While 2020 — the year of So. Much. Cooking. — might be remembered recipe-wise for sourdough, none of us could have made it through quarantine on bread alone. Among Eater editors, shelter-in-place got us into our home kitchens like never before and, naturally, we’ve depended on some recipes more than others to keep us going, rediscovering old favorites and finding new gems.
There were some common threads among the recipes we consistently turned to when we needed to cook, yet again. Meatballs were both fun to make and wildly practical; we could always count on noodles; we finally figured out what to do when we had too many greens in the fridge; and we made time for baking projects.
Below, the recipes we relied on this year:
Broccoli and egg fried rice: I basically lived on this for the first few months of quarantine. Its virtues are numerous: among other things, it’s pantry-staple-simple, highly flavorful, and an excellent way to use up leftover cooked rice. It’s also versatile; although it says “broccoli,” I’ve made it with many a hardy vegetable. Plus, it’s essentially a ginger delivery vehicle, which is always a good thing. — Rebecca Flint Marx, features editor
Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce: This year, the recipes that have appealed to me most are the ones that are barely even recipes. This iconic tomato sauce from Italian culinary legend Marcella Hazan is so ridiculously easy that it almost feels like a scam. You just open a can of the best tomatoes you can find — spend the extra cash on real San Marzanos or imported Datterinos — dump ‘em in a saucepan, add in a stick of butter and half of a peeled onion, and let it simmer on the stove for an hour. Sometimes I throw in a few anchovy filets or whole cloves of garlic if I’m feeling fancy.
The best part, though, is that after you’ve eaten your perfectly sauced noodles, you can whiz the leftover sauce with cream in a blender for the best tomato soup of your natural life. (I got that tip from Queer Eye’s Antoni Porowski’s Instagram and maintain that it is likely the only good cooking advice ever given by that man.) — Amy McCarthy, Eater Dallas/Houston editor
Sautéed dandelion greens with eggs: My CSA sent me this recipe one week when we got dandelion greens and had no idea what to do, and it’s completely changed my relationship to dark, leafy greens in the kitchen. It works because it’s less of a hard recipe and more of a set of guidelines. Instead of leeks I’ve used onions, garlic or shallots. I used mustard greens, kale, and chard in place of dandelion greens when I had them. I’ve topped it with cheddar and parmesan and goat cheese. Use literally whatever you have in this vague order, and add spices if you want. But it has hands-down gotten me to eat more greens than any other recipe. — Jaya Saxena, staff writer
Chocolate babka: The first time I baked this recipe, which makes two loaves of intensely chocolaty babka, I fully intended to keep one for my immediate family and give one away — until I saw my fiancée and parents ravenously devour the first loaf. The next few times I baked it over the course of the year I successfully gifted a loaf — to a friend as a parting gift upon leaving L.A., to my sister-in-law as a house-warming present — and even baked it in place of a birthday cake for my partner, who literally responded, “This is the best thing you have ever made.” The babka is a lot like my 2020: arduous, messy, a chance to support loved ones, and full of chocolate. — Nick Mancall-Bitel, editorial associate
Spaghetti alla Carbonara: Though I love cooking, working at Eater means a lot of eating out at restaurants. My first forays into the kitchen, I felt a little bit like a weak baby bird, so I wanted something easy to make and comforting. That means pasta alla carbonara — which needs just pasta, eggs, pancetta (or bacon), and Parmigiano-Reggiano (NO CREAM cc: @italians_mad_at_food). Just boil the pasta, cook the pancetta, beat the eggs until they’re super foamy, and combine everything over a low flame until you have a thick, creamy sauce. I don’t have a recipe because I learned from my friends in Italy, but this one is the closest. — Erin Russell, Eater Austin associate editor
Saffron risotto: The ability to make a hands-off risotto that requires no constant stirring is one of the major appeals of the Instant Pot. This simple, yet sophisticated saffron risotto from Melissa Clark’s cookbook Dinner in an Instant has become a mainstay in our house this year, and it’s also caught on in my sister’s household, to the point where it will earn a marquee place at Christmas dinner this week. I expect further members of my family will embrace this dish: Clark’s excellent pressure cooker-focused cookbook has found its way under the tree of both my mother and my brother-in-law this year, courtesy of yours truly. — Missy Frederick, cities director
Kale-sauce pasta: Back when we all first started sheltering in place, I asked the food writer and cookbook author Jamie Feldmar to pull together the best recipes the internet had to offer when it comes to cooking with pantry staples. Brilliantly, she also included a list of recipes to turn to when it was time to eat something super-fresh, including this kale-sauce pasta recipe from Ava Genes chef Joshua McFadden, and adapted for the Times by Tejal Rao.
One of the perks of editing is getting to see a story before everyone else does, and I started cooking this recipe almost as soon as I finished reading the draft. Kale is one of things I tend to buy out of obligation, then kind of complain about having to actually do something with. But this sauce is so good. It’s lighter than a pesto, thoroughly vegetal, and calls for a whole bunch of kale. It’s also easily adaptable; I like to add lemon juice and crushed red pepper flakes, but you could experiment with different greens, too. — Hillary Dixler Canavan, restaurant editor
Spiced chickpea stew with coconut and turmeric: This may be the least original entry, but hey, popular recipes are popular for a reason. I’d spent months resisting Alison Roman’s hashtag recipes, including #TheStew (turned off by the banal ubiquity of it, as well as the somewhat culturally tone-deaf vacuum in which it was seemingly conceived). But one night in 2020, my husband (the cook of this household) finally decided to try out the spiced chickpea stew — and we promptly fell in love. As mostly-vegetarians (in the house, at least), we are suckers for any one-pot, hearty, veggie-forward dish that can function as a weeknight dinner for both of us. This one is ideal, with filling chickpeas, wilted greens that make it feel healthy, and our most-used pantry ingredient: coconut milk. — Ellie Krupnick, director of editorial operations
Somen salad: I turned to a handful of recipes on Onolicious, my favorite Hawaiian food blog, when cooking fatigue set in and it was too hot during the summer to tackle complicated recipes. But the one (chilled) dish I kept returning to was this simple, refreshing somen salad. It’s easier to make than boxed mac-and-cheese and made me nostalgic for Hawaii. — Bao Ong, Eater NY editor
Weeknight meatballs: I’ve made these meatballs upwards of ten times, always with turkey. They’re extra moist, super easy to throw together, and make for great leftovers. They’re so good I’ll be making them for Christmas eve again — so weeknight AND special occasions meatballs. — Alyssa Nassner, art director
Snickerdoodles: I am lucky enough to have Weeknight Baking author Michelle Lopez freelance for me from time to time, and her baking blog, Hummingbird High, has become my go-to spot for dessert recipes. There are quite a few knockouts in her archives, but the raspberry sumac snickerdoodles in her book are my absolute favorite cookie — they’re impossibly soft and just lightly chewy, with a lovely tang to them. For those unwilling to buy the book, her basic snickerdoodle recipe will do the trick — just roll them in a blend of food-processed freeze-dried raspberries, sugar, and a few teaspoons of sumac instead of the standard cinnamon sugar. — Brooke Jackson-Glidden, Eater PDX editor
Pasta alla norma: I admittedly made this recipe a lot pre-quarantine but it’s remained a staple in my household throughout the pandemic. I’m lucky enough to have a garden that produces a lot of eggplant, which I grilled and froze. Now, I pull it out of the freezer anytime I’m feeling lazy. Toss it with tomatoes, garlic, cayenne peppers, pasta, cheese, and lots of capers. It always comes out great. — Brenna Houck, Eater Detroit editor
Whole roasted cauliflower and whipped goat cheese: I didn’t think my repeat quarantine recipe would be a literal head of cauliflower, but here we are. I went on a cookbook ordering frenzy between March and May, and ended up falling for this charred cauliflower recipe from Alon Shaya’s eponymous Shaya, a dish that evokes the blistered and buttery heads of cauliflower stuffed into pitas at Miznon in Tel Aviv. I made this many times over the months, but more fervently so in July and August when I was experimenting with a mostly plant-based diet. The cauliflower blackens in the way that it should when you crank your oven up to 500 (I go a little hotter than the recipe suggests), and gives at the first touch of the knife. I don’t usually make the whipped goat cheese, but I do sometimes dust the head with grated parm for a sharp, salty bite. — Nicole Adlman, cities manager
Sheet pan chicken meatballs with tomatoes and chickpeas: Meatballs are fun to make because there are so many iterations of the simple meaty spheres, plus who doesn’t like to mash things together with their hands? A fellow Vox Media colleague had raved about the chicken meatball recipe from Bon Appetit over the summer, so I decided to try it out. The results were delicious: the feta brought a nice brininess, the harissa added a zip of spice, and I’m generally a sucker for anything involving chickpeas and tomatoes. The recipe is already a staple in my go-to recipe collection. Once I made it with ground halal chicken thighs, which lend to a juicer meatball, honestly. — Nadia Chaudhury, Eater Austin editor