Big, bold flavors with a minimum of fuss
It's hard not to like the idea behind "Two Dudes, One Pan: Maximum Flavor from a Minimalist Kitchen." Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook (TV chefs and LA restaurateurs) devote the entire book to dishes that can be cooked in a single pan - a blatant appeal to anyone who dislikes washing pots. Since that includes practically everyone, the book's success is pretty much assured.
The idea is that it doesn't take a surgical array of tools to coax flavor out of a few ingredients. Choose the right ones and cook smart. The authors tend to focus on rollicking, hearty flavors that are hard to ignore. And they're not stingy with the bacon, either.
For the most part, this strategy pays off. It took no time at all for garlicky shrimp cakes with old-school tartar sauce to become our favorite shrimp cakes ever, crisp-coated in panko and generously dosed with thyme and parsley. Jon's sausage, broccolini, and pasta frittata - simple to whip together and satisfying as a complete meal - declares itself a house standby within a week. Not a word could be said in opposition to bacon-wrapped meatloaf, first among comfort foods, except that it is over too soon.
Because seared scallops, shiitake fricassee, and garlicky spinach is the recipe that inspired the book, I try it. It's the kind of fussy, time-sensitive dish that would normally result in a three-pan traffic jam. Shook and Dotolo manage to pull it off in one pan and the scallops' richness, the mushrooms' depth of flavor, and the spinach's balancing tartness remain distinct.
Lavender-lemon bars are made with 2 tablespoons of dried lavender, and if you've ever cooked with lavender you know just how much that is. Personally, I felt like I'd been beaned by a bar of bath soap.
Not every dish stood up and sang. Winter fennel salad with cinnamon vinaigrette has a subtle sweetness that jars with its shavings of pecorino. Ricotta and pancetta-stuffed pork chops are messy to stuff and cook, and surprisingly monotonous on the plate. Buttermilk-sage fried chicken seems like a great idea, but there is no trace of sage once the chicken is fried.
The authors' inventiveness also seems to wane in the vegetable department. Garlic-braised brothy escarole, garlicky long beans, and blistered zucchini skillet gratin are all serviceable and dish-economical, but none is a reason to give up your standard sides. The best of the lot is miso eggplant, roasted and broiled with a sweet miso paste (though the instructions are a trifle misleading).
Around the time I finished testing, I realized I'd been sold on a gimmick. These aren't one-pot meals, they're one-pot dishes. Nor do the authors include prep pans, which can be numerous. After all, I suddenly realized, I cook the majority of my regular dishes in one pan anyway - don't you? Still, many of the recipes are so good I don't mind being slightly conned. Maybe the next book will be "Two Dudes, One-Minute Clean-Up."
That I would like to see.