A hunk of parmesan cheese, pickled chillies, anchovies, kimchi, and a block of butter. That's what you'll find in Colu Henry's refrigerator on any given night of the week.
"Also, my staples are good-quality olive oil, kosher salt, and lemons," the Hudson-based cookbook author, New York Times contributor and recipe creator interjects. "You can make anything taste good with those."
For a home cook that's carved a career out of glorious leftovers, you can safely assume that Henry's shelves are always stacked, her spice cabinet bountiful, and produce drawer endlessly filled with fresh, leafy surprises.
In 2017, Henry penned Back Pocket Pasta — a mouth-watering compilation of fool-proof pasta recipes Vogue deemed "an accessible blend of simplicity and innovation." Think easy-peasy ribbons of fresh pappardelle laden with red sauce.
Spawned from the idea that balancing a busy work schedule and getting dinner on the table shouldn't be so hard, Henry was inspired to remedy the situation the best way she knew how — with pasta.
"I was coming home very late after long days at Bon Appétit, but didn’t want to order takeout," the author explains. "Pasta was quick and something I knew how to cook well. I began rummaging through my pantry and fridge and started creating meals with whatever I had on hand. I started the hashtag #backpocketpasta on Instagram and it sort of took on a life of its own. The main takeaway is that I want people to have confidence in the kitchen and trust their instincts. You don't need to get too caught up on exact recipes, because at the end of the day, whatever color onion you choose isn’t going to make that big of a difference. Be bold!"
Henry is the type of home cook that revels in the holidays, undaunted and unafraid to wheel out the full festive road show. It's this sense of "boldness" that applies to both her recipe repertoire and her home, from the brave choice of paint color to an eclectic collection of furniture, peppered throughout her multi-story townhouse in Hudson, New York. It's a space she shares with her husband, furniture designer Chad Silver, and 16-year-old spaniel, Joshie.
"I always do a Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve, it’s my favorite food holiday," Henry admits, when pressed about this year's pièce de résistance. "There will definitely be linguine with clams as well as stuffed mussels on the menu and likely anchovy toast."
"Chad and I also started a new tradition of making lasagna with fresh pasta for Christmas Day," she continues. "It’s a fun project and there is nothing like fresh pasta in a baked pasta dish, it's so velvety. I’ll also slow-roast a pork shoulder and make a salad with chicories and fennel. We have friends stopping by throughout the day, so it’s nice to have a table where people can graze," Henry adds, eyes wide. "Nothing formal — just come as you are, whenever you want."
Only a chef could own such a sentence with complete conviction. "Nothing formal" rolls off the tongue with unbridled confidence. It's this sense of bravery — the kind you could only attribute to someone who can pull off a Feast of Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve — that infiltrates throughout Henry's living and dining spaces, awash with moody blues and built to be enjoyed. Step over the threshold and out of the snow and your senses will first be struck by whatever's bubbling away in her Le Creuset Dutch Oven. An original staircase, built in 1880 and glistening in lacquered navy paint to your right, and a sitting room complete with vintage furniture, pieces handmade by Silver, and flea market gems to your left. Stripped hardwood floors, an oversized gilded mirror, and a ruby red Persian runner set the tone for a home that's perhaps best described as warm, loved, and lived-in.
"We kept most of the house structurally intact to preserve the integrity of the home but we did tear down both bathrooms and the kitchen, right down to the studs," Henry explains, when asked what structural changes the pair made to their 1,760-square-foot address. "The downstairs bathroom originally opened on to the dining room, which didn’t feel right, so we closed it off to make the entrance through the kitchen."
Glide through to the kitchen — the scene of the mayhem and the magic — and it's fully equipped as only a home cook's could be. Readily used utensils and knives remain within reach, weighty chopping boards, scuffed Staub Dutch Ovens and saffron colored Le Creuset pots wear battle scars with pride. A marble counter, white subway tile backsplash, and dove grey IKEA cabinetry complete a classic kitchen aesthetic, a space that boasts a double farmhouse sink and a pot filler (because, pasta). Half-empty bottles of Katz Deli Olive Oil remain on hand, should the mood strike. There's ample room to prep, no unnecessary clutter or ornamental fluff, just the tools Henry relies on most. A tomato red pendant light — sourced via Barn Light Electric Company — hovers from the ceiling like a bright idea, her next recipe, perhaps.
Adjacent to the kitchen is the dining room, admittedly Henry's "favorite space." Awash in a Curacao shade of blue named Tropical Turquoise by Benjamin Moore, the room is painted top-to-toe in a color reminiscent of the kind of cocktail you might imbibe on vacation. "Our old neighbor Lorenzo Salazar from Brooklyn is an interior designer and was visiting one afternoon," Henry explains. "We told him we were leaning toward a study-meets-library type room. When it came to the color, he encouraged us to really go for it and paint everything, including the moldings, for an even more dramatic effect."
The couple installed floating timber shelving, sturdy enough to house all of Henry's favorite cookbooks. A rainbow display that ranges from Julia Childs' Mastering The Art of French Cooking to Ottolenghi's Plenty More, conveniently organized by jacket.
"Because we went so bold with the color on the walls, I felt it would be a wise idea to try and streamline the aesthetic to give it a more pulled together look by organizing the books by color," the author explains. "I’m a very visual person and most of the time remember what color the spine is of a certain book, so if I’m researching something I know where to grab it from quickly."
"It feels so convivial and it’s where everyone gathers to eat and relax," muses Henry. "So many great conversations and so much wine-drinking happens around that table. I also love that it has a parlor-type quality, encouraging people to sit and read in the corner if they want to, I know I do. We wanted the dining room to feel like an extension into the living room — but without having a real open concept space — I think it achieves what we were going for."
A custom Chad Silver creation plays host to countless feasts, mopping up Henry's famous Rancho Gordo Marcella Beans recipe, on occasion. Dining chairs, sourced via Chairish, decorate the surrounding space, offset by a blue leather armchair plucked off-campus from Yale University. Overhead, a pendant chandelier by CB2 brings a playful sense of modernity to a fantastically Victorian scene. Henry dresses the tablescape with ceramic candlestick holders by Jenni Kayne, acquired gifts from friends, and her mother's special occasion engagement china that the author insists "only comes out during the holidays." For Henry, the dining space is so much more than a formal seldom-used room, it's the beating heart of her home, a place to feast among friends, and it's Henry's food — prepared with nothing but love — that serves as the great unifier.
"Chad suggested an old drop cloth of his that had been well-patinaed," explains Henry, of the Pollock-esque tablecloth swathed over the dining table. "We loved it so much that it's become a signature look for our dining room."
It's a reoccurring theme in Henry and Silver's household. Old things given new life, treasures held onto and repurposed in a fresh, original way. Silver has dreamed up or reimagined most of the couple's furniture. In the living room, a tufted blue velvet sofa by West Elm and a Vermont Castings wood burning stove bring a cozy, old-timey vibe, complete with stacks of freshly cut wood and a live edge coffee table, salvaged from the side of the road and schlepped home from Greenpoint, Brooklyn. A large Red Cross flag sourced via Phoenicia Flea Market pops on dark living room walls, aptly coated in Benjamin Moore's Kendall Charcoal.
"We love to make fires and cozy up in the living room with a bottle of wine," Henry explains of the couple's winter rituals. "I’m fine with not leaving the house and I feel like I’m slowly turning into my parents. We listen to a lot of WQXR-FM, which is a New York City-based classical music station. We’re very good friends with our next door neighbors, Chris and Kelly, so they'll often pop over for drinks or dinner. In the winter, we’re all inclined to sprawl out in the living room with blankets by the wood burning stove, with bowls of pasta, soup, or stew in our laps."
Tear yourself away from the fire and follow the scuffed stairs up toward the master and guest bedrooms and the aesthetic is refreshingly pared-back, even a little bit Netherlandish. In the guest space, the color of choice is Benjamin Moore's Wythe Blue. Duck egg linen by IKEA and Scandi-style floors are accented only by a Chad Silver stool, doubling as a nightstand. A customized IKEA dresser and a well-preserved French art poster — scooped up in the East Village sometime around 2002 — have stayed close to Henry, making the journey with her to each new address.
For the past four years though, Hudson has been home. A quiet community about two hours out of Manhattan. It's the kind of place New Yorkers come when they're ready to dial it down a notch.
"Chad and I had been trying to buy something in Brooklyn and realized pretty quickly that it wasn’t going to be financially possible," explains Henry. "A friend suggested we take a ride up to Hudson and we fell in love with this town upon stepping off the Amtrak train. We looked at houses on a whim during that very first visit and this was the last one we looked at. We made an offer a few days later and I’m so glad we did. Initially, we bought this as a weekend house, but the more time we spent here the more it made sense to make the move full-time."
"We are only the second family to own it," Henry continues. "And I think it’s remarkable given that it was built in 1880 and was kept in the same family for three generations until we bought it. I have great respect for the house and it makes it feel very special. There is zero negative energy here. It’s one of the first things I noticed when we came to look at it, not to be too hippy dippy — but I know that the former family lived happy lives here."
Preserving that "good energy" is something Henry takes seriously and upholds with great pride. For hers is a home to be shared, where the cupboards are always full and whatever is on the menu will have you salivating.
"A roast chicken is one of my favorite things to cook and it can actually work its way into so many other dishes including soups, chilies, stews, chicken salad, and so much more," Henry imparts of her favorite leftovers. "Beans I make once a week and utilize them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Eggs and beans? Oui. Saucy beans and greens? Uh huh. Rice and beans? You betcha. I could go on."
"I grew up in a very food-centric, Italian-American family, that talked about what to make for dinner during breakfast," Henry continues. "Holidays were a big deal for us, food-wise, as well. Some of the recipes in my family go back to my great-grandmother and, coincidentally, my namesake. Food and cooking in general has been a passion of mine since I was a little girl. I worked front of house in restaurants all through college and for four years, when I first moved to New York. I majored in musical theater, so I think working in hospitality allowed me to harness some of the performative qualities I loved and studied. I’m a self-taught, home cook, but years of doing chef PR has certainly helped with my education."
In a perfectly natural collision, Henry's relationship with food and celebrating the holidays at home go hand in hand, like beans and eggs. Or the parmesan cheese on top of absolutely everything.
"For me, the holidays mean spontaneous dinner hangs, repurposing snacky cheese plates and dining room set changes," Henry explains, carefully breaking down the artistry of it all. "It means anything goes. And always be ready for someone to pop over for a drink," she smiles. "Because they will, and I love it."