I was given this book for Christmas (my first ever Nigella Lawson cookbook) and since then I have been busying myself each weekend in the kitchen making lots of the dishes with, I might add, a lot of pleasure. The first thing I had to make from the book was the beef and aubergine fatteh which I have been itching to try since drooling over it when I saw it on the accompanying tv series. As you know, both Hayley and I are big fans of middle eastern style cooking and this dish is brilliant; ‘middle eastern nachos’ as Nigella calls it. The use of the toasted pitta triangles as tortilla chips is great, not only for this dish but as a dipping option for other things. It is a great one to serve at a dinner party to friends as everyone can tuck in off one sharing plate. Don’t skrimp on the mint, pine nuts or pomegranate either as this dish is as much a treat for the eyes as it is for the taste buds. I would say that I would perhaps half the amount of yoghurt topping that Nigella makes as we thought there was a bit too much. I also want to try making this dish using lamb mince instead of beef as I think it will work just as well, if not better.
I think what I love about this book the most and where it excels, is the use of a lot of one pot/tray cooking which I am a big fan of as you can just leave the food to do its thing whilst you get on with other jobs. I just think it makes slightly more exciting cooking a lot more accessible in the week and it looks like you have put a lot more work in than you actually have; the oven or hob does most of it for you. Plus it means there is less washing up! Nigella also has a very useful section at the back of the book (and refers to it on each recipe page) of tips of how you can get ahead i.e. how/if things can be made in advance and how long, whether things can be frozen and how long to keep things for. Some of the one pot/tray recipes that I made were the Moroccon vegetable pot with a side of the couscous with pine nuts and dill and the pork with prunes, olives and capers.
This book has also reignited our love of frozen peas. The chicken and pea traybake recipe is magic. We first cooked it for James’ Aunt Sarah when she came to stay with us and I think we were all blown away by it, not just for the fabulous flavour but also due to the simplicity of it and how the frozen peas change into a flavour that is akin to French tinned peas! Another hero pea dish is the hake with bacon, peas and cider.
These potatoes will change your life! Feta cheese, garlic and oregano is a match made in heaven and puts the humble spud on another level. I would happily just sit with a bowl full of these potatoes and nothing else. But they also are great with the above chicken, peas and leek dish and a lot other of her chicken dishes and there are loads to choose from – lots of exciting flavours such as red grapes and Marsala and lime and coriander to liven your chicken up a bit.
We loved all the pasta dishes in this book, especially the Gemelli with anchovies, tomatoes and mascarpone which was so simple but full of flavour. The orzo with meatballs was a great one pot pasta dish and I also made the Radiatori with sausage and saffron in this way too which also worked and has converted me into doing pasta dishes in this way in the future, saves on pan use!
The Parmesan french toast was wonderful and tasted of a cross between welsh rarebit and eggy bread. I also enjoyed making the smashed chickpeas with garlic, lemon and chilli as a slight alternative to hummus.
At Christmas, my mum made the sunken chocolate amaretto cake with crumbled amaretti cream at the request of James! This cake is devilishly rich and sings with the amaretto cream – a great one for a special occasion, particularly Christmas with the festive flavour of amaretto.
The emergency brownie recipe is really easy to throw together quickly. I baked mine in a 1lb loaf tin with a loaf liner in as we didn’t have any foil takeaway trays and they worked just as well. I probably wanted mine a little gooier on the inside though, whether that was as the mixture was spread a bit too thinly than in a smaller tray, but I would probably reduce the cooking time by 5 minutes or so. That said, served with the no-churn bourbon and salted caramel ice cream, it was lovely. The no churn ice cream section in this book has opened up a whole other world of ice cream making to me, which is probably a dangerous thing!
Another favourite sweet recipe of mine from this book are the forgotten cookies or merookies as they are a cross between a macaroon and a cookie. Unfortunately though, my merookies did not cook in the residual heat of a heated and then turned off oven, so I cooked them through at a low heat as you would a meringue the next day until they were set and lightly crisp on the outside. This aside, I would definitely make them again for the gorgeously fragrant flavour combination of pistachio and cardamom with bursts of bitter dark chocolate. Very moreish!
There are lots of other cake and cookie recipes in this book which I must also try, such as the apple gingerjack, passionfruit ice cream cake and pear, pistachio and rose cake to name a few. There is also a collection of intriguing looking cocktails at the back of the book like turmeric and ginger vodka (one for you Clare!) and a dirty lemon martini made with the juice from preserved lemons which I would like to sample!
I really like the way that this book is set out, especially the ingredients in bold so it is very easy to make a shopping list. A lot of the ingredients used to make up the dishes you will also already have in your store cupboard if you are a keen cook, so the book really does stay true to ‘a celebration of home cooking’. Nigella does favour quite a lot of salt and I also noticed that oregano, garlic and vermouth features heavily in this book, which isn’t a bad thing! So I can safely say I am now a Nigella convert when it comes to her cooking and I am now looking to get some more of her books, any recommendations welcome!