Meals For Me: Sam Stern’s Book On Cooking For One
“Being on your own doesn’t have to be sad,” British home cooking sensation Sam Stern, 25, told me on the phone this morning.
Stern is largely self-taught, although he did complete a three-month stint at the Ballymaloe Cookery School, and wrote his first cookbook when he was 14 years old. Called Cooking Up a Storm, it quickly became an international bestseller—it’s been translated into 16 languages—and launched a career that would include a newspaper column, regular TV appearances, and six more books. His latest, Meals for Me, comes out in the U.S. this March, and it’s all about cooking for one.
“I’ve always written to my peer group to address whatever situation they’re in at the time,” he said. “Now either young professionals or full-time students, we find ourselves cooking for ourselves quite a lot of the time. There aren’t any cookbooks out there that really cater to that.” So Stern did it himself—and for his friends—writing a book of recipes containing short lists of accessible, affordable ingredients and often re-use ingredients, so that one meal can easily become two. (Case in point, the butternut squash recipes below.) “I basically don’t give them any excuses not to cook for themselves.”
With more than a quarter of U.S. population living alone today, and as this Thursday’s episode of The Lonely Hour is all about solo dining, it’s a timely topic.
For Stern, cooking for himself and himself alone is a way to relax. “There’s no pressure, and you don’t have to cater to anyone else’s tastes,” he said. “It’s a great time to experiment.” He turns on some music—Miles Davis is his go-to artist, butTLH has a special mix for you to try—and zones out.
“I find if you’re ever alone and you are little bit sad, cooking is a great way to cheer yourself up,” said Stern. “It really is a joy to look after yourself and to cook and just to enjoy your own company.”
Roast Butternut Squash with Ricotta and Arugula on Gnocchi
You get a lot for your money with a butternut squash. It has a distinctive creamy flavor that works equally well on pasta and gnocchi—as well as making a delightfully addictive dip.
1¼ lb. butternut squash, peeled and seeded
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. dried thyme
5¼ oz. gnocchi
1 Tbsp. ricotta
Squeeze of lemon juice
Handful of arugula
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400˚F.
Cut the butternut squash into ¾-in cubes. Place into a freezer bag with the olive oil, thyme, and some salt and pepper. Seal the bag and shake it to give the squash an even coating and then tip it out of the bag and onto a large baking sheet.
Cook in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until soft and a pale golden color.
Meanwhile, put a saucepan of water onto boil for the gnocchi, then cook according to the package directions. Drain the gnocchi and return to the dry pan with the ricotta and lemon juice, half the cooked butternut squash, and some black pepper. Tip into a bowl and top with arugula and little olive oil. Let the rest of the butternut squash cool, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use in the next recipe.
2 for 1: Buy a butternut squash, cook it in the first recipe, and use the leftovers in the next recipe.
Roast Butternut Squash Dip
7 oz. leftover cooked butternut squash from recipe above
Scant ½ cup ricotta
Squeeze of lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper
Using a food processor or hand blender, blend together the cooked butternut squash, ricotta, lemon juice, and black pepper to taste.
Let chill in the refrigerator until ready to use. Serve with crispbreads, hot crusty bread, or alongside a deli plate.