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'Nightly Specials': Spontaneous Cooking Recipes

Sit down at a nice restaurant and it won't be long before a waiter or waitress stops by to tell you about the nightly specials -- signature dishes that give the chef a chance to show off or to whip up something that matches his or her mood.

In his new cookbook, Nightly Specials: 125 Recipes for Spontaneous, Creative Cooking at Home, chef Michael Lomonaco encourages home cooks to be spontaneous as well.

Lomonaco, formerly chef of Windows on the World, is executive chef at Guastavino's in New York City. He discusses some spontaneous cooking ideas with NPR's Michele Norris.

Following are some recipes from Nightly Specials (William Morrow).

Mango and Red Onion Salad with Basic Vinaigrette


2 mangoes, preferably from Florida

1/2 cup chopped watercress

1 medium red Bermuda onion

1 cup torn mesclun salad greens

Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons honey, at room temperature

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

2 tablespoons chopped basil

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or more to taste

1 tablespoon thinly sliced Fresno chile, or other hot red chile, optional

serves 4 to 6 as a salad or small meal

1. Cut each mango in half, using the tip of your knife to cut around the large pit in the center, then twisting the halves to loosen and remove the pit. With the knife tip, make slashes through the pulp but not the skin. Cut again in the other direction to make a crosshatch marks in the fruit. Push the skin of the fruit inside out so that the pulp projects outward. With a spoon, scoop the already-cut pulp into a bowl. Add the watercress to the bowl.

2. Cut the onion in half lengthwise, peel it, and thinly slice from root to stem end in a fine julienne. Add it to the bowl with the mango. Add the greens season with salt and pepper, and toss gently.

3. Put the honey, oil, lime juice, basil, soy sauce, red pepper flakes, and Fresno pepper, if using, in a small bowl and stir or whisk together. Season with salt, pepper, and more pepper flakes if desired. Pour this vinaigrette over the mango and onion.

4. Divide the salad among 4 salad plates or pass family style from the center of the table as an appetizer or side dish.

Braised Chicken with Butternut Squash, Walnuts and Sage


2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

One 3 1/2-pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces (2 breasts, 2 wings, 2 legs, 2 thighs)

Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup small onion, diced

1 carrot, diced

2 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch dice (about 2 pounds squash)

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1 1/2 cups homemade chicken stock or low-sodium, store-bought chicken broth, simmering in a pot

1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts, plus more for serving

2 tablespoons chopped sage, plus more for serving

serves 4

1. Heat the oil and melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a high-sided sauté pan over medium heat. Season the chicken parts generously with salt and pepper. Add the chicken pieces to the pan, skin side down, without crowding and cook slowly until golden brown, about 8 minutes. Turn the pieces over and brown the other side, about 8 more minutes.

2. Transfer the chicken pieces to a plate and cover loosely with foil to keep warm. Set aside.

3. Add the onion, carrots, and squash to the pan and sauté until softened but still holding their shape, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the cinnamon, clove, and ginger. Pour in the stock, return the chicken to the pan, raise the heat to high and bring the liquid to a boil. Lower the heat and let simmer until the chicken shows no pink when pierced at the joint, about 20 minutes. Taste the sauce and season it with salt and pepper.

4. Remove the chicken from the pan and arrange the pieces on a serving platter. Add the walnuts and sage leaves to the pan and cook for 2 minutes. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, stirring it in to give the sauce a smooth finish.

5. Spoon the vegetables around the chicken and pour any extra sauce over the chicken. Sprinkle more sage and walnuts over the dish and serve.



Toasted Italian bread, sliced crosswise

White beans cooked and pureed, mix with olive oil parsley, garlic, thyme

Fresh roma tomatoes (plum tomatoes can work -- out of a can or not).

1. Roast whole tomatoes with olive oil in oven at 250 degrees for about 1 1/2 hours, which dries them out. Chop up for topping.

2. Put white bean paste on top of bread, sprinkle sliced, roasted tomatoes on top, and voila!

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