James Beard's 7 most comforting recipes

The legendary culinary icon has an amazing repertoire of super-comforting recipes perfect for chilly nights

By Michael La Corte

Deputy Food Editor

Published October 22, 2023 1:31PM (EDT)

Chef James Beard poses for portraits in his Victorian-style townhouse in Greenwich Village and discusses food and wine on January 12, 1973 in New York City. (Pierre Schermann/WWD/Penske Media via Getty Images)
Chef James Beard poses for portraits in his Victorian-style townhouse in Greenwich Village and discusses food and wine on January 12, 1973 in New York City. (Pierre Schermann/WWD/Penske Media via Getty Images)

With no qualifiers or explainers, it is evident that James Beard is legitimately prolific in every sense of the word. He's the epitome of a household name within the culinary world.

There he is right above this text, in all his glory, posing in front of his iconic pineapple wallpaper in his home — which is now preserved in the same building that's now known as The James Beard House. As noted by the official website, the James Beard Foundation officially opened the James Beard House in November 1986 “to provide a center for the culinary arts and to continue to foster the interest James Beard inspired in all aspects of food, its preparation presentation, and of course, enjoyment." To this day, it hosts endless swaths of chefs, cookbook authors and other food personalities who all recognize Beard's immense influence and pay him homage. 

Whether you know of him through his books, his shows, various, well-known friendships with other big names — such as Julia Child — or his namesake foundation, restaurant awards and ceremony, you've most certainly been acquainted with him in some capacity.

Beard was also a genuine pioneer. His cookbook "American Cookery," released in 1972, was unlike any other cookbook of the time: Chockfull of fresh, organic ingredients — with nary a frozen or canned item in sight — and tons of then-unknown "exotic" ingredients that many Americans at the time were wholly unaware of. Beard staked a new claim, not only in the realm of cookbooks, but also food TV and far beyond.

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Beard was a larger-life-than person in so many ways but his recipes hone in on the flavors and ingredients that were most important to him. Many of these flavors lent themselves to cozy, rich, comforting foods and classic dishes — which, of course, are a perfect go-to on a blustery, rainy autumn night. Peruse this short collection of some of Beard's best and find a dish that'll be perfect for an upcoming busy weeknight or leisurely weeknight.

Either way, you can rest assured that Beard has got you covered. 

There may be no better way to start a comforting meal than plush, warm, homemade rolls. Beard's recipe is simple, classic and absolutely delicious. Be sure to spring for some high-quality butter (maybe even some whipped or salted?) for a really special bite to your rolls to the next level. As Beard himself put it, "Parker House rolls should be delicate, soft, and rather sweet, typical of American rolls in the nineteenth century, and they consume butter by the tons." 
Zucchini bread can act as a snack, a breakfast, a dessert, a base for French toast or so many other things. Beard's recipe, from 1973's Beard on Bread, is incredibly moist and studded with walnuts. You can opt to swap out for different types of sugars, flours, extracts or even spices, but of course, don't skimp on the zucchini! It's kind of an important component.
Beard's macaroni and cheese contains nothing ostentatious: macaroni, butter, flour, milk, dry mustard, bread crumbs, a dash of hot sauce and three cups (!) of cheddar. It's traditional and iconic for a reason and there's no better way to spend a chilly fall evening than with a piping hot bowl of this macaroni.

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This is almost stew-like, with tons of super-flavorful ingredients like oregano, olives and currants or raisins. The chicken that Beard calls for is skin-in and bone-in, but you can certainly swap in boneless and skinless if you have it on hand. I love the topping of parsley and almonds over the top of warm, fluffy rice or orzo.
Also, don't forget the lemon! It really adds an importnat pop of flavor just at the end of the cooking process. 
A super simple, yet immensely satisfying casserole comprised almost entirely of pantry ingredients (sans the turkey, of course), this comes together quickly and is perfect for feeding a large group. It's also ideal on Thanksgiving weekend. The touch of curry powder is a fascinating, subtle note that will make everyone who eats this perk up a bit and say "hm, what was that?" 
While this may seem like a superfluous amount of garlic, it is not. The garlic mellows beautifully. This will perform your house in the most amazing way. It also contains one of my favorite ingredient, vermouth, which is the perfect liquid with which to deglaze the bottom of your pan. I also love the tarragon, which is often an unsung hero nowadays.
One other point: It's a non-negotiable to serve this with bread that has been absolutely slathered with the softened, roasted garlic. Beard recommends pumpernickel, which would be stupendous, but feel free to use whatever you have on hand. 
Honestly, it's hard to mess up pumpkin pie . . . but this really might be one of the most supreme recipes for it to ever be written. It contains all the usual suspects, from brown sugar and eggs to cloves, mace and candied ginger — plus the pumpkin, of course.
Beard served his with Cognac whipped cream; who are we to disagree with this suggestion? 

By Michael La Corte

Michael is a food writer, recipe editor and educator based in his beloved New Jersey. After graduating from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, he worked in restaurants, catering and supper clubs before pivoting to food journalism and recipe development. He also holds a BA in psychology and literature from Pace University.

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