"When people are intimidated by cooking, they overthink it," Stowell says. "But you hear all the time from cooks that the more they cook, the more comfortable they are with serving a really simple side dish." Here, Stowell shares five ideas:
1. Rapini with garlic and chiles
"Rapini, or broccoli rabe, is a leafy, bitter Italian green that holds up well to strong flavors like garlic and anchovies. Plus, it has a great texture. Just sauté it in a little olive oil with garlic, anchovies and chiles, then add chicken stock and cook it down until it's tender. This dish goes well with roasted chicken or a grilled steak. You can certainly substitute spinach in place of the rapini."
2. Shaved fennel-andMeyer lemon salad
"A simple side dish for fish: Trim fennel bulbs and shave them paper-thin on a mandoline. Then toss with good olives and chopped sections of Meyer lemon. (You can also use navel oranges.) The citrus juices act as the acidic part of the dressing, and then you can just drizzle some extra-virgin olive oil to finish. Use the best olive oil you can find; oils from Castelvetrano in Sicily are my favorite."
3. Cheesy polenta
"I always have polenta in my cabinet. The instant kind takes less than 10 minutes to prepare. I just cook it with water, then mix in mascarpone and Parmesan cheese, so it gets creamy and lush. If I have the time, I form the polenta into cakes and sauté them so they are crispy on the outside and gooey on the inside."
4. Caramelized cauliflower with pine nuts and raisins
"I like to caramelize cauliflower in a skillet. I heat olive oil until it's really hot and add small cauliflower florets, cooking them until they're nicely browned. Then I toss the cauliflower with toasted pine nuts and golden raisins. I like this dish with roasted chicken or anything with a char, like grilled fish."
5. Sautéed porcini with rosemary and garlic
"In the fall, I want hearty flavorswild game, braised meats, veal cheeks, short ribs, things like that. Around this time of year I also crave mushroomsporcini are my favorite but I also love cremini. You can grill them, serve them raw, roast them or put them in a sauce. My favorite way to cook them is to cut them up and sauté them in a pan with olive oil, garlic cloves that have been crushed with the side of a knife and a sprig of rosemary until the mushrooms are browned. Then I toss them with chopped parsley. This is great with all kinds of meats or meaty white fish."