She’s known around the world as the ultimate domestic goddess, but Nigella Lawson is still a home cook at heart.
And nothing makes her happier than cooking for the people she loves. In fact, she’s happy to leave the ‘razzle dazzle’ behind to fill the bellies of her family and friends with the comfort of her home cooked dishes.
“I love cooking for my children and their friends, and my friends and their children: it gives me freedom to cook as I please, relaxed and not having to perform or razzle dazzle, but just enjoy having the people I love at my table and really wallow in the pleasure of feeding them,” she says.
The celebrated cook recently made her long-awaited return to our screens with her new TV series and book Nigella: At My Table.
Throughout the six part-series, she reveals her go-to recipes that she loves preparing for friends and family when they pop over for dinner. An event she is always prepared for, even if they arrive unannounced.
“I always make sure I have the ingredients for my Butternut and Sweet Potato Curry in the house: it isn’t just one of my favourite things to eat, and easy to make, but is always popular and because it happens to be vegan, just about anyone can eat it,” she says.
“I also always have the wherewithal for my Green Sauce, the Coriander and Jalapeno (Cilantro and Green Chilli) salsa that I now always serve with it. But I make this every week anyway, so there’s always a delicious dip to be eaten with crunchy raw veggies or tortilla chips should anyone just be coming in for a moment!”
And while she says there is no such thing as a typical family dinner at her place - because she’s always testing and trying new recipes – Nigella has many fond memories of her mother’s home cooking.
“As a child, I used to love my mother’s chicken recipe, just her roast chicken with lemon, and the chicken she’d cook in a pot on the stove, with leeks and carrots, and which she’d serve with rice and egg and lemon sauce. And strangely for a child, I always adored spinach – and still do,” she says.
“My earliest cooking memory must be about half a century old – which is a strange thought!
“My mother believed in child labour and used to get me and my sister who was 16 months younger than me to make mayonnaise: one of us would whisk, with an old fashioned balloon whisk while the other slowly drip-dripped oil into the bowl. We must have been about 6 and 7 then.”
Nigella has now made this mayonnaise a hundred times over and has a comprehensive collection of kitchen tips and tricks which she showcases throughout her new series.
Here, she shares with Lifestyle her most useful kitchen hack, the ingredients she’s currently obsessed with and one of her favourite dishes to cook.
The ingredients she can't cook without:
I love cooking with ginger. It’s as wonderful in baking as in savoury cooking: it adds depth and warmth, and I love it in all its manifestations: ground dried ginger, fresh ginger, candied stem ginger and crystallised ginger, but I know I couldn’t cook without fresh ginger in the house. To me it’s as essential as garlic.
My newest passion, though is fresh turmeric, but I’m only just starting out on the journey. Having said that, I’ve got two fabulous recipes in this series that celebrate the wonderfulness of fresh turmeric.
The recipe she’s loving right now:
I do love making a pavlova: I’m a self-confessed pavaholic. I learnt my method from the magnificent Stephanie Alexander and have enjoyed playing with variations over the years. My latest pavlova is a dreamy aromatic one, with pepper and rosewater in the base, and strawberries steeped in passionfruit juice on top.
Her all-time favourite kitchen hack:
When I was trying to overcome my fear of poaching eggs, I tried so many different ways, and it wasn’t until I cracked the eggs into a strainer to remove the watery bit of egg white that I really felt I had got anywhere.
I’d first heard of this method from Ludo Lefebvre and then from Heston Blumental. I don’t do this every time I poach my egg in the morning – but I certainly do when making the Turkish Eggs (a recipe I kick off this series with).
For me, what also makes all the difference is not adding the egg directly to the water (which must not be bubbling) but to a cup or ramekin first. Then adding vinegar not to the water in the pan, but to the egg white. Actually, I mostly use lemon rather than vinegar. But either way, this method makes all the difference in the world!
How she survives the silly season:
I don’t know that it’s ever possible to make sure that everything runs smoothly, but I always write endless lists so that I don’t forget any detail in the flurry of the busy moment. If I write myself a plan of what I want to cook when, and then make the shopping list to go with it, I then feel I can relax and go with it. Sometimes I find the decision-making the most tiring, so once I’ve got that done, and worked out how to streamline the shopping and chores, I feel just that little bit lighter about everything.
I feel that the fewer decisions that have to be made when you’re busy, the more you can enjoy everything, and then everything just feels less pressurised. I’m not saying I always stick to my decisions but if I change my mind about what I might cook, it’s because I want to. Guidelines are good but hard and fast rules are too restricting!