Our first Thanksgiving together, my now-husband, then-medical-resident-boyfriend worked a shift during the family feast. I made it up to him with Melissa Clark’s one-pan, one-pot Thanksgiving for two. The recipe went off flawlessly and made the constraints of my tiny apartment kitchen feel more like a game-show challenge than a life-or-death struggle. Clark’s 2022 cookbook Dinner in One makes the same promise about 100 different meals.
The game-show, can-it-be-done? energy made the Thanksgiving method fun, but could feel tedious on a Tuesday night. Is “one-pot” a theme or a gimmick? Does this constraint serve the cook and the recipe, or is it arbitrary, artificial and unnecessarily limiting?
For example, several recipes in this book call for spiced chickpeas to be sautéed before a bed of grains or vegetables in our one glorified pan. It’s much easier and more comfortable to introduce a second pan while the chickpeas cool a bit than to remove them from the hot skillet with a slotted spoon, carefully wipe the same skillet out, and proceed. In cases like these, the one-dish challenge is counterproductive and easily ignored.
Other recipes seem to miss the spirit of One Pot by involving time-consuming prep, gobbling up whatever time you saved by not washing a second dish. The Spiced Chicken and Couscous Soup calls for slicing or dicing leeks, cilantro, garlic, carrots, celery, fennel, rutabaga, chicken thighs and lime. Great for nutrition and flavor, but a sink full of sticky cutting boards and dirty knives hardly leaves you feeling like you came out ahead, simply because you only used a Dutch oven.
With those caveats, the recipes in Dinner in One are generally easy and tasty. I made Spicy Stir-Fried Pork with Green Beans and Tomatoes twice in one week (not counting our rice cooker as a separate pot), and my husband has developed an enthusiasm for the sheet-pan Full English Breakfast (conspicuously lacking beans but making it up with roasted mushrooms). Spaghetti with Tuna, Capers and Cherry Tomatoes recently impressed a pescatarian houseguest, and Green Shakshuka satisfied my carnivorous husband for dinner. The recipes here are easily adaptable with seasonal or even frozen produce — and several, like Meatball Sub Sandwiches and Cheesy Baked Pasta, are obvious enough for a kid’s palate. Notable, too, that Clark’s recipes are hearty and nutritionally complete. In a world of “girl dinners,” Melissa Clark is a woman.
Dinner in One’s publication was famously delayed by a storm near the Azores: a shipping container loaded with the first printing fell overboard. If it were recovered, sealed and intact, by explorers centuries from now, we could be proud of what it says about home cooking in America today — and I imagine our descendants enjoying the recipes just as much.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s November 2023 World edition.