Tag Archives: Gastronomy of Italy

Reviews and Recipes: Nigellissima.

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Writing a review about a book I really love is one thing, but doing so for one I have mixed feelings about is another. There is no need to say how much I like Nigella Lawson and her style of cooking. There are reviews out there saying something like: What is this? Another BBC series to accompany the book? I, on the other hand can say that I am enjoying the show. And yet, I still have my doubts. (This is *such* a hard thing to say!)

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I have purchased Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration myself, for various reasons; one, because I like her, and two, for the sake of completing the set (until the publication of the next book, of course.) Nigellissima is very different than all the others; this is not a bad thing in itself. I like the toned-down appearance of it, including the fact that there are more photos of the food than of Nigella herself. Though, to be honest, I miss her encyclopaedic style of writing. I miss the chunky in-your-face book, but there again, there can be only one How to Eat, Feast or book number eight, Kitchen. I always try to read cookbooks from cover to cover whenever I can, especially for reviews. I read this too. In a day. We don’t need a book as big as the Bible to convey the beauty and the simplicity of Italian food. Do we? Anna Del Conte has done it; so has Giorgio Locatelli. Perhaps I am totally missing the point. Nigellissima is the lovely lady’s take on Italian fare and that’s that. (Mentioning Anna Del Conte, the classic must-have is *not* Cooking with Coco as Nigella insists – perhaps a bit too much – but Gastronomy of Italy. More like it.) As far as ingredients go, I don’t understand the continuing emphasis on the so-called banana shallot. My Maltese readers are definitely familiar with the kind of onion we use for pickling. It is also found all over the south of France.

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Please allow me to say something negative, and then I promise you it’s all positive from then on. I am not convinced of the savoury recipes – they left me a bit wanting. (And there endeth the negative ranting.) But hey, the sweet things are fantastically easy and tasty. I have been trying some of the recipes all week and boy, have they been a hit! The Tiramisini (page 162), a scaled-down version of the Tiramisù, is to die for. Please note that I am not a fan of Tiramisù. During a recent visit to Frascati (by all means not the home of this dessert) I had no choice but to have a taste. It was good of course, but nothing to write home about. However Nigella’s version is something else. Individual portions made it all the more easier to serve. Just get a glass or ramekin out and you’re done. It just needed an extra Savoiardi though to absorb more of the coffee mixture. But it is fine, even as is. You can find the recipe on Nigella’s website here. Try it and you will be a convert.

Yesterday, while the house was one big mess and J was working from home, I wanted to take a break: I needed a moment for baking. I decided to try the Italian Breakfast Banana Bread (on page 188). Good decision. In 10 minutes flat the cake was in the oven. There isn’t much Italian to be found in a banana bread, let’s face it, even if coffee is added to the mixture, and I like the recipe more for it’s fast preparation than for anything else, but it worked. And it was what I needed at that moment. This weekend it’s all about Nutella cheesecake. (I also made the Instant Chocolate Orange Mousse. The one from Express was quick and gloriously rich, but this one is better.)

Even though I would give Nigellissima a 3.5 on 5, there’s still a significant space for it in my bookshelf and in my kitchen. Taking baby steps for now, but it’s getting there.

Rob x

What I’m reading now #2

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I’ve been reading Ching-He Huang’s Chinese Food Made Easy (Harper Collins, 2008) and Ching’s Fast Food (same publisher, 2011). I love Ching – her girly giggle and her never-ending enthusiasm for food are contagious. I prefer Ching’s Fast Food best because apart from being a recipe book, it is also a kind of memoir. I love this combination. I don’t have any clue about real Chinese cooking – and I mean the *real* deal, not the Americanised recipes we are so accustomed to eating in many so-called Chinese restaurants. As Ching says “Chinese food remains unappreciated…but there are signs that the disparity between takeaway food and ‘real’ Chinese cuisine is lessening.” Which is a good sign. It would be fantastic to experience a home-cooked meal, but alas, I could be waiting for quite a while! Ching’s recipes in both books are a twist on the traditional ones, I find her to be most inspiring and I will definitely try to be more adventurous with my cooking…

There’s nothing wrong with tradition though, which brings me to a family of books which I purchased from the National Trust. I have two favourites: The National Trust Farmhouse Cookbook and Complete Traditional Recipe Book. I have made quite a number of recipes from both books. The latter is quite thick and it’s almost split half and half (sweet and savoury/cooking and baking). The Farmhouse Cookbook is not to be overlooked though; it takes you to different NT properties and tells you about local specialities and ingredients, and of course how these are sourced. They are a good reference for anyone who wants to know more about British food (yes, there *is* such a thing) and British heritage.

Hopping from the UK to Italy now…(it’s almost sounding like Euro 2012)! Well, I won’t go into that but there’s no denying that the food in Italy is not just great – it’s divine. If you agree and you love to cook, then you just have to have Anna Del Conte’s Gastronomy of Italy. I know I have mentioned this book before but I cannot have a list of favourites and not include it! It would be just plain wrong. It’s not just a recipe book – it’s a mixture of food and history, and you know how much I enjoy this kind of literature. This is a must-have for anyone interested in the subject.

I won’t bore you anymore with my ramblings (on books that is…) but I hope that you will find all this helpful if you’re thinking about getting some cookbooks either for you or for a foodie friend. Now for a brief disclaimer to put things right, please note that I was *not* paid by anyone to review these books. They are just the ones I like at this moment and of course whatever I wrote about them is my personal opinion. Patti chiari, amicizia lunga, or so they say…

Rob x

Savoury puddings…

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Most people would say that I have a sweet tooth, but if you read in between the lines of my several rants in this blog (for which I constantly apologise – but I know I don’t always need to), you’ll know that perhaps this is not the case. I love sweet things, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes there’s nothing better than some fresh crusty bread and cheese to alter my mood. Did I forget to include those lovely salty anchovies?! It’s now widely acknowledged that too much salt is not good for the system, but extra seasoning is needed many times for flavour. There’s nothing worse than a bland plate of soup. I know you know what I’m talking about.

When I lived in Michigan some years ago I spent loads of time alone in the kitchen thinking about what my next bake would be. Food Network US was constantly on, day in day out, no exception. I used to drive J totally mad I think! But that’s when my food obsession started. So one morning I saw a short snippet of Nigella Bites. I can’t remember the episode this recipe was from, but I saw her concocting a pudding she served with ham. I quickly tried to write it down and missed some steps here and there, but I thought that I had a workable recipe anyway. So I tried what I had written and the recipe worked. This is before I bought the book. The result was a creamy cake, not that solid I must say, but it was done, the skewer came out perfectly clean. It was wierd but tasted great and I wondered where Nigella got the idea from. You see, however far you look, recipes are always inherited when it comes to home cooking, and there’s nothing wrong in this. There’s a sense of tradition which I love – I have no worries about passing on recipes, especially the ones which I’ve grown up with. There’s no secret here.

I never found where this idea came from until I came back from Rome last week. I was reading through Anna Del Conte’s Gastronomy of Italy which is definitely one of the must-haves in your kitchen library if you are interested in Italian food and its history. I was thinking about buying it when I discovered that I already had! I rummaged through my books on my last visit to Malta and found it hidden in the shelves! Go figure. In this book I found a recipe for what Del Conte calls Salviata, a.k.a. sage pudding. Nigella’s version is *not* a replica of the Salviata – there are many differences. What I would say is that the Italian recipe is much healthier, if you’re counting the calories. Also, like almost all things Italian it has Parmesan in it of course. I haven’t tried the Salviata yet, but the following is Nigella’s English pudding, which is really quick and easy to prepare, but don’t make it often, ok? You’ll get why in a minute. Also it needs it’s time in the oven to bake through. So give it time. As always, please note that every oven is different, so experiment and don’t give up if it doesn’t turn out the way you’ve hoped.

Before you read on, you also need creamed corn for this recipe. I would recommend you add it here because it will make a big difference in the pudding’s consistency. It’s so good you’ll want to eat it straight out of the can with a spoon! Well I do anyway! You can easily find it in supermarkets in the UK. This is my version of Nigella’s recipe. I take her advice on board as always and use a Pyrex dish, which always works. You need:

  • 5 eggs
  • 280g sweetcorn, frozen (or drain a 340g can – you’ll get roughly the same amount)
  • 420g can creamed corn
  • 300ml semi-skimmed milk (Nigella uses full-fat but I find it works like this too)
  • 300ml double cream
  • 60g plain flour (4 heaped tablespoons will work fine)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch of coarse salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  1. Grease an ovenproof dish with some butter and flour, and preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas mark 4.
  2. In a large bowl whisk the eggs, add the other ingredients and beat very very well! Pour into the dish and place it in the oven. Give it 45 minutes and keep an eye on it through the oven. That’s why you’ll want to use a glass dish here. Wait for it to turn golden brown and puffed up on the top. Give it a good hour if this isn’t so. If you think it’s cooked check it as you do usually, with a knife or skewer but try to leave the dish in the oven as you do this. Ask for some help if you need to.

If you see that it took longer than an hour to cook, next time try it at 190°C as the book says. I find that for an electric oven ten degrees less is more than enough. Experiment and enjoy it though. It makes a mean snack, or a really good side with anything. Happy baking!

Rob x