Cookbook Confidential: “Nothing Fancy,” by Alison Roman

   My friend Bernadette from New Classic Recipe ( came up with the wonderful idea to have an on-line cookbook club with some of her blog buddies. What a fun, and great way to choose a recipe or two from the books, cook them, and review them. Then, you decide if the book is worth you shelf space! Please go to her site for other reviews of this book!

   “Nothing Fancy: Unfussy Food for Having People Over,” by Alison Roman, © 2019, is a really delightful cookbook! While she maintains in large-type, bold print “This is not a book about entertaining,” it certainly maps out some really stress-free strategies for doing exactly that, in a most appealing way.

Let’s get rid of the anxiety around entertaining

      “Using your time and resources to feed people you care about is the ultimate expression of love,” she said in her introduction, adding that love is about expressing joy and not producing anxiety.

      Don’t worry if your plates don’t match, you burn the cake, or dinner is late by two hours, just cut off the burned part, put out some snacks, and pour some good wine. It’s all good is the message here, but somewhere along the line, the dishes look pretty darn mouth watering, even dare I say, fancy!


      The book is organized by Snacks, Salads, Sides, Mains, and After Dinner. It is beautifully photographed, and the recipes are easy to follow, using approachable ingredients. There are suggestions on what to serve with the dish, little ideas and thoughts.

Let’ try these

      I chose two recipes to make one evening when it was just my husband and myself and I wanted to fuss. The photograph of the Swordfish with Crushed Olives and Oregano looked inviting, and since we hadn’t had swordfish in a dog’s age, I decided that would be the feature on the plate.

Definitely a hit

      It was absolutely delicious; we both loved it. Yes, there’s a lot of olives in the recipe (two cups) and I thought they would be over-powering, but since much of the olive sauce is served on the side, it was perfect and we could adjust to what we wanted individually. I will definitely make this for company, it was really quick to make, less than a half hour, and beautiful, as well as delicious. 

       I served this with the Farro with Toasted Fennel, Lemon, and Basil and let me tell you, this was the best part of the dinner. So delicious, the texture of the farro and the lovely scents of fennel and lemon (two of my favorites) were beyond satisfying. We both ate quietly, with only the occasional grunts of happiness. I loved that she uses the entire fennel bulb, stems included, and I’m not sure why so many recipes call for cutting these off and sending them to the compost bin!

Even better as leftovers

      The best part of this recipe was the leftovers two nights later. I charred a leek, a small pepper, and a few mushrooms in my wok, added the leftovers, and served up a Fried Farro and Fennel that we ate all by itself for dinner, nothing else was needed, and it was great the next day for lunch in a whole wheat wrap, with a little extra of the leftover olive sauce from the swordfish dish.

Definite thumbs up!

      Should you buy this cookbook? I highly recommend it, and I now have it on my own crowded shelf. If you like to have folks over for an evening of stress-free cooking and eating, there are lots of great ideas here – from a marvelous roasted chicken to playing around with pastas and pizza, even sweet endings that can be made a day ahead. There’s something for everyone here, with built-in confidence for even the novice cook.

Swordfish with Crushed Olives and Oregano

  • 2 cups Castelvetrano olives (or similar mild green olives), pitted and crushed
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice
  • Leaves from 6 sprigs fresh oregano or marjoram
  • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 or 4 swordfish steaks (8 to 10 ounces each), 1 to 1¼ inches thick
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley leaves, tender leaves and stems
  • 2 lemons, halved, for serving

1. In a medium bowl, combine the olives, vinegar, half the oregano leaves and ¼ cup of the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and let it sit while you cook the swordfish.

2. Season the swordfish with salt and pepper. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a very large skillet over medium heat. Working in batches if necessary, add the swordfish steaks, making sure they’ve got a little space between one another. Cook until the steaks are a deep golden brown on one side, 5 to 7 minutes (mine were a little thinner, so 5 minutes did the trick). Using a fish spatula or regular spatula, flip the steaks and cook until they are equally golden brown on the other side, another 4 to 6 minutes.

3. Transfer the fish to a large serving platter or baking dish. Add the garlic to the skillet and cook until just softened, a minute or so. Add the olive mixture and remove from the heat.

4. Spoon some of the olive mixture over the swordfish and let it sit a few minutes to allow the sauce to marinate and really get to know that fish.

5. Scatter with the parsley and the remaining oregano, and serve with any extra olive mixture and the lemon halves for squeezing over.

      I served with the following recipe, and they were delightful together. Roman said “This is a very good and very polite grain salad recipe, maybe my favorite one in this book. It is not offensive to any other dish on the table and it’ll get along with any other vegetable or protein you’re serving. It has interesting things to say but doesn’t dominate the conversation.”

Farro with Toasted Fennel, Lemon, and Basil

  • 2 cups pearled or semi-pearled farro, barley, Israeli couscous, freekeh, or wheat berries. (I used Italian semi-pearled, which has more of the bran)
  • 1⁄4 cup olive oil
  • 6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp. fennel seeds 
  • 1 large fennel bulb, bulb and stem thinly sliced; fronds reserved 
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced, seeds removed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (optional) 
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves, torn 

      1. Cook grains according to package instructions. Drain and set aside. 

      2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and fennel seeds, and cook, stirring occasionally until garlic is just starting to brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the sliced fennel bulb and half the lemon and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fennel is totally tender and starting to caramelize, 8 to 10 minutes. 

      3. Add the farro to the skillet and season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, if using. Toss to coat and cook a few minutes, letting the farro absorb some of that garlicky, fennel-y olive oil. Add remaining lemon slices and chopped fennel stem and remove from heat. Transfer to a serving platter or bowl and top with the basil and fennel fronds. 

      Since this grain salad is so accommodating, feel free to make it your own by adding more herbs (basil! tarragon!), a grating of salty cheese (ricotta salata or pecorino), or handful of toasted and chopped nuts for texture. 

      DO AHEAD: Farro can be cooked up to 5 days ahead, covered, and refrigerated. The whole dish can be cooked 2 days ahead, but wait to add the fresh herbs and fennel fronds.

My conclusion, pretty fancy, stress free, and delicious. Deserves a spot on the book shelf.

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38 Comments Add yours

  1. CC says:

    Definitely a book I’d be interested in thank you for posting regarding it, I love trying new dishes!

    1. Thanks! I was delighted with this one.

      1. CC says:

        Me too 😁

  2. Bernadette says:

    I will definitely make this for dinner in July. I will probably substitute tuna for sword fish. Your plating is beautiful.

    1. Thank you Bernie! It was effortless and fun!

  3. An interesting cookbook and I like this – “Using your time and resources to feed people you care about is the ultimate expression of love,” she said in her introduction, adding that love is about expressing joy and not producing anxiety.”

    1. So true! Feeding your family and friends shouldn’t be stressful! It doesn’t have to be perfect, just offered with love.

  4. NativeNM says:

    I can see your guests really enjoying this new dish! Lovely plating and so many great flavors!

    1. Thanks Jan! It was delightful, and so very easy. Highly recommended.

  5. Christy B says:

    I am definitely all about stress-free cooking (or anything else that won’t stress me out). I have never had swordfish, can you believe that?! Does it taste like salmon or trout (two of my faves)?

    1. It has a mild flavor all its own, but not as flaky as most white fish. Probably closer to halibut. When fresh, and not overcooked, it has a lovely buttery softness.

      1. Christy B says:

        Ohhh swordfish sounds wonderful. I look forward to trying it one day soon!

      2. I hope you like it as much as we did!

  6. Carolyn Page says:

    I loved reading this, Dorothy; I can almost taste all of the ingredients through your words.
    I can only imagine how delightful was the ‘actual’ food! 😊

    1. It was really good Carolyn! I’ll definitely make it again.

  7. I hardly ever buy paper cookbooks anymore, because there is so much online and I hardly ever follow a recipe exactly anymore anyway. These are both very nice recipes though. The swordfish is a classic flavor combination from Italy and the farro is a lot like a pasta dish that I make regularly. I wouldn’t call it toasted fennel though, from the preparation I’d say braised or caramelized.

    1. I adored the farro dish, and I used my favorite Italian variety. I’d make this again (with my own tweaks) just to have the fried farro from the leftovers!

  8. Nancy says:

    What a delight… your meal and the cookbook! I think I want this cookbook!

    1. It would be a good choice ! Thank you!

  9. Jenna says:

    Your presentation is beautiful!

  10. Mary says:

    We enjoy most any fish dish so this is a win. Not normal to have Farro on hand – don’t really know why because we would enjoy it. So on the whole this would be a nice light dish to enjoy any evening also with company.
    Lovely Dorothy. :))

    1. Thank you Mary! It was really tasty, and pretty easy to put together. So lovely, it could easily be company food.

  11. nancyc says:

    This sounds like a great cookbook, and I love that it’s all about “unfussy”! 🙂 The recipes you made look delicious! 🙂

    1. That’s what I liked about it too Nancy, unfussy, the recipes present beautifully.

  12. Great cookbook idea from Bernadette and your food looks scrumptious!

    1. Thank you! This was was fun!

  13. terrie gura says:

    I love every single thing about this meal you made, Dorothy! It sounds like this cookbook has some important lessons for me. Your note about “don’t worry if dinner is late by two hours” reminded me of a time when Les and I had invited friends over for a Spanish themed meal, and the salt-roasted branzino I was making was taking literally FOREVER in the oven. It hadn’t occurred to me that three fish in one salt pack might need a time adjustment. I was panicked until I jokingly said, “did I say ‘Spanish’ meal? I meant tapas!” I topped off everyone’s wine and went ahead and served the patatas brava while we waited for the fish! We ate in stages and all was well, but for real, any kind of entertaining stresses me out, even though I love it.

    1. That’s a great story Terrie, and you did exactly what she would advise, you turned the meal around and made it work. I’m sure your guests remember a great time, with a story, and some wonderful food and companionship!

  14. Suzassippi says:

    First of all, I have missed you while traveling, but I did talk about you to my cousins while I was helping out and cooking! You are now famous in Brenham, Texas. This looks and sounds deliciously different and I will definitely try this one and check out the cookbook. Probably goes without saying, but I love that dish for the meal–and of course, it is perfect for the food!

    1. Ah, thank you so much my friend!!! I’m sure you had a wonderful time with your family! It’s a fun recipe, and I was happy to review the book!

  15. Gorgeous and healthy dishes! You’ve made me hungry! I simply love fennel even on its own 😋

    1. Thank you! I too love fennel, raw or cooked, and all the little fronds and the seeds. Yum!

  16. Such good advice, “Don’t worry if your plates don’t match, you burn the cake, or dinner is late by two hours, just cut off the burned part, put out some snacks, and pour some good wine. It’s all good is the message here, but somewhere along the line, the dishes look pretty darn mouth watering, even dare I say, fancy!” I love that! Hugs, C

    1. CC says:


    2. I said the same thing Cheryl! It all looked pretty fancy to me, especially the ficc so he’s I made! Definitely company worthy.

  17. academy252 says:

    I have been looking for a good recipe using farro… this just might be the ticket!

    1. Oh, it was really good!

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