It’s 7 pm, and dinner is on the table: a large, one-dish centrepiece for everyone to dig into. We call it a “one-pot wonder” for a good reason, and that is its incredible ability to connect ingredients and humans alike.
Centuries of cooking in underground pits or stone-built hearths have shaped our instincts to both get together and throw it all together.
My experience writing recipes definitely confirms this: one-pan dishes are by far the most popular. The sense of contentment people experience when they gather around one is akin to the comfort they get when they taste it.
Ingredients that have been left to sit alongside one another for a long while simply lose some of their sharp edges in the process for the sake of a greater good, in much the same way as individuals morph into a family.
There is something else at play here, I suspect, something much more prosaic: cleaning up. Modern-day cooking and feeding are wedged in between a whole host of other activities that make up our busy schedules.
Skipping a couple of extra saucepans and serving straight from the pot is an attractive proposition for those strapped for time.
All this doesn’t mean, though, that one-pot cooking is necessarily simple or easy (though it definitely can be). Putting all your ingredients in one dish might seem like a shortcut for a more complicated approach. But, in reality, I find that to create the flavour and texture bombs that make food delicious you are often required to break down the process, adding components at different stages, playing with temperatures or scattering a garnish or salsa over the top at the end.
This works particularly well when you use a roasting pan as your vessel. The large surface area allows you to stir, crush, broil or garnish your dish more effectively, and makes it look so much better.
For all these reasons, 2019 is shaping up to be my dinner-cooked-in-a-roasting-pan year. The first attempt has already yielded a magical surprise. In a single pan, I made a ragout that would normally take a few watchful hours on the stove; as a bonus, the pasta cooks in the sauce as it becomes thicker and richer.
The result will bring out the crowds in the way that pasta dishes always do, but the tools are, more or less, as old as time: heat, a vessel and one hungry cook.
The New York Times