Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Cookbook Review ~ Nigellissima by Nigella Lawson

It's no surprise that Nigella Lawson's latest book, Nigellissima, is an Italian cookbook since she is so emphatic about how much she loves Italian food and culture, and all of her previous cookbooks feature a lot of Italian or Italian inspired recipes. And in all honesty what else would you expect from someone who spent a gap year working and living in Italy and has (at last count) around 500 Italian cookbooks! It was definitely time for her to add her own name to her collection!

That being said, I wouldn't necessarily classify Nigellissima as an Italian cookbook but it certainly is as the cover clearly states, an Italian inspired cookbook. In this latest book the Domestic Goddess has taken some of her favourite Italian recipes and influences and turned them into her usual no-fuss, no nonsense, speedy recipes that can be made in your home kitchen with minimal ingredients and hassle.

The book is divided into 5 chapters which includes 'Pasta', 'Flesh, Fish & Fowl', 'Vegetables & Sides', 'Sweet Things' and 'An Italian-Inspired Christmas'. All of the chapters feature a good variety of recipes bound to inspire you to get into the kitchen and start cooking with some Italian flare! I bookmarked a lot of recipes but in the end I tested 7.

The Tested Recipes:

Yellow Spaghetti
Cod with Broccoli & Chilli
Tagliata for Two
Chilli Crab Risotto
Chicken with Tomatoes & Peppers
Nutella Panna Cotta
Yogurt Pot Cake

It's not much of a surprise that an Italian inspired cookbook by Nigella Lawson starts off with the first chapter being (much to my delight) 'Pasta'. Being a pastaholic there were plenty of recipes bookmarked from this chapter and so the first recipe I put to the test was her Yellow Spaghetti. When it comes to dishes flavoured with saffron, especially pasta dishes, I'm a little hesitant after a particularly bad dish I had several years ago at a restaurant, however I knew from the list of ingredients that hubby would love this dish so I decided to give it a go, especially because it was a very quick recipe perfect for a mid-week meal when time is not on your side. It was incredibly fast and easy to make and tasted good. Scott absolutely loved it and only complained that there wasn't more! I enjoyed it as much as I would enjoy any creamy sauce (being more of a tomato sauce lover) and would make it again for the fact it was so quick and easy and a little different (and of course to keep hubby happy!).

Up next and Scott was away so I made the Cod with Broccoli & Chilli. Again it was a very straightforward recipe and didn't take long to prepare. I substituted the anchovies with bacon which Nigella suggests you can do if you aren't an anchovy lover because I knew Wee One would prefer bacon. Due to using bacon I did cut down the amount of oil required but other than that I followed the recipe to a tee! I enjoyed the dish and I did like the flavours of the sauce from the Broccoli but to be honest it didn't wow me. The broccoli although still lovely and tender-crisp was certainly not the vibrant green as in her picture and so looked a little sorry for itself! The fish was lovely and the chilli certainly elevated the recipe a bit but it wasn't a favourite, however it would make a healthy mid-week meal (especially if you use anchovies rather than the bacon) that can be on the table in a hurry. If I make this again I would stick to the original recipe of using anchovies rather than the bacon as I suspect that might be more successful.

Next up and with Scott still away I opted for the Tagliata for Two. I picked this recipe for when he was away, not because I wanted to torture him by eating a steak without him(!) but because the second main ingredient to this dish is cherry tomatoes which is a strict no-go for him! The other issue I had with this dish was how to cook the steak. The recipe suggests a hot griddle or frying pan – both of these options would cause Scott to have heart palpitations (or worse!) since he says the only way to cook a steak is to barbecue it otherwise you don't bother! The problem is after 8 years of barbecued steaks it's hard not to only eat them that way since they are just SO good but I figured in the end I should stick to the recipe so I went for the griddle pan option (much to hubby's horror!). I have to say though the end result was delicious! The marinade for the steak and tomatoes was perfect – both sweet and tangy and with a bit of a kick. I loved it and will definitely make it again, although next time perhaps on the BBQ!

With Scott's arrival home I decided to make something a little more special and tested the Chilli Crab Risotto since hubby is a huge lover of crab. It was a typical recipe for risotto but with the standard Nigella shortcuts (garlic oil instead of oil and crushed garlic, and spring onions for a faster easier alternative to onion!). I have to say as I tested it towards the end of cooking time I was really enjoying it, but then I added the final ingredients (the crab, lemon and rocket) let it stand and somehow along the way in my opinion went downhill. I couldn't quite put my finger on it – too much crab perhaps and definitely too much rocket but on top of that there was just something missing. We all ate it (including Wee One thankfully – even with all the rocket in it) and hubby's opinion was it was “ok” agreeing that something was missing but he wasn't sure what either. Unfortunately for me this recipe was a bit of a fail which is always a disappointment especially cause it looked so good in the picture and sounded so delicious.

Not to be deterred by the risotto I moved on to the next recipe which sounded like the perfect mid-week family friendly meal – Chicken with Tomatoes and Peppers. This looked and sounded like my perfect meal so I was hoping I wouldn't be disappointed. Thankfully I wasn't. It was a fairly simple dish – and certainly my favourite flavours so I enjoyed it more than hubby did but for me it was a success and a good midweek meal. That being said, next time I make it I would definitely add some extra's here and there, just to give it a little extra flavour boost, but all-in-all it was a good recipe.

It wasn't going to be long until I made my way to the 'Sweet Things' chapter which I think happened to be one of my favourite chapters! For a special weekend treat I just couldn't resist the Nutella Panna Cotta. A perfectly easy recipe for Panna Cotta it didn't long to make and I knew from licking the spoon after putting them in the cups that it was going to be good! Since the recipe served 6 we got to enjoy them over 2 nights which was a good experiment in terms of how long to let them set. Night one had had 6 hours which she suggests as the minimum time and although set on top were a little too wobbly underneath. By night two however they had a perfect texture – just set but still with a lovely wobble to them! This is a definite recipe to pull out next time I'm entertaining.

Finally I couldn't resist making the Yogurt Pot Cake because it reminded me so much of a recipe of my Granny's that I used to make all the time when I was younger (sadly I think the recipe has been misplaced as I unfortunately don't have it). I was desperate to get a savarin/ring cake tin like the one she uses as it looked so lovely but I wasn't able to find one so had to stick to a standard round cake tin. The other issue I had was that funnily enough yogurt pots are smaller in Canada than the UK (I know – highly unusual, normally it's the other way around!) but I stuck to the recipe and the principal that your yogurt pot is your unit of measure so as long as everything is measured by the pot then it shouldn't be a problem. This recipe was definitely a little more time consuming than the one I used to make as I certainly don't remember whisking the egg whites but it does make for a lighter cake so worth an extra few minutes of your time. I needed to cook the cake for 5 minutes longer than suggested (although could have probably got away with 3-4). The end result was just as I had hoped it would be and brought back lots of memories, however it was at it's best when still warm out of the oven. Although it still had a lot of flavour by the next day it was a little heavy so next time I make it I will try to be a little lighter with my mixing and see if that makes a difference. Due to it being baked in a large round tin it was also a fairly flat cake so I have to admit I'm still on the lookout for a Savarin tin to finish it off perfectly! All-in-all though I'm so happy to have this recipe again (or at least a close variation of it) and it was a great way to end testing the book.

As well as the recipes tested above for the purpose of reviewing this book, I've also made the Sicilian Pasta with Tomatoes, Garlic & Almonds (which is the dish Nigella is pictured eating on the cover of the book which was very tasty although it was an effort finding the right type of pasta which isn't essential but I couldn't resist!) The Curly-Edged Pasta with Lamb Ragu (which I made for Christmas Eve and everyone loved other than the fact I made enough to feed the neighbourhood!) and the Broccoli with Lemon & Parmesan (great side dish which we love and I have made several times).

And of course I still have a list as long as my arm of bookmarked recipes that I want to try, including …...

Tortelloni Minestrone
Sardinian Couscous with Clams
Pork Loin with Parma Ham & Oregano
Chicken with Tarragon Salsa Verde
Green Beans with Pistachio Pesto
Cherry Tomatoes with Olives
Roast Brussels Sprouts with Rosemary, Lemon & Pecorino
Italian Golden Lentils
Gnocchi Gratin
Saffron Orzotto
Instant Chocolate-Orange Mousse
Vanilla Mousse with Berries & Pistachios
Double Amaretto Semifreddo with Golden-Gleaming Sauce
Chocolate Hazelnut Cheesecake
Chocolate Olive Oil Cake
Chocolate Pasta with Pecans & Caramel
Gorgonzola & Cannellini Dip with a Tricolore Flourish
Polenta Triangles with Chilli Tomato Sauce
Tomatoes, Mozzarella & Basil, My Way
Spaghetti Spice
Pannettone French Toast
Chocolate Nougat Cookies

This book is certainly as the cover says, “Italian inspired” recipes which in true Nigella style have been simplified and adapted to be made easily in the comfort of your own home with minimal time and everyday ingredients and a definite “Anglo twist”. If you are looking for authentic Italian recipes I don't think you would be satisfied, however there are lots of delicious recipes that are certainly inspired by those authentic recipes. I like how a lot of the recipes serve 2 instead of the typical 4, especially the pasta recipes but they can all be easily doubled if need be. That being said the quantity they serve varies throughout the book with some recipes feeding 8 and the 'Italian Inspired Christmas' chapter serving lots!

I did have a couple of disappointments with the book, the first one being that there were no recipes for pizza! Being a huge pizza lover I'm surprised that a modern Italian inspired book wouldn't feature any (other that her recipe for Meatzza which I was not convinced with and opted to skip!) so I wish she had included a few of those but perhaps she just isn't a pizza lover! Secondly, it's not a major thing but I wish she had given a bit more guidance with the side dishes as what to serve them with. I loved the sound of a lot of them but there was never any suggestion as to what she would recommend they go with which I would have found useful. Other than that though it really is a lovely book.

Specialty Ingredients?
It seems that whenever I review one of Nigella's cookbooks it's my liquor cabinet that gets stocked up! This book has seen the addition of Marsala and Vermouth both of which I am happy to have though as they are great for lots of different recipes. I had a little bit of difficulty finding the pasta for the Sicilian Pasta with Tomatoes, Garlic & Almonds but you could use any long pasta. Also the Sardinian Couscous with Clams that I have bookmarked may be on the list for a while as it's definitely not easy for me to find the Fregola that the recipe calls for. Other than that though I think most other ingredients are certainly everyday ingredients that you can find at your local supermarket or deli.

Learn anything new?
I don't think I learnt anything new with this book especially because I am also a huge fan of Italian food and cooking (and maintain if I wasn't Scottish I should have been Italian!) but it did inspire me which is always a bonus, and of course I rediscovered the recipe for the Yogurt Pot Cake and tried the delicious Nutella Panna Cotta.

As with all of her books this is a lovely book for when you want easy and simple dishes but this time with an Italian flare. The recipes are ideal for mid-week meals (especially the pasta dishes) but are also perfect for entertaining for a relaxed get-together. I definitely enjoyed the Sweet Things chapter the most (as you can tell from the amount of sweet recipes I've bookmarked!) but each chapter had plenty of recipes I was keen to try. I don't think my family would let me get away with changing tradition and opting for the 'Italian-Inspired Christmas' but I would certainly use the recipes for a family meal or Birthday and for meals in the lead up to Christmas.

Although I wasn't wowed by all of the recipes I tested (primarily the Chilli Crab Risotto and the Cod with Broccoli and Chilli) I really enjoyed the rest and will definitely make them again and of course continue to try the other recipes in the book.

Nigellissima by Nigella Lawson gets the Vanilla Clouds and Lemon Drops stamp of approval.


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