An Accidental Fan Letter To Alison Roman: Corn Salad Edition

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Ever heard of Alison Roman? To the uninitiated she is someone I talk about an eye-rolling amount on Instagram. To those in the know, she is a weekly inspiration and a culinary brain whose somewhat-annoying Cali-girl mannerisms aren't enough to push me away. (Unlike another cool-girl kitchen legend I won't name, whose online persona I find as grating as a microplane to a block of parm. I sulk around for That One's undeniably good recipes, break up with her yet again when she calls a Caesar salad a "cae sal" or a Rueben a "sando", or some other contrived cuteness. Then next week she's got me back with another recipe I love and the cycle continues. "I hate you, I love you, I hate that I love you," and all that. But listen, we are here to discuss Alison Roman.)
During The You Know What, Alison Roman launched a weekly newsletter which she very sensibly called, "A Newsletter," and has since followed that launch with a YouTube series called Home Movies With Alison RomanHome Movies is a cooking show whose witty editing and random tangents have wormed a special place in my heart smack between the Furrylittlepeach studio vlogs and Brad Mondo's commentary on hair dye. (Why I have an obsession with hair dye videos when I never have and probably never will dye my hair is yet another discussion for another time.)

Alison's emails have become my weekly treat and over the course of the last year. Not only do I read them, I cook them. I've morphed into a strangely habitual creature, who often scouts for the next email before it hits my inbox, then reads through her gossipy newsletter, planning on the suggestions within for our dinner tonight or later this week. It's out of character for me to so thoroughly subscribe to anything that I follow through on making it. And yet, this is me.

I think the appeal of Alison's recipes lie in their seasonality, their freshness, the fact that she doesn't apologize for her strange preferences (which also happen to suit my preferences), and the way each email is written so you feel like you're having a juicy chat with that friend who isn't really good for you, but has got the newest news on the block and is here to spill it. The absolute only thing I've ever disagreed with her about (food-wise) is her audacity in claiming cinnamon rolls are better without any frosting at all. That one hurt, because it's obviously not true. I stand with Bravetart on this one, sorry Alison.

I know I'm not the only one to feel the Roman Effect - she caused a full-out shallot shortage in the early days of the You Know What with her recipe for shallot pasta which approximately everyone raced out to make. You have to be doing something right to cause the mass hoards hunkered fearfully at home to risk contracting the Rona just to cook your latest recipe; we could never.

Alison's recipes are the ones that taught me to enjoy cooking with anchovies. To stand up for my love of dill (and the concept that dill belongs in many places, not just the obvious ones). To make harissa pork & beans. She's taught me about the beauties of Rancho Gordo beans, of chocolate chip shortbread cookies with sugared rims, of crispy cutlets with a fennel salad. That when in doubt, the answer is always more lime juice. She's the one who got me doing battle with littleneck clams from Wegman's after having unsuccessfully tried to fish them up from the bottom of the James river while I waded from pontoon boat to shore and back again. The recipes are just fun. It's fun to cook them myself and it's fun to know that when I cook them, I'm joining hundreds of others who are also cooking them. Like a dinner club with no commitment.

I hate that this sounds like a fan letter to Alison Roman because fan letters always have that shade of desperation to them - Look at me! Notice me! Not gonna lie, I think I'd prefer for Alison Roman to never ever know about this blog post. However, when you've accidentally let one person shape the way you've cooked over the last year, and when that person has inspired text conversations with friends (Have you made the potato leek soup? How many times? Be honest.), and caused you to seriously rethink about the genre of newsletters as a whole, you have to admit, it's worth giving her a moment on the blog.

Last night I cooked A Newsletter's latest recipe for grilled corn and scallion salad. I doctored it up just a little, adding bay scallops as suggested for a more filling version, adding a little ancho chili pepper for some smoky spice, and otherwise leaving it as-is. I found the addition of the small, tender scallops perfect for folding completely into the corn salad. When I posted the resulting dish on Instagram, some of you asked for the recipe to be posted on the the blog. I'll share it now, with full credits to Alison as the source of course.

Over the past year I've discovered I like being told by Alison Roman - a little bossily in fact, which I sometimes bridle at but generally enjoy - what to cook. It's a welcome change from the endless possibilities adrift in my own mind. Someone whose judgement I trust, dictating what's for dinner this week is new and interesting. Maybe you, too, will make this recipe (or any of the others) and connect to the same feeling? Either way, thanks Alison. I can't wait to see what's in store for next week.

Alison Roman's grilled corn and scallion salad
serves 4–6

6 ears of yellow corn, husks removed
1-2 bunches scallions
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more
1/2 cup fresh lime juice, pepperoncini liquid, vinegar, or a mix, plus more
6 pepperoncini peppers, coarsely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup cilantro, tender leaves and stems
4 ounces queso fresco, haloumi, or other firm, mild, salty fresh cheese like feta, crumbled or coarsely chopped
½ cup corn nuts (or roasted pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds or almonds), coarsely chopped
  1. Heat a grill to high (see Note). Drizzle 2 tablespoons olive oil over the corn and scallions and season with salt. Throw the corn right on the grill and leave it alone, except to turn it a few times over the next 10 to 15 minutes. It should be charred and blackened on the outside while it gets tender and cooked through on the inside. Throw the scallions on the grill, too, and cook until the tops are softened and charred and crispy in spots, and the bulbs are a little golden but remain crispy.
  2. Once the corn comes off the grill, let it get cool enough to handle so you can shuck it and strip the kernels off the cob. The easiest way to do this is to hold the corn by the stem and place it in a large bowl. Starting at the top, using a sharp knife (a serrated knife works well, too) and getting as close to the cob as possible, shave the kernels off; they should land in the bowl, rather than scatter all over your counter and kitchen floor.
  3. Coarsely chop the scallions and add to the bowl with the corn kernels, seasoning with salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the cilantro and pepperoncinis, and season with the pepperoncini liquid and lime juice. Add the corn nuts and queso fresco, and season with salt, pepper, and more lime juice as needed to make sure it’s almost *too* limey.

There you have it! I have left her recipe/wording untampered with and hope that if you make this dish, it will lead you toward the indulgent good time which is the world of Alison Roman's newsletters and Home Movies. Happy dinnertime, my loves! Enjoy summer's carnival of perfect veggies while we can!

1 comment

  1. That sounds...really good. And I don't even like corn (or at least, I like it, but only by itself and not as part of another dish). I'll have to try it out! Since being stricken with The Malady my sense of taste has been...weird and a lot of things that I loved aren't hitting home anymore. I should branch out and try something new.