Tag Archives: vacation

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

Some more good reads…

Although I do plenty of reading during the winter months, like many of you I find more time to read in summer. One of the things I am truly happy about right now is that one of the major libraries in my area has finally opened after a massive refurbishment project. During the past nine months we were left with a meagre selection of books in the temporary building, which I only visited once. No surprise there. However the new library opened a few weeks ago and I was pleased to see that it’s now bigger and better. It’s not really local to me unfortunately; it’s in a different town and I have to drive to get there, but the library in my town frankly doesn’t cut it. Since it’s an effort I get loads of books in one go, just in case (and I use this phrase a lot) I finish a book in one sitting (which happens rarely) and I need another one!

So during my first visit I borrowed nine books, almost all travel-related, specifically about Italy. I have really been obsessed about the country since our trip to Rome. I felt nostalgic and wanted to return. I cannot physically go right now, so I read about it instead. Still good. I started off with Bella Tuscany, Francis Mayes’ sequel to Under the Tuscan Sun. She published it quite a while ago but I thought it would make a fun read. And it did. Even though I have watched Under the Tuscan Sun (the movie), it is a different story than the book, which admittedly I have yet to read. In Bella Tuscany (I just love this title) Mayes introduces new people and events in her and her partner/later husband Ed’s life, as well as revisiting other characters which she writes about in the first book. And, the renovations of Bramasole continue in full swing, with some glitches, as with all things in life.

What made it even more fun is the food, if that’s your kind of thing. What I was not aware of is that apart from being a travel writer, Mayes is also a gourmet cook. I would love to find some time to try her take on the recipes. She doesn’t give loads, which can be a good thing; this is not a cookery book. It’s about life, relationships, gardening, wine-making, food of course, hope and spring, with it’s beautiful Italian produce. There’s also an incident with a snake which is no big whoop – for you – but it still gives me the creeps! (Incidentally there’s a snake incident in the next book I just read. What is it with the Italian countryside and these things??)

I’m no literary expert. I just love to read, but I like the simplicity in this book. I like difficult prose, and have learnt to appreciate it over the years (not when I was at school) but as time goes by I decided that life is too short. I don’t mean to diminish the importance of good literature, and I am in no way promoting trashy novels or mags. What I mean to say is that you don’t necessarily need big words or complex explanations to write well. Bella Tuscany is a good example of this.

The next book I quickly picked up because I quite like the cover is Extra Virgin: amongst the olive groves of Liguria by Annie Hawes. (Perhaps I shouldn’t have mentioned that!) Apart the occasional snake story, (alas I think I might have to get used to it), this time Hawes writes about her impulse buy, obviously an old house in Liguria. Specifically near tiny Diano San Pietro. Annie is originally from London, but when she was persuaded by her sister to travel to Northern Italy for some work experience, she was hooked. No time like the present to get herself a little rustico, clean it up, repair it with the help of some inquisitive new neighbours who cannot really understand why two strange women wanted to live in the area, and why they had to walk everywhere! There are the funny moments and the not-so-funny ones, but it’s all good. Great food, how-to and how-not-to construction advice, including some for the new orto, and hard-working people is what you’ll find here. Absolutely beautiful.

Rob x