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One-Pot Meals
O at Home, Winter 2008

Four famous chefs concoct satisfying dishes that deliver big flavor without fuss. Skip the sides, throw out the precision timing -- and enjoy the evening as much as your guests do.

When chef Alice Waters hosts dinner parties at home, she opts for an audaciously simple approach: one communal dish hearty enough to satisfy all comers. This, from the founder of Berkeley's Chez Panisse restaurant, a temple to gastronomy known for its multicourse prix fixe meals. But chez Alice, Waters wants to focus on friends, not just food. “A one-pot meal allows you to serve to the mood of the table, instead of having the guests conform to the timing of the food,” Waters explains in her characteristically lyrical drawl. “Those are very different ideas.”

A one-pot strategy doesn’t require a sacrifice in flavor, however. Stews and soups may be easy to put together and serve, but since virtually every cuisine on the planet has its own version, the taste, look and texture can vary enormously. As evidence, O at Home asked four renowned chefs to share their favorite one-pot recipes, each from a distinct culinary tradition.

Waters’s zeal for fresh ingredients fits perfectly with a seasonally adaptable minestrone, a thick Italian soup meant to "minister" to hungry diners. She fills her winter version with golden potatoes, crisp turnips, and robust greens that she finds in local farmers’ markets despite dropping temperatures. (In the summer, she switches to tomatoes and peas.) Next, New Orleans–based Susan Spicer gives us a traditional hometown dish: red beans and rice, complete with andouille (a spicy pork sausage) and plenty of hot sauce. Florida native (and Oprah's former personal chef) Art Smith offers up steaming chicken and dumplings. And finally, Floyd Cardoz shares a delicate Bengali fish curry using spices native to the eastern coast of India, but available at most American groceries.

Flexibility is an inherent bonus: Virtually all prep work can be done ahead so that reheating or the addition of a final ingredient has to happen before serving. And since all four dishes make great leftovers, there's no need to worry about exact head counts or last-minute arrivals. After your meal, finish with a store-bought dessert that requires little more than slicing or scooping (see each chef’s suggestions, on the following pages). Everyone is guaranteed a relaxing evening, and you'll be spared the big comedown once the guests leave: a mountain of dirty pots and pans. (MORE...)