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Chef Rocco DiSpirito’s New Cookbook Features Meals You Can Make in 30 Minutes or Less

‘Everyday Delicious’ is made to combat meal-planning fatigue


spinner image Rocco DiSpirito against orange background with outlines of tongs on it
AARP (Jonathan Pushnik)

Celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito, 57, had just released a keto diet-focused cookbook when COVID-19 hit. Suddenly, he started experiencing what so many home cooks do on a regular basis: the fatigue of meal planning, prep and cooking, rather than the enjoyment of sharing the company of friends and family. So he pivoted, instead focusing on faster, simpler dishes that brought him comfort and reignited the joy of home cooking. The result is Everyday Delicious: 30-Minute(ish) Home-Cooked Meals Made Simple, which features quick recipes he hopes will bring joy to other home cooks, too.

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Most recently, you’ve been known for health-focused cookbooks. Why the departure?

I released my keto cookbook [Rocco’s Keto Comfort Food Diet] in March 2020. We all know what happened after that [with the pandemic]. As I continued to work on the next keto book, it felt inappropriate, dishonest and not really what I was thinking about. People really needed to feel comfort in every area they could. Food is an obvious one. I thought a more honest thing to do would be to return to my roots and write another straight cookbook that was basically all of my favorite foods. That’s how we ended up here.

In the new cookbook’s intro, you write, “Food is the language we use to express our life stories, through every phase, twist, and turn.” What does this book say about where you are in your life right now?

It says I’m still in the “needing comfort pretty much every moment of my life” phase. The aftereffects of the pandemic are really strong and present in my life. Everything’s changed, so take a little comfort in some of the foods that you’re eating. I’m still living like this and still looking to my food to be a tremendous source of joy.

A lot of people hear your name and they think you’re an Italian chef, but this book has a lot of Asian-influenced dishes. Why?

The secret about me is I’m not an Italian chef, I’m just an Italian person. I grew up with an abundance of Italian food ingredients and a family that farmed everything. I lived that lifestyle. I went to France to learn how to cook and lived there. Then I traveled to Singapore, Thailand and Japan because I love those flavors. My pastime in the early years as a chef was walking around Chinatown, picking up 10 new things and experimenting with them. Almost always they were deep, rich, wonderful flavors — the kind that give a chef superpowers.

You grew up in a family that obviously loved food. What is your earliest memory of being drawn into the kitchen?

We didn’t just love food, we lived a food lifestyle. Everything was scheduled around canning something or harvesting something or hunting something. Our whole lives were scheduled around these events. We were always talking about food. I didn’t realize other people didn’t live like that. I think I was 3 or 4 when my mom let me touch the bread that she was making. She made bread every other day. As I got a little bit older — when it looked like I wasn’t going to absolutely kill myself in the kitchen — she would let me play with the dough and make shapes. I was somewhere in the 3- to 5-year-old range. 

What is one thing that should always be homemade, and, conversely, what’s your favorite kitchen shortcut?

Tomato sauce is so easy [to make], and there still isn’t a great one that you can buy ready to eat in a jar. It’s basically just garlic, olive oil and fresh tomatoes, cooked for 20 minutes. Everyone has time to make that. Big batches can be put in your fridge. Then if you can find fresh Parmesan Reggiano and pasta, you’ve got one of the world’s greatest dishes ever. [For a shortcut] I’m OK with powdered pho broth and powdered dashi and all the powdered condiments. There was a time where I would tell you to make your own chicken stock and your own mayo, but those things have gotten so much better.

spinner image Book with words 30 Minute-ish Home-Cooked Meals Made Simple, Everyday Delicious, Rocco DiSpirito
Rodale Books/Penguin Random House

Cook With Rocco

DiSpirito shared three recipes from Everyday Delicious for AARP members to try:

Curry Kani Salad

The word kani in “kani salad” (a mayo-based dish popular in Japan) is short for kani kama, the imitation crab sticks used by Japanese sushi restaurants.

Better-Than-Store-Bought Chicken Parmesan

This classic dish is delicious, due in part to what’s called the Maillard reaction, a chemical reaction that causes the browning of food during cooking.

Spring Saffron Risotto With Chicken

This vibrant yellow risotto is tinted and flavored by saffron, an almost otherworldly spice with floral, sweet, and earthy notes that must be experienced to be understood.

In the book you have a “rules to cook by” section. What is a rule that you never break in the kitchen?

Tasting your food as you cook is very important. Do not wait till the end. It’s your responsibility as a chef to taste it. [Not tasting during the process] would be like a painter not looking at their own art or an attorney not reading their own brief or submitting it. 

What’s one dish you recommend home cooks master or commit to memory so they don’t have to use a recipe?

Spaghetti with butter and Parmigiano Reggiano. Fresh, grated parm is remarkably different [from packaged, pre-shredded]. It can make a dish go from very average to extraordinarily delicious. It’s a 12- to 20-minute exercise, max.

If you’ve got 30 minutes to whip something up, what’s your go-to comfort meal?

Often it’s pasta — in many cases, two- or three-ingredient pasta in a big pot. I always cook the whole pound of pasta. I never break up the package, because there’s always someone who wants more.

 

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