There are many factors I consider when measuring the success of a cookbook, but ultimately, there’s only one that really matters: Does it get you into the kitchen? In my mind, I don’t care who wrote it or how trendy the recipes are — if it convinces you to cook, it’s worthy of a James Beard Award. If it inspires you to pan-fry a chicken breast instead of decanting the box of Cheerios, it’s a win.
Sam Sifton’s new book See You on Sunday takes this concept to another level. Not only will it have you menu-planning and plotting weekend road trips around good markets, it will make you invite your friends along with you. It will make you text your partner and ask “Who should we have over on Sunday?” or your text your friends and say “Let’s get together this weekend.”
Here’s what Sifton, the food editor of the New York Times, and steward of my favorite newsletter, says about his own long-standing Sunday dinner ritual:
“Word got around. And the calls or texts would start coming. ‘There dinner on Sunday?’ Yes. See you then. Bring wine or a cake, a friend, some flowers, nothing at all. People are lonely. They want to be a part of something, even when they can’t identify that longing as a need. They show up. Feed them. It isn’t more complicated than that. The point of Sunday dinner is just to have it. Even if you don’t particularly like entertaining, there is great pleasure to be had in cooking for others, and great pleasure to be taken from the experience of gathering with others. Sunday dinner isn’t a dinner party. It is not entertainment. It is just a fact, like a standing meeting or a regular touch football game in the park. It makes life a little better every time.”
Tell me the truth: Didn’t you just think to yourself Who should come over this weekend? Imagine an entire book filled with that kind of life-affirming prose alongside a fleet of crowd-pleasey food that can be cooked in big pots and served on platters that might only come out of hiding on Thanksgiving. Think: Steak and Guinness Stew, Spaghetti with Sunday Gravy, Carnitas, Clam Pizza, Hawaiian Pizza, Grandma Pizza (you know it’s gonna be good), Pan-Roasted Chicken with Mint Sauce, Cuban-Style Black Beans, shown in all their glory above. Do I need to go on? Tell me again, why are we not doing this, cooking like this, every single weekend? If not in 2020, then when?
Sunday dinner has long been my answer to the question so many of you have asked over the years, i.e. “How do I start the ritual of family dinner?” It can be so many things: Grand and multi-coursed; relaxed and potlucky; organized around the game or after church. It’s a no-pressure night, nothing like Friday or Saturday when the table feels naked without votives and you feel obligated to have starters and sweets. The point of Sunday dinner, is to have it. Yes. Who have you been meaning to connect with? Whose life would you like to make a little better this weekend? Invite them over. Make them those beans. Repeat.
CUBAN-STYLE BLACK BEANS
From See You on Sunday, by Sam Sifton
1 pound dried black beans, rinsed and picked over to remove any stones
¹/₄ cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 slices slab bacon, diced
1 medium Spanish onion, peeled and diced
1 head of garlic, cloves peeled and diced
2 small green bell peppers, seeded and diced
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced
1 tablespoon kosher salt, or to taste
¹/₂ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
¹/₂ teaspoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 smoked ham hock
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1. Place the beans in a large bowl and cover with cold water, then allow to sit out on the countertop overnight; or if pressed for time, simmer over medium-low heat, covered, until the beans are tender, about an hour. (Or if really pressed for time, substitute three 15 1/₂-ounce cans black beans, drained.)
2. When you’re ready to cook the beans, put the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot set over medium-high heat and allow to come to a shimmer. Add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fat has begun to render out of the bacon and the meat is beginning to crisp, about 5 minutes. Add the onion, garlic, bell peppers, and jalapeño, and stir to combine. Continue cooking until the vegetables have begun to soften, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the salt, black pepper, oregano, and cumin, and stir to combine. They will absorb the heated oil in the pan and grow fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes.
3. Add the vinegar to the pot and stir to combine, then allow to cook off until it is mostly gone. Add the ham hock, bay leaves, brown sugar, the beans, and a splash or two of water, and stir again.
4. Lower the heat and allow the beans to cook, stirring occasionally, for an hour or so, until the beans are very soft and the meat on the ham hock is pulling away from the bone. (Add a little water to the pot if it seems to be getting dry.)
5. When the beans are done, remove the ham hock and the bay leaves; discard the bay leaves and tear the meat from the hock. Chop this meat and return it to the bean pot. Stir, taste, and adjust the seasonings. (The mixture can keep, softly bubbling on the stove, for hours. Add a little water, if necessary. Stir occasionally.) Serve with rice and hot sauce.