Kitchen, recipes from the heart of the home, by Nigella Lawson, Chatto and Windus, 2010.
I have five Nigella Lawson cooking books. I use everyone of them regularly, except this one. I wonder why? Perhaps because by the time I was given this book I already had too many cookbooks? Never mind why, March is its time to shine.
Where to begin? Now that is a challenge with this book. Cookbooks are usually organised around courses, or meals. I have books organised by season or by vegetable. The other Nigella books I have are organised usefully- How to Eat by type of meal, Forever Summer by course, Feast, obviously by type of feast and How to be a Domestic Goddess by type of baking. Easy to browse. I cannot explain how this book is organised. It is split into two sections, Quandries and Comforts. Within these two sections there are six short chapters titled things like What’s for Tea? Cook it better. Back to my original question, where to start?
I started on Sunday. There is a section called The Cook’s Cure for Sunday-night-itis, however there is nothing in that section which appeals this week. Garlic soup with pumpkin scones? No, Monday is soup night. The chapter includes smoked haddock in milk with a boiled egg or a lot of heavy pork dishes which serve 8-10. As there are only two of us and Nigella’s 8-10 would serve 15-20 of my friends, I look for somethings else.
There is a chapter called Chicken and its place in my Kitchen. Some of these look promising and are for one or two people or adaptable. Poached chicken with lardons and lentils looks nice but she specifies a chicken breast with peg bone in and I don’t think I can find one on a Sunday. This feels a bit autumny for a sunny March Sunday, and I think it would better suit thighs if I can’t get a breast with the bone in. There is a shortage of chicken in Wellington, however I have a breast in the freezer. I settle on tarragon chicken, p64, from the Hurry Up, I’m Hungry section. I served it on rice to soak up the sauce, with lightly sautéed cabbage on the side. I had everything I needed in the cupboard or garden so this was a winner.
I must note here that chicken is to Nigella Lawson what a lamb chop is to Nigel Slater. There is a chicken recipe in every chapter except the one on pudding and then a chapter devoted entirely to chicken.
Now to Soup Monday. There is no chapter for soup, however in the index I find cidery pea soup, coconutty rice soup, garlicky soup as well as soup made with garlic and love. A quick check shows garlicky soup is made from the left-over juices of chicken with forty cloves of garlic, just add water. Garlic soup made with love, is garlic, leek and potato simmered for twenty minutes in chicken stock. I settle on Sunshine soup p78, also from the Hurry up, I’m Hungry section, not because I am short of time, but because the name is charming and the main ingredient is sweetcorn and it is the season. The recipe suggests frozen sweetcorn but as it is the season, I scraped the kernels from two uncooked cobs. It tasted delicious but I’m afraid mine was khaki rather than golden.
I made Lemony salmon w cherry tomato couscous p119, from the Easy Does it chapter. This is when you have friends over but don’t have time to cook. This is worth making. I note that Nigella apologises for preparing the couscous by pouring boiling water over it and insinuates that the correct method is soaking and steaming. I did not know this and I have always put a quantity of couscous into a ceramic bowl with an equal quantity of boiling water, covered the bowl with a plate and left it while I get on with the rest of the meal. This explains why there is a couscoussier pictured on the on the cover of Feast. It looks very nice but I don’t think I need one. I added the leftover charred capsicum from the soup to the couscous.
On to Greek lamb chops w lemon and potatoes, p390. This is in the meat chapter titled the Bone Collection, and the only recipe I made that wasn’t available on the website.
This is simple and summery and I served it with braised zucchini based on a Greek recipe. Kelda, from Rita on Aro St, suggests that the end of season zucchini from the garden are at their best braised and these certainly were.
For two people I cooked four lamb loin chops and six smallish waxy potatoes. I certainly did not follow the instructions which I think had the lamb cooking for far too long. I quartered the potatoes in a bowl with garlic olive oi, enough to coat the potatoes, 1 tsp dried mint, ½ tsp dried chilli flakes, a sprinkling of salt and a shake of dried oregano. The potatoes went into a roasting pan and the chops were swirled around the bowl to coat them with the residue of oil and spices, then snuggled in among the potatoes. Zest a lemon over the potatoes and lamb then add the lemon juice to the pan and put into a 200° oven. Check everything after ½ an hour and when the lamb is cooked remove to a warmed plate, cover with foil and keep in a warm place while the potatoes finish cooking. Do not cook the chops in the oven for 1 – 1½ hours as the recipe suggests.
The braised zucchini took about 40 minutes in a pan. I sauteed ½ a sliced onion until soft then added 2 zucchini cut into 2 cm chunks with a couple of chopped tomatoes, a pinch each of salt and sugar and a sprinkling of dried oregano. Cover and cook on a low heat until the zucchini have just collapsed. if necessary, to prevent them burning, add a splash of water or white wine to the pan. Sprinkle everything with chopped parsley to serve.
I was still thinking about Poached chicken with lardons and lentils p234, and I made it the following Sunday. This is truly delicious and very simple. The method for cooking the lentils is very similar to that in Feast, lentils braised in red wine, p105. I would use white wine with the chicken. I didn’t get a breast with the pin bone in and I considered using thighs but decided that poaching the chicken in the lentils would prevent it from drying out and it did. I will definitely make this again. A note of caution. This recipe is labelled for one however very adequately fed two with lentils left over for lunch the following day.
There is a chapter on risotto, called The Solace of Stirring, and I wholeheartedly concur here. I love the process of making risotto.
However, I draw the line at risotto Bolognese which is never a thing. Risotto is a dish of Northern Italy and it’s really all about the rice. Its usually prepared with vegetables or beans or lentils. You could cook risotto with a meat sauce if you wanted but it is never Bolognese.
I think I’d rather eat risotto alla Milanese in Milan than make it myself. It is traditionally made with beef marrow and served alongside ossobuco and I’d prefer not to try this at home. The recipe in Kitchen is much simpler but then it just becomes saffron rice. I am not keen on squid ink so I passed on that one as well. And so I felt I was done with this book for now.
One of the great features of Kitchen is the notes at the bottom of many of the recipes, on what to do with leftovers. This is often the trickiest part of cooking a meal and I wish all cooking books would do this. It means you don’t need to worry about cooking a meal for two that turns out to feed four. You just recycle it in an interesting way for lunch or dinner the next day. I also like a book with a ribbon to mark your place.
I’ve really enjoyed exploring this book, and I will definitely be revisiting some of these recipes on the website. I’ve realised that the issue is not whether the recipes are good, which they are, but whether there is enough in the book that is new to me and that fits how we eat, and there isn’t. This great book is off to a new home.