Reading & Recipes

Nigellissima

Jennifer Gagel
Written by Jennifer Gagel

 

Nigellissima: Easy Italian-Inspired Recipes

By Nigella Lawson

 

Review and Recipe Selections by Jennifer Gagel

 

If you’re a fan of Nigella Lawson, it shouldn’t be a surprise to discover that her heart has always lived in the kitchens of Italy. She approaches food in the way of true Italian food lovers — preferring simple, bold flavours presented unpretentiously, often family-style. She demonstrates this in her newest book, Nigellissima, the companion book to her new television series of the same name.

Nigella’s recipes are usually inspired by a region or dish rather than exact copies of existing recipes, and the offerings in Nigellissima are no exception. She is drawn to the flavour and forthrightness of Italy but is also unapologetically a modern British woman. Shortcuts are perfectly acceptable and enjoyment is more important than authenticity.

Her introduction tries to dispel some of the romanticized myths we may have about Italian peasants sitting around huge tables in the yards of their farmhouses, daily hosting dozens of friends and family. Nigella offers the reader a more realistic view of modern Italian life. Italians, like so many other cultures in our shrinking world, have embraced international cuisine. New ingredients and techniques are welcome. Just don’t try to pass them off as the traditional foods. This is what Nigella does, with flare.

The book is well-indexed and organized, mostly by the primary ingredient, and with pictures as mouth-watering as the results. Lawson isn’t a food snob but she will argue passionately for the use of certain ingredients in a given dish, then happily turn the reader loose to decide for themself. She’s not a trained chef, but an enthusiastic lover of food and this book reflects that passionate rather than regimented approach. She cooks as most of us do on a daily basis — one dish to be served for our supper along with some sides. No appetizer, first course, second course here. Recipes are loosely gathered into chapters of Pasta; Meat, Fish & Fowl; Vegetables & Sides; Sweet Things. The book ends with a grand finale of an Italian-inspired Christmas feast, complete with Nigella’s favourite confetti sprinkles.

Lawson has always been clear that she loves to entertain family and friends over dinners any night of the week, but she is realistic about the time and energy constraints that may keep some of us from doing so. Like any good cook, she understands the need to simply get dinner on the table. That she manages to do it in a way that is simple and delicious and yet looks so lavishly, warmly welcoming, is a testament to her casual and unapologetic approach to food. The lists of which recipes work well when made ahead, tips on how and how long to store leftovers and options for reheating and serving them make lavish food familiar.

If you’ve watched any of Lawson’s television shows you know her rustic approach to plating food. She prefers to tumble, sprinkle and cascade food onto a serving dish rather than spend precious eating time building an architectural structure on a plate. Award-winning Australian food photographer Petrina Tinslay makes these simple family-style platters beautiful.

Lawson often discusses the emotional impact of food. As anyone who appreciates food knows, it’s not just about dinner, but also about our connections with friends, family, community and ourselves. You don’t have to be Italian to appreciate that, but maybe try: add -issima to the end of your name and see how it feels.

 

Freelance writer JENNIFER GAGEL works as a research assistant at London Public Library, and as a business process consultant at Cunningham MacGregor & Associates. Contact jennagagel@gmail.com

Recipes courtesy of Nigellissima: Easy Italian-Inspired Recipes by Nigella Lawson (Knopf Canada, 2013, $45)

Vanilla Mousse with Berries & Pistachios

Serves 6

 

2 free-range organic or pasteurized egg whites

1 ¼ cups (310 mL) heavy cream

½ cup superfine sugar

seeds from 1 vanilla bean

8 ounces (250 mL) raspberries

8 ounces (250 mL) strawberries, chopped

1–2 tablespoons (15–25 mL) chopped shelled, unsalted pistachio nuts

6 approx. 2/3-cup (160 mL) glasses

 

1. Whisk the egg whites in a clean, grease-free bowl until they form soft peaks.

2. Pour the cream into another bowl, add the sugar and vanilla seeds, and whisk until this mixture, too, forms soft peaks. Fold the whisked egg whites gently into the vanilla cream to make your mousse.

3. Divide the berries among 6 glasses until just under half-full and dollop the vanilla mousse on top, until every glass is softly peaked.

4. Chill them in the fridge for 15 to 30 minutes.

5. On serving, dust the tops with the ground or finely chopped pistachios.

ED Note: Reducing the sugar by half still results in a delectably sweet mousse. 

Quality vanilla extract will substitute perfectly well.

 

Chicken with Tarragon Salsa Verde

Serves 6-8

 

For the chicken

2 tbsp (25 mL) olive oil

4 chicken breast cutlets (preferably organic and corn-fed), with skin on

small bunch fresh tarragon (2 sprigs for chicken plus more leaves for sauce)

pepper (preferably white, coarsely ground), to taste

 

For the sauce

Leaves from small bunch fresh parsley (packed) (approx. 1 cup)

Leaves from sprigs fresh tarragon (packed) (approx. ¼ cup)

1 scallion (including green part), roughly chopped

zest 1 unwaxed lemon and juice ½ lemon

1 teaspoon (5 mL) kosher salt or ½ teaspoon 

(2 mL) table salt, or to taste

1/3 cup (75 mL) olive oil

 

1. Preheat the oven to 425ºF

2. Pour 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of the oil into a shallow ovenproof dish or roasting pan in which the chicken breast cutlets will fit snugly and then arrange them in there skin side up. Tuck 2 sprigs of tarragon in between the chicken pieces, add a good grinding of pepper and dribble another tablespoon of oil over them, then pop them in the oven for 20–30 minutes, or until the skins are golden and the flesh is tender.

3. Take out of the oven, and let the cooked chicken stand for 5–10 minutes in the pan while you prepare the sauce.

4. Put the parsley and tarragon leaves, along with the scallions, lemon zest, salt, and 3 tablespoons (45 mL) olive oil, into a suitable receptacle and, using an immersion blender, whizz to a paste, adding the lemon juice and remaining 3 tablespoons (45 mL) olive oil slowly as you blend. Leave for a moment while you slice the chicken.

5. Cut the chicken into thickish — ½ inch or so — slices (if you need it to go farther, then slice more thinly) and arrange on a platter.

6. Pour any juices that have collected in the pan into the tarragon salsa and whizz again with your immersion blender, tasting for seasoning before dribbling the sauce over the tender sliced chicken.

About the author

Jennifer Gagel

Jennifer Gagel

JENNIFER GAGEL is a culinary enthusiast and multi-faceted freelance writer who can be reached at jenna@gmail.com