Salon Food's top 10 recipes of 2021: From impossibly crisp chicken parmesan to chocolate sandwiches

All of these recipes have one thing in common: comfort

By Joseph Neese

Deputy Editor in Chief

Published December 31, 2021 8:00AM (EST)

Chicken Parmesan Baked in Tomato Sauce (Getty Images/Lauri Patterson)
Chicken Parmesan Baked in Tomato Sauce (Getty Images/Lauri Patterson)

Salon Food's Ashlie Stevens and Mary Williams contributed to this story.

Cheesy. Creamy. Crispy. Impossibly so

These adjectives describe Salon Food's top 10 recipes of 2021. The list features perennial favorites (chicken and pasta meals), as well as new classics (chocolate sandwiches and orange coffee soda).

Several of the recipes have only three ingredients. In the case of orange coffee soda, there are four (if you count the garnish). 

However, all of the recipes do have one thing in common. They're comforting, which comes as no surprise because our readers love comfort. 

As another successful year comes to a close, it's time to pause for a moment to look back on the best of the best: 

1 A 3-ingredient marinade for sheet pan salmon that gets dinner on the table in no time

Salmon truly shines with a little extra care in the form of a simple marinade. Our go-to salmon marinade only requires three ingredients, which makes it something we turn to on a near-weekly basis. Plus, it's multi-purpose — we use it on cubed chicken thighs, pork cutlets and even scallops.

Above all, we keep coming back to this marinade because it augments the flavor of the salmon so beautifully. Serve your marinated salmon and broccoli over steamed white rice — if you're really pressed for time, instant rice is a lifesaver! — and you have a healthy, flavorful meal ready to go. In the end, dinner is on the table in just over an hour.

2 Want impossibly crisp chicken parmesan? Try this simple sheet pan layering trick 

Why take the time to render a perfectly crispy piece of pan-fried or deep-fried chicken just to then slather it with an explicit amount of sauce and cheese, rendering it soggy and devaluing all of the work you put in to ensure its crispness? 

"In order to counteract this, you just need to change up your typical technique a little bit," Salon Food contributor Michael La Corte writes. "Instead of topping the crispy cutlets with sauce and cheese before going into the oven, instead layer the sheet tray with sauce and cheese and place the chicken atop it." 

3 A 3-ingredient cheesecake, no measuring needed

What's holding you back from baking? Is it the myth that baking is fussy, that it's a precise science, that it's hard? Calm down already. It's not nuclear fusion — it's cake. And when you do it, at the end, there's cake.

This is neither the eggy "gut bomb" Basque cheesecake nor the super silky New York icon. This is an airy, subtle, not too sweet dessert that isn't trying to be its denser cousins, but that doesn't make it a compromise option. It's heavenly. 

4 Cacio e pepe pie is an insanely easy pasta dinner to make on nights when you don't feel like cooking

There are similar recipes out there that call for blobs of ricotta cheese or outrageous amounts of eggs, but we prefer to tread as lightly as possible so that all of the other good stuff shines. Because black pepper is the star ingredient here, don't be shy about it. It has the power to elevate this lazy weeknight dinner into something pretty special.

Cheesy, crusty and very peppery, cacio e pepe is always a very good answer (at least for another meal) for what to make if you love cooking but also don't feel like making dinner. 

5 Orange coffee soda is your mysteriously delicious summer drink

You could make a simple syrup here. You could cold brew your own coffee. Or you could just open up a few cans. Coffee soda makes an insanely refreshing drink, one that slides easily from morning pick-me-up to happy hour mocktail. And if you imbibe, who's to stop you from adding a shot of Cointreau here? Don't knock it till you've tried it. You might just open your mind.

6 Nothing beats my Mom's carrot cake, which is as simple to make as it is sublimely delicious

Maggie Hennessy's mom's carrot cake is better. This is a hill she'd die on. 

"I'm not saying I haven't tried other perfectly delicious carrot cakes with standout cream cheese frosting," Salon Food contributor Hennessy writes. "But are they as sweet, moist and tender (thanks to over a cup of oil and four whole eggs) with just the right hit of spice? Are they excessively frosted with the tangiest, richest cream cheese icing of all time? Are they blissfully free of nuts and raisins or currants, exactly as I think carrot cake should be? No, I'm sure they are not."

7 ​​​​​​​My 10-year carbonara journey

"This is the best-tasting and, arguably, most Italian carbonara I've ever made," Hennessy writes. "And to think it only took 10 years."

According to Hennessy, this dish tastes "even better" if you source the "already-glorious ingredients from small, humane producers near your home." She likes to precede the dish, which is rich, with a "sharp, bright salad dressed in lemon vinaigrette."

8 Impossibly creamy chicken cordon bleu pasta is the weeknight dinner of your dreams

Here's the thing — if chicken cordon bleu as-is is close to heavenly, chicken cordon bleu pasta is truly divine. It has all the trademark ingredients, including a crispy breadcrumb topping. However, we really amp up the creaminess with a cheese sauce made with both melty provolone and Swiss. For a little green, we go for simple parsley, but this recipe would work with hearty spinach or kale, peppery arugula or even a generous handful of sweet peas.

This pasta comes together in under an hour, making it an ideal weeknight decadence

9 The viral feta pasta dish everyone's raving about is even better without pasta

Because feta and tomatoes already evoke the flavors of Greek cooking, we've leaned in that direction with gigantes beans, lemon and oregano. You can just as easily go the original route, and serve this meal with cooked pasta or choose any beans of your liking. Or forgo that starchy part altogether, and simply serve the baked feta and tomatoes on crusty breadWho would actually complain?

You can swap out the feta for another crumbly cheese like chèvre — and don't tell us this wouldn't be delicious made with a big old brick of cream cheese. Or make it vegan with a block of tofu, and up the saltiness with some olives and capers. It's endlessly adaptable, all but foolproof. Most of all, it's just really, really good.

10 A chocolate sandwich tastes exactly as comforting as it sounds — and it's sublime

The grilled chocolate sandwich is the best sort of food — the kind that works at any time of day. It makes a luscious breakfast and a loose, chocolate fondue-ish dessert — and it's sublime. If you want a light bite, you can slice it in half to share, but don't expect that kind of generosity from me.

But how do you know you've made it the right way? As it turns out, the answer's easy.

"The very specific comment this should elicit is, 'Oh my God, why have I never had one of these before?'" City Bakery founder Maruy Rubin told us.

By Joseph Neese

Joseph Neese is Salon's Deputy Editor in Chief. You can follow him on Twitter: @josephneese.

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