In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite

150 Recipes and Stories About the Food You Love


By Melissa Clark

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“Melissa Clark’s recipes are as lively and diverse as ever, drawing on influences from Marrakech to Madrid to the Mississippi Delta. She has her finger on the pulse of how and what America likes to eat.” — Tom Colicchio, author of Craft of Cooking

“A Good Appetite,” Melissa Clark’s weekly feature in the New York Times Dining Section, is about dishes that are easy to cook and that speak to everyone, either stirring a memory or creating one. Now, Clark takes the same freewheeling yet well-informed approach that has won her countless fans and applies it to one hundred and fifty delicious, simply sophisticated recipes.

Clark prefaces each recipe with the story of its creation-the missteps as well as the strokes of genius-to inspire improvisation in her readers. So when discussing her recipe for Crisp Chicken Schnitzel, she offers plenty of tried-and-true tips learned from an Austrian chef; and in My Mother’s Lemon Pot Roast, she gives the same high-quality advice, but culled from her own family’s kitchen.

Memorable chapters reflect the way so many of us like to eat: Things with Cheese (think Baked Camembert with Walnut Crumble and Ginger Marmalade), The Farmers’ Market and Me (Roasted Spiced Cauliflower and Almonds), It Tastes Like Chicken (Garlic and Thyme-Roasted Chicken with Crispy Drippings Croutons), and many more delectable but not overly complicated dishes.

In addition, Clark writes with Laurie Colwin-esque warmth and humor about the relationship that we have with our favorite foods, about the satisfaction of cooking a meal where everyone wants seconds, and about the pleasures of eating. From stories of trips to France with her parents, growing up (where she and her sister were required to sit on unwieldy tuna Nicoise sandwiches to make them more manageable), to bribing a fellow customer for the last piece of dessert at the farmers’ market, Melissa’s stories will delight any reader who starts thinking about what’s for dinner as soon as breakfast is cleared away. This is a cookbook to read, to savor, and most important, to cook delicious, rewarding meals from.


Chapter 1
Waffling toward Dinner

The first best thing about adulthood is being able to order three desserts for two people. The second is having breakfast for dinner whenever the urge for pancakes pulls harder than pork chops.

Breakfast for dinner has a lot of advantages over dinner for dinner. For one, it's relatively quick and easy to make, this being a prerequisite for anyone not fully caffeinated who is playing with fire. For another, you can probably make it with the staples in your fridge and cupboards, so no advance planning is generally necessary. And if you like breakfast and wish you were more awake when you ate it, it's plain ideal.

One thing about breakfast for dinner is that it's best made for an intimate number of people, preferably one. (I'm not talking about brunch, which, as a meal usually made for company or ordered in restaurants, is another matter entirely.) Eating cheese-topped scrambled eggs by yourself with the newspaper and a glass of wine will heal all the evils of your day, and you can assemble it in about six minutes flat. This makes it particularly appropriate for starving people who work late, or at least procrastinate their dinner making until waiting for takeout seems an eternity.

As opposed to dinner, breakfast has fewer moving parts to keep track of. Sure, there's the banana to cut up for the oatmeal, and the maple syrup and butter to slather on top of French toast. But it's nowhere near as complex as mincing garlic, chopping onions and vegetables, and sautéing them all to a perfect gold before adding canned tomatoes or fish or what have you. Like stretch jeans and dim lighting, breakfast is forgiving.

As much as I have the biggest sweet tooth on this side of adulthood, I still prefer savory breakfasts for dinner to sweet ones (this does not apply to morning-time breakfasts—those I prefer sweet). This is because savory foods go better with red wine, and that's what I want to drink with my dinner most of the time (though I can envision bourbon complementing French toast if you go easy on the syrup).

Naturally, of all the savory breakfast foods that are brilliantly adaptable for dinner, eggs top the list, followed closely by bacon and sausage, and rather distantly by bagels and lox (unless you are serving Champagne, in which case they supersede even the eggs). I won't even mention home fries, which I would rather never eat again any time of the day.

Of course the relegating of eggs to breakfast is a uniquely American phenomenon (egg salad and deviled eggs excepted). Some of France's most celebrated dinner dishes involve eggs, perhaps cooked in red wine with mushrooms and bacon (oeufs en meurette), dolloped with homemade mayonnaise (a precursor of deviled eggs), made into omelets with cheese and herbs, or any of the other forty-five preparations that Larousse Gastronomique puts forth. In Italy, it's the rare and spoiled aficionado who eats scrambled eggs with truffles or a giant, egg-stuffed raviolo in the dawning hours.

And don't forget that the obverse also applies. Dinner for breakfast (as we Americans would see it) is the norm in much of the rest of the world, which happily awakens to grilled salmon, rice and beans, or big bowls of spicy noodle soup with nary an egg, or pancake, or piece of toast in sight.

I suppose my guiding philosophy is to eat what you want when you want it, and if that means dumplings or truffles at 9:00 A.M., and eggs Benedict at midnight, then so be it. After all, isn't that what being an adult is all about?


A curious universal that Americans share with one another to the exclusion of the rest of the world is our penchant for cold cereal for dinner.

Even if you haven't doused peanut butter Captain Crunch with milk since college, unless you were brought up in a faraway land like Europe or Mars, chances are you've fixed yourself a nice big bowl of Cheerios, plopped in front of the TV, and eaten a meal that made you happy.

What's odd is, given this predilection for cold cereal, hot cereal never really entered the picture. Rice Krispies with CSI? But of course. Farina with Project Runway? Maybe not.

The exception is grits and her first cousin on the Italian side, polenta. Served soft and steaming, with plenty of salt and pepper and maybe some grated cheese, a bowl of buttery polenta or grits is exactly what to have for dinner when you're hungry for something more immediate and comforting than takeout, and more filling and savory than Wheaties. It's just right when you want to cook something for yourself and your family that's a little bit special, a lot delicious, but still easy enough to do without pulling down the mandoline/Silpat/juicer from on top of the cabinets.

A dish like buttered, cheesy polenta, perhaps topped with olive oil–fried eggs and served with sautéed Swiss chard, will satisfy your cravings, whether you eat it in front of the TV, or even better at the table, with a loved one and/or a nice glass of blood-warming red wine.

For this dish, you can use either coarsely ground polenta or grits; essentially, they are the same thing, both made from ground dried corn, though some people will tell you polenta is milled finer than grits, or vice versa. Either way, look for stone-ground, which is coarser and more flavorful. Unless you're truly pressed for time, avoid anything labeled "instant," a euphemism for quick and pasty.

Once you've got your ground corn, you can cook it in water, broth, or even—as a hedonistic friend of mine does before grating in at least a pound of Cheddar and a fist-size lump of butter—in whole milk. Recipes will tell you that you need to patiently stand over the pot, dutifully stirring the cornmeal, or it will clump up in protest. I've never found this to be true. A brisk stir with a whisk every couple of minutes will correct any lumpy inclinations and give you freedom to make the rest of the meal.

One caveat: The worst burn I've ever gotten—far more painful than the time I grabbed the handle of the cast-iron pan that had just been taken out of the oven—was from an eruption of molten polenta landing with a splat on my wrist. Stand back, stir thoroughly, then step away from the stove and go do something else in the kitchen. Or partially cover the pot, leaving enough of a gap so the steam can escape.

If you like greens, you could sauté a bunch of Swiss chard with loads of garlic and a jolt of red pepper flakes, which will break up the creamy lusciousness of the polenta.

While the polenta is bubbling and raining yellow on the stovetop, rinse the Swiss chard leaves, gather some into a stack, lop off the stems with a knife, and slice them up. Cook them while the polenta simmers.

If you don't like or have Swiss chard, any green vegetable will do. Broccoli rabe or broccoli, kale, spinach, collards, Brussels sprouts, green beans, or even radicchio—just something to act as a bright-tasting, healthful, guilt-reducing counterpoint to all that melting butter and cheese (you could also cut the amounts of butter and cheese if your guilt runs deep).

As a final garnish, there is the crowning pièce de résistance that in my mind elevates this dish way above Froot Loops. That's the olive oil–fried eggs.

I got the idea to top one breakfast item with another and serve it for supper from the Spanish, who, in their great culinary wisdom, are apt to give you garlicky potatoes with fried eggs at 10:00 P.M. And of course grits with fried eggs and biscuits (and/or ham, bacon, red-eye gravy) might just be one of the great meals of all time no matter when you serve it forth.

Cooked sunny-side up, the runny egg yolk coats the greens and cornmeal mush like a golden, velvety sauce. It picks up and carries the flavors of cheese, garlic, and pepper, imbuing each tender mouthful. If you cook the eggs over high heat, letting the whites get brown and crisp around the edges, they'll shatter when you bite, adding crunch to the sea of softness.

Preparing it isn't at all tricky, but it does take more effort than pouring milk over cold cereal. One undisputable fact: Polenta with sautéed greens and olive oil–fried eggs pairs much, much better with red wine than cornflakes, and to my mind, that's reason enough to make it tonight.

Buttery Polenta with Parmesan and Olive Oil–Fried Eggs

Time: 25 minutes

Serves 4

4½ cups water or low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth

1½ cups polenta (not quick cooking), coarse cornmeal, or corn grits

3/4 teaspoon salt

2 to 4 tablespoons unsalted butter

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus additional

1-ounce chunk Parmesan cheese (or substitute ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

8 large eggs

Coarse sea salt, for garnish

1. In a large pot, bring the water or broth to a simmer. Stir in the polenta and salt. Simmer the polenta, stirring frequently but not constantly, until thickened to taste, about 10 to 20 minutes. Stir in the butter and pepper and cover the pot to keep warm.

2. Using a vegetable peeler, slice the cheese chunk into slivers. Or grate the cheese on the largest holes of a box grater.

3. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil until very hot. Fry 4 of the eggs until the edges are crispy and the yolks are still runny. Repeat with the remaining oil and eggs.

4. Pile the polenta into bowls, top with the cheese and then the fried eggs. Garnish with sea salt and more pepper, and serve.

Garlicky Swiss Chard

Time: 15 minutes

Serves 4

2 bunches Swiss chard, stems removed

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

Large pinch crushed red pepper flakes


1. Stack the chard leaves on top of each other (you can make several piles) and slice them into ¼-inch strips.

2. Heat the oil in a very large skillet (or use a soup pot). Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté for 30 seconds, until the garlic is fragrant. Stir in the chard, coating it in oil. Cover the pan and let cook for about 2 minutes, until wilted. Stir and cook for 2 minutes longer, uncovered. Season with salt. Serve in the same bowl as the polenta, if desired.


I made this variation on my polenta and egg recipe when I spied a package of buckwheat polenta at Bklyn Larder, a gourmet market near my home. I had heard about buckwheat polenta but never tried it, and the jaunty striped package beckoned from its shelf.

The powder inside was golden flecked with brown—a mixture of cornmeal and ground buckwheat, not all buckwheat as I had assumed. The directions were the same as for regular polenta and it cooked up in minutes. Meanwhile, I sliced some radicchio to sauté with garlic in place of Swiss chard.

As I was slicing, the red and white ruffles of radicchio reminded me of red cabbage, which in turn made me think of German food, and naturally conjured bacon. So I decided to add some to the pan and serve the crunchy, salty bits as a garnish. Plus then I could sauté the radicchio in the leftover bacon fat, which, when seasoned with a little red wine vinegar, would be an excellent way to tame the bitter vegetable.

I suppose that to keep faith with my original recipe I could have also cooked an egg in the extra bacon fat. But I literally had other fish to fry, namely two pink-edged little bass fillets. I dusted them with cayenne, fried them in bacon fat, and garnished them with cilantro; that was all they needed.

It made a heartier meal than the egg version, and richer, too, from the bacon and the buckwheat, which added a haunting earthiness to the sweet corn polenta. Regular polenta will work, too, if you don't feel like hunting down the buckwheat kind. You can also serve the bacon-sautéed radicchio on its own as a side dish. Or scramble it into eggs for a meal anyone would be happy to wake up—or wind down—to.

Buckwheat Polenta with Bacon-Sautéed Radicchio

Time: 20 minutes

Serves 2

1 cup buckwheat polenta (or substitute regular polenta)

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus additional

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Freshly ground black pepper

4 strips bacon, cubed

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 heads radicchio, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced

½ teaspoon red wine vinegar

1. In a large pot, bring 3 cups of water to a simmer. Stir in the polenta and salt. Simmer, stirring frequently, until the polenta is thickened to taste, about 5 minutes. Stir in the butter and pepper to taste and cover the pot to keep warm.

2. In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon until brown and crisp and transfer to a paper towel–lined plate to drain.

3. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the grease from the bacon pan (you can save it to sauté fish or eggs if you like) and add the garlic. Cook for 30 seconds, until fragrant, then add the radicchio. Decrease the heat to low and cook, stirring frequently, until tender and wilted, about 5 minutes. Stir in the vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Serve the radicchio over the polenta, garnished with the bacon.


In my fantasy life living on a farm, autumn would be dedicated to "putting things up." I'd pickle, can, preserve, dry, and freeze all of the waning garden bounty before it succumbed to the first frost. Then in winter, I'd make entire meals out of the pantry, reveling in the likes of black currant jelly and pickled green tomatoes lined up on neat, well-organized shelves.

In my Brooklyn reality, however, my garden gets just enough sun to nourish the few pots of herbs I try to remember to water. And the pantry is cramped and permanently overflowing with a chaotic assortment of who knows what. But that doesn't stop me from preserving my harvest to the utmost. Which means come October, I make pesto for the freezer.

Over the years, I've played with different kinds of pesto, blending the nuts and herbs into baroque combinations like black mint–pecan, lemon verbena–parsley-cashew, and lovage-pistachio. And year after year, those elaborate concoctions sit in the freezer until I've gone through the entire batch of classic basil and pine nut. Because as good as the more experimental kinds may be, there are few things that brighten up a dreary winter's evening more than the grassy summer scent of basil and garlic emanating from a bowl of steaming-hot pasta.

So this year I decided to dry the lemon verbena and mint for tea, and focus all my pesto energies on basil. And so one recent sunny Sunday morning, I piled the freshly picked sprigs into a satisfying mountain on the counter.

Of all the pesto research I've done, the key, command the books, is to make sure to use Genovese basil (a delicate type with diminutive leaves), Italian pignoli nuts, Ligurian olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino cheese, and good sea salt. Of the five, I had exactly two on hand, the cheese and the salt. And since I wasn't planning on using cheese (pesto freezes better without it, then you can add some when you defrost if you like), I was down to one. My basil was the regular, floppy-leafed kind that seems to grow well on my deck, my olive oil from Tuscany, and while I wasn't sure of the exact provenance of my pine nuts, for $7 a pound, my guess was somewhere in China rather than the Mediterranean.

Nevertheless, I forged on, using the food processor rather than the mortar and pestle my sources insist on. It wasn't because I was lazy . . . okay, it was because I was lazy. Pounding enough pesto for four by hand is all well and good, but to make enough to last me until spring was a test of endurance I was unwilling to endure.

Once you've decided to forgo a mortar and pestle, making pesto is fast and very simple: You put all your ingredients into a food processor and press Start. About five minutes later, a jumble of bright green leaves, beige nuts, and dark oil becomes an emerald emulsion with a heady, herbal, garlicky fragrance that immediately fills the kitchen and makes your stomach growl, especially if it's around dinnertime.

I thought about boiling up some linguine and making myself a hearty meal of pasta with pesto. But since it was Sunday, brunch seemed more appropriate, even if it was nearing 6:00 P.M. And it would give me an excuse to make another of my pesto staples, softly scrambled eggs with pesto and cheese.

Scrambled eggs with pesto and cheese is a dish I've been making for ages, varying the cheeses to match the contents of my refrigerator. I've used Cheddar, Gruyère, goat cheese, and even cream cheese with great success. On that day, the fridge yielded up some fresh ricotta that I had left over from a cake.

After scrambling the eggs until they were barely set with large, quivering curds, I streaked in some freshly made pesto and dotted the top with ricotta. The ricotta, normally sweet and creamy, tasted even more so next to the salty, pungent pesto, and made a dense, luscious foil for the cloudlike eggs. It was a perfect supper that, thanks to my pesto stash, I'd get to enjoy all winter long.

Last of the Summer Pesto

Time: 15 minutes

Makes about 1 cup

½ cup pine nuts

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

4 ounces basil, stemmed (about 5 cups of leaves)

2 to 3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

½ teaspoon salt, or to taste

1. Heat a small skillet over medium heat and add the pine nuts. Toast them, shaking the pan and stirring, until golden brown all over, about 3 minutes. Pour the nuts onto a plate to cool.

2. Combine all the ingredients in a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Use immediately, store in the refrigerator for up to a week, or freeze for up to 6 months.

Soft Scrambled Eggs with Pesto and Fresh Ricotta

Time: 5 minutes

Serves 2

1 tablespoon butter

5 large eggs

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Pinch salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons pesto, plus more to taste

1/3 cup fresh ricotta cheese, broken up into clumps

1. Melt the butter in a medium-size skillet, preferably well seasoned or nonstick.

2. Meanwhile, beat the eggs with Parmesan cheese, if using, salt, and pepper. Pour the eggs into the pan, swirl, and turn the heat to low. Using a heatproof rubber spatula, scramble the eggs until very loosely set and still runnier than you like them. Remove the pan from the heat and drizzle the pesto on top of the eggs. Give the eggs one more gentle scramble—enough to finish cooking them and to distribute the pesto somewhat. The pesto should still be in dark green streaks, not homogenously combined with the eggs. Scatter the ricotta on top of the eggs and drizzle with more pesto if desired. Serve at once.


I cannot remember the first time I ever ate dim sum, but I can remember the first time I ate chicken feet, boiled in the kosher soup my grandmother made for Friday night dinner. They were spread out on a china plate, pale and bloated next to the border of tiny pink rosebuds. It never occurred to me not to partake. There was no surrounding taboo, no disgust at consuming something so obviously fowl. I just ate them, and they were good: soft, fatty, and salty, as perfect a child's finger food as canned jumbo black olives that fit like snug hats on tiny fingertips.

Eating them was fun. First, I bit off the center pad, which detached in a sinewy lump. That was the prime morsel, the filet mignon of a chicken talon. Then I nibbled the cartilage running up the leg. The toes, which were the most fun, went last, one claw at a time sucked bare and dry. Then, as daintily as an eight-year-old might manage, I spat out the bones. By the time I went through this elaborate technique with each foot (usually two or three), dinner was over, and I was excused from eating stringy pot roast over the protests of my grandmother, who, though legally blind, could somehow still see the uneaten slabs of dry meat on my plate.

Friday night dinners were abandoned when my grandmother died; I was twelve. Since my parents didn't make chicken soup with feet, I didn't have my favorite dish again until college, when my family starting making a habit of going for dim sum.

We started meeting in Chinatown for convenience. It was a perfect halfway point between Flatbush (in Brooklyn), where my parents live, and Morningside Heights (on the Upper West Side of Manhattan), where I went to school. Since as a college student I certainly wasn't going to waste a weekend night having dinner with my parents, a weekend breakfast of dim sum seemed just right.

And thus the ritual began. One Sunday a month, I woke to my alarm at 8:30, and rode the subway down to Canal Street to meet my parents for breakfast. While in China dim sum is mostly thought of as a teatime meal or snack, in New York's Chinatown, the crowds start early. By 11:00 every seat is taken, and restaurants remain teeming and jostling until at least 2:00. My parents insisted that the freshest and best dim sum was to be had early in the morning, so we always met around 10:00, finishing before the legions descended.

Having dim sum became the time I spent with my family, and it remains a cornerstone to this day. It was at dim sum that I introduced my parents to my more serious boyfriends, putting them through what I called "trial by dim sum" to see if they could stomach spicy pork tripe, salt-fried squid, or beef dumplings before noon. I fell in love with my first husband, an otherwise prim Swede, as I watched him gleefully gnaw the web between stewed ducks' feet and bite the heads off shrimp. Years later, I broke the news of the divorce to my parents while poking at fried taro cakes with chopsticks, unable to eat.

Fortunately, a loss of appetite is the exception to my dim sum experiences, which is important since the food never stops. At dim sum, dishes come quickly in what seems like a never-ending succession: deep-fried crab balls, tripe, congee, green scallion dumplings, shrimp rice noodles, fried eggplant, snails in black bean sauce, mussels with chiles, and soft, slightly sweet pork buns—a favorite with friends who would rather be at brunch.

I drag people to dim sum as often as possible. With a crowd, we can sample a wide variety of little dishes as they pass on steel carts, pushed by uniformed women who announce their cargo in Cantonese as they go from table to table. It occasionally surprises them when I call for chicken feet—served not pale and bloated like at my grandmother's house, but rich and brown and braised in a spicy sauce. I still eat them according to the technique I developed as a child, which I hope to be able to teach to my daughter during dim sum one day. Of course when she grows up, she may abandon dim sum in favor of some other ritual—like Friday night dinner. Luckily, the technique will still serve her well.

And in the meantime, there are always dumplings.

Cheaters Pork and Ginger Dumplings

Time: 35 minutes

Makes 24

1 tablespoon soy sauce, plus additional, for dipping

1 teaspoon sesame oil

¼ pound shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and caps wiped clean

½ pound ground pork

1 egg white

2 scallions, finely chopped

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon freshly grated gingerroot

1 teaspoon mirin or sherry

Pinch kosher salt

Large pinch ground white pepper

24 (3-inch) round gyoza or wonton wrappers, or (4-inch) square wrappers, cut into 3-inch rounds

Bok choy, cabbage, or lettuce leaves, for lining the steamer (optional)

1. Preheat the broiler. Arrange an oven rack six inches from the heat source.

2. In a bowl, whisk together the soy sauce and sesame oil. Place the mushroom caps on a baking sheet. Brush both sides lightly with the soy sauce mixture (reserve what's left for the pork mixture). Broil the mushrooms, turning once halfway through, until golden brown and almost dry to the touch, about 8 minutes. Let cool slightly; finely chop the mushrooms.

3. In a large bowl, combine the remaining soy mixture, mushrooms, pork, egg white, scallions, cornstarch, ginger, mirin or sherry, salt, and pepper; mix well.

4. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Place a gyoza or wonton wrapper on a clean work surface. Brush the tops of the wrappers lightly with water. Place a scant tablespoon of pork mixture in the center of the wrapper. Pinch the edges up around the filling, leaving the top open. Transfer the finished dumpling to the lined baking sheet; repeat with the remaining dumplings.

5. Fill a large pot with ½ inch water. Place a steamer basket inside the pot (it should just fit); line the basket with bok choy, cabbage, or lettuce leaves, if desired, to prevent sticking. Arrange the dumplings in a single layer inside the basket (cook the dumplings in batches if they do not all fit). Steam the dumplings, covered, over high heat, until the pork is cooked through, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a platter and serve, with additional soy sauce for dipping.



On Sale
Sep 7, 2010
Page Count
320 pages
Hachette Books

Melissa Clark, author

Melissa Clark

About the Author

Melissa Clark is a staff writer for the New York Times, where she writes the popular column “A Good Appetite” and stars in a weekly complementary video series. The recipient of both the IACP and James Beard awards, Clark lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter.

Learn more about this author