody in every recipe to mix the drippings into the vegetables because that’s all flavour and will take your dish up a notch and add so much,” she says.
For dishes with less drippy, schmaltzy components, it’s all about the toppings. Take Clark’s baked acorn squash, for example, inspired by a squash fondue. “I wanted to do a quicker version of that so you just have roasted squash, and then this cheese that’s melted into a sauce, which makes for a very soft-textured dish.” To spruce it up and add crunch, she tops the dish with almonds dusted with chilli pepper and finishes the squash with a drizzle of honey. “It’s sweet, hot, soft, crunchy. It’s just, to me, hitting all of those notes,” she says. “I love this dish so much.”
There are so many simple maneuvers that heighten any dish. Dusting the almonds in chilli pepper is one, but roasting the almonds would be effective, as well. Making a quick pickle, which adds a tang that cuts through the cheesy sweetness of the dish, is also fruitful. “It only takes 10 minutes and it creates an instant garnish that adds brightness and freshness,” Clark explains.
At the end of the day, Clark’s mission with Dinner In One is to help her readers find the joy in cooking. There is no intimidation in her cookbook, only encouragement and easy substitutions that make every recipe adaptable. “I’m always rejiggering new recipes and coming up with new combinations and trying to make everything easier,” she says. “Find the joy in cooking, because that’s what’s going to keep you coming back to the kitchen.”
Acorn Squash with Taleggio, Honey, and Aleppo Almonds Recipe
Yield: Serves 4
1 acorn squash (about 1kg), halved lengthwise, seeded, and cut into 1-inch wedges (no need to peel)
3 fresh thyme sprigs
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon good dark honey, such as buckwheat or chestnut, divided
¾ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
Freshly cracked black pepper
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar, plus more for drizzling
175g soft cow’s milk cheese with washed rind, such as taleggio, fontina, or
Brie, hand torn into small pieces (including rind)
⅓ cup coarsely chopped toasted, salted almonds
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper or Turkish pepper, such as Urfa, plus more as needed
Flaky sea salt
Bitter lettuces, such as arugula, radicchio, or frisée, or use baby lettuces instead
1. Heat the oven to 200ºF. Place squash and thyme sprigs in a shallow 2-quart casserole dish or an 11×7-inch baking dish.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, 2 tablespoons of the honey, the kosher salt, and a pinch of black pepper. Pour over the squash and toss to combine. Arrange the squash wedges so they are standing up like boats, with the skin side down (don’t worry if some fall over, it’s inevitable). Roast until the squash is soft and caramelized, 45-50 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, make the pickled shallots: In the same small bowl you just used (no need to wash it), combine the shallot, balsamic vinegar, remaining 1 teaspoon honey, and a pinch of kosher salt, and set aside for at least 30 minutes.
4. Once the squash is golden and tender, sprinkle the cheese onto the wedges (it’s okay if some cheese falls onto the baking dish). Sprinkle the squash with the almonds and Aleppo pepper, then grate the zest from half the lemon (or the whole lemon if yours is small) directly on top of everything. Bake until the cheese is melted, about 5 minutes.
5. Cut the naked lemon into quarters. When the squash is done, squeeze the juice from a lemon wedge all over it, then drizzle with balsamic vinegar and oil, and season with more Aleppo pepper, if you like, and flaky sea salt.
6. Serve the squash with lemon wedges, lettuces, and pickled shallots alongside and drizzled with more vinegar and oil.
Note: Other winter squash varieties can stand in for the acorn squash. Just slice them up (peeled or not, as you like), and then check on them often while they are roasting, since different varieties may need more or less time in the oven. Sweet potatoes, cut lengthwise into wedges, would also work well.
The cold weather in most parts of Australia coinciding with EOFY celebrations is the closest thing that we’ll get to snowy Christmas vibes. And if you’re in dire need of some festive cheer after the first six months of 2023, grab your ugly sweater and head to your nearest Red Rooster for Xmas in July deals.
From June 29 – July 31, 2023, Red Rooster is serving up free food items, a chance to win $10,000 or one of 10 merch packs valued at $400 and other fun prizes. All you have to do is sign up as a Red Royalty member and spend $5 on at a location near you or online.
Each week there’ll be new delicious deals and prizes to win. The week one deals have already dropped and they’re looking pretty tasty. You can get access to them via your Red Royalty account. The more you purchase, the more chances you have to win.
Spoiler alert: you can get 10 chicken nuggets for free, right now. Brb running to Red Rooster.