Saturday, March 01, 2008


Weekend Cookbook Challenge # 25 - Nigella Lawson

Many foodies and everyday cooks (those who only cook because one needs to eat) enjoy Nigella Lawson's approach to cooking. She is a great magpie, picking from many cuisines and adapting them to largely unfussy presentations for everyday cooking and great parties. I think that which makes her more successful than most tv cooks and chefs is that she has finely tuned her analytical abilities developed through her work as a literature and restaurant/food critic. As such, she is able to make any ingredient and, by extension, any dish approachable and appealing. Nigella Lawson is the "theme" for this month's Weekend Cookbook Challenge, hosted by Ani at Foodie Chickie.

La Lawson first came to my attention through her television show Nigella Bites. I hadn't heard of her before then, and I managed to catch her quite by accident when I was alone on a rainy night with nothing better to do. In fact, I was thinking of changing the channel, for preparing food was not my "thing" - my angelheart Eric was the cook in our family; I was the barman. Anyway, it didn't take long for me to get hooked. I got caught up in Nigella's energy, the way she talks directly to the camera, drawing her audience in, and by the swift and uncomplicated editing. Nigella Bites and all of Nigella's subsequent shows are contemporary and ride on La Lawson's sass, charm and heady, descriptive powers.

Okay, so it took me a few years to actually get around to trying any of her recipes, but Nigella planted the seed and many a mental note was taken - her encouragement and lack of airs made it all seem so easy. To Nigella, I am grateful for ingredients and foods that I now couldn't imagine my cooking and baking life without - principally sumac and vanilla extract.

Nigella Lawson's books capture her shows' same humour and vivacity, which are not easily translatable to text. What I also enjoy about the texts so much is her detailed explanations of combinations of ingredients, aromas and textures, clipped from other writers and from her own travels and experiences. That she has a great bibliography section at the back of each book is a wonderful bonus, a direction to further one's own culinary curiosities. From La Lawson's recommendations alone, I have found myself purchasing books by Claudia Roden, Beatrice Ojakangas, Elizabeth David, Simon Hopkinson, Patricia Wells and Nigel Slater.

The following recipe is taken from Nigella Lawson's first book, How to Eat: The Pleasures and Principles of Good Food, which I reviewed last year. And while she, too, has adapted this recipe (from Claudia Roden), I find it summarises her approach to food really well. La Lawson extracts all the goodness from every ingredient, and it is no different with the incorporation of chicken fat in this recipe, used to coat the pasta, best enjoyed hot. If you want a quick and tasty lunch, this is the way to go: chicken thighs instead of a roast chicken. The Venetian ghetto is conjured up with the pinenuts and sultanas, necessary ingredients for haroset.

Fettucine with Chicken from the Venetian Ghetto
(Adapted from Nigella Lawson's How to Eat: The Pleasures and Principles of Good Food)

2 large chicken thighs, bone in and skin on
extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup sultanas, soaked in warm water for 30 minutes
1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
fettucine, about 500g/1 lb

1) Cover the chicken thighs with olive oil, salt and pepper and start boiling a pot of water for the pasta.
2) Over a medium-high heat, pan-fry the chicken thighs - skin-side down first. It should take approximately 10-15 minutes for the thighs to be done, depending on their thickness.
3) When done, allow to become cool enough to handle. Ideally, this should be done about the time the pasta is ready to go into a pot of boiling, salted water.
4) Tear the chicken flesh from the bone either with your hands or two forks. Chop up the skin.
5) As the pasta nears completion, add the pinenuts and drained sultanas to the liquidised chicken fat and olive oil in the pan. Heat through over medium-low heat.
6) Drain pasta and immediately pour over the chicken fat, sultanas and pine nuts. Toss thoroughly.
7) Add the shredded chicken and sprinkle over with parsley.

This is incredibly comforting on a blowsy day like today. The inclusion of this recipe in Nigella Lawson's debut book is testament to her ability to create appealing and approachable food, showing off the best of each ingredient. The slickness of the oil-coated pasta is tempered by the sweet, juicy sultanas, the crunch of the toasted pinenuts and the freshness of the parsley. It took Nigella Lawson to teach me how so few ingredients are all it takes to make a good meal every day.

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I recently got my fourth Nigella book, and like you, I'm a huge fan. I love her relaxed, effortless and yet decadent cooking style, and all of her recipes I've tried have been excellent..
But I must admit, however, that I've never ever seen her cook in TV, so I'm a bookish fan of her :)
I am yet to purchase my first Nigella book but I am a big fan of her food and her approach and style. After reading your post, it makes me want to go and Amazon all her books but soon I will do so.
There's something quite irresistable about Nigella and it might just be the way her food so comfortably sits with you. her food is somehow, her! I'm dying for a book by her, any of them really. I should check them out. I'm so glad the recipe you've shared has no cream or anything like that. Just simple and quite easy to make gluten free!
Well you know I love Nigella! Your chicken pasta looks great. I don't know if you've got Nigella Express yet, but at the begining of her "Hey Presto!" chapter she writes a bit about how she has distant future plans simmering away to do an Italian cookbook, imagine!
That looks so fantastic! Thanks for taking part in WCC Shaun.
Shaun, it surely is the barest of ingredients that can make the best dishes, not always the easiest to pull off, though. A simple recipe is like a short story; it needs far more energy and precision to keep it taut and flavorful.

You've elevated the everyday chicken to something special. I well know the lure of poultry thighs, their dark, rich fleshiness and ease of use. Olive oil and pine nuts can only enhance the experience.
Yum Shaun, pasta looks marvelous! Too funny, I just watched Nigela this morning and she was making home made pasta. It was a Nigela "Bites" episode. I do not have any of her books yet, but waiting for you to tell me which is the best!!!
My dear Shaun

Fabulous post about the fabulous Ms Lawson. How To Eat was the first book of hers I bought--it kept calling to me from my indie bookseller's shelves. Am very glad I got it.

Pille ~ Indeed I am a fan, and I wholeheartedly recommend watching her television shows if you ever get the chance. I wouldn't be surprised if one could find them on DVD now. Like you, I adore her approach to food, the way she celebrates it and invites its presence into our lives. She taught that there is no reason to be afraid of the kitchen, and my life (and diet, even though I probably consume too much olive oil and eggs, but never mind) is markedly improved for learning from her wisdom. Her books make good bedtime reading, too!

Cynthia ~ Amazon is a great resource, enabling the real food fan to practically find books on every cuisine and food. The Marketplace is great, for I have found many a new book at great prices (too great to be believed). Nigella will always be there. How to Eat is my favorite, but it has no photographs of the food; so, if you're a person who prefers the photograpghs as a reference, I heartily recommend Feast or How to Be a Domestic Goddess.

Victoria ~ Yes, Nigella is irresistable. She is resolute in her celebration of food, which makes it easy to feel compelled to cook or bake whatever she is pushing. All of her books offer something unique. For me, the most pleasurable to read are How to Eat and Feast, although I love her preserves section in How to Be a Domestic Goddess.

Kelly-Jane ~ It doesn't surprise me that Nigella has mentioned that she would love to write a book on Italian cuisine. So much has been written on it already, but I can tell from her books that her love for Italian food runs deep. I'd love to see what she comes up with.

Sara ~ I've been remiss in my contributions to WCC. It was great to get back into it. I will try not to miss another one this year!

Susan, lovie ~ When hours at home are so few or are so tightly compacted, a simple recipe with few and fresh ingredients is a life-saver. Balancing the ingredients is what passes such recipes from good to trascendent. No wonder so many appreciate the pleasures of terrines with country bread and a simple mersault. Having said that, to make a terrine well requires so much dedication and love...It is something I'd like to attempt this year.

Deb ~ The world would be a better place if Nigella were on television every day. Thank goodness she also writes books. If you don't mind a book without pics, How to Eat is not only my favorite Nigella Lawson tome, but it is one of my most favorite cookery books. All of her books are thematic and well thought out. She has something for every mood.

Jasmine, honey ~ Couldn't image my life without How to Eat to be honest. Invaluable information, loads of inspiration and great bedtime reading. It is a lovingly compiled book. I especially love the menus...
what a lovely site
i middle aged chunky live in brooklyn ny and barely barely got food on the table now id like to learn how to cook and nigella has become my new heroette so shaun which book should i buy for my first venture into the art.. she used to be on tv here disappeared and now she is back at 7 am on saturday am ugh so any suggestions would be helpful to which s hould be my first book to a couple of easy peasy recipes so hi to all the nigella dudes and dudettes zesa
Zesa ~ Welcome! And I aplogise for leaving it so late to respond to your query. Recommending books to others is fraught with pitfalls - I might love something that you, in turn, might find disappointing. In my heart of hearts, I think Nigella's How to Eat is a great book on many levels. She has recipes that are both simple and time-consuming (not necessarily complicated). If, however, you rely on photographs to help you through, then this is not the book for you. I would, then, recommend Nigella Bites, which is lifted from her series of the same name. As you've seen the show, you might feel comforted by the book and recipes (I love the lemon risotto!). Of course, all of her books are wonderful, but as you are a beginner cook, I recommend these two first depending on your reliance on images with text. Good luck!!
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