Nigellisima: Easy Italian-Inspired Recipes speaks of nothing more than what we have come to expect from Nigella Lawson’s cookbooks – solid recipes for almost every day cooking.
Stock Your Pantry With These Basics
To appeal to her vast audience, Ms. Lawson sticks with what I have come to think of as her go-to flavor profile; stock your pantry with a bit of chile and lemon, one or two fresh herbs and one or two hard cheeses and, bada-bing-bada-boom, you have the foundation for a pleasing, sometimes captivating, not-too-tricky dinner. To the above list, add a tin of anchovies and bottle each of white and red vermouth to your liquor cabinet for success with Nigellissima’s recipes. Armored with the umami power of these staples and a fry pan, the recipes come together quickly and easily.
The Recipes I Tried
Writing, as I am, during the peak of summer, I selected test recipes that feature the season’s produce. Pasta with Zucchini (page 5) epitomizes summer cooking. Dice some zucchini and onion, pan-sear with a bit of vermouth, then toss with cooked pasta and freshly grated Parmesan. Done. As you might experience in Italy, there is just a hint of garlic in the dish – from a garlic-flavored oil – but it brings the soft flavors together, one not over-powering the other.
Garlic-flavored oil works, too, in Cherry Tomatoes with Olives (page 104). Infused with the oil, then tossed with red vermouth, olives, rosemary and parsley, the tomatoes soften, their acidic character tamed. The dish works on its own or as a dressing for pasta or, this being summer, simply grilled meats.
If you grill the lamb steaks in Lamb Steaks with Anchovies and Thyme (page 57), the vermouth-enriched anchovies, transformed into a sauce powerful enough to balance any gaminess in the lamb, can easily be drizzled over the meat.
Recipes offer straightforward cooking techniques such as pan-frying that most home cooks are comfortable with. The challenge comes in the form of a few less familiar ingredients. Sashimi-quality tuna for Tuscan Tuna Tartare (page 87) or the more sustainable monkfish tail filets in the Monkfish Wrapped in Rosemary, Lemon and Parma Ham (page 79) are not necessarily affordable or easy to source locally.
I challenged myself with Squid and Shrimp with Chili and Marjoram (page 80) served over Italian black rice. I keep neither squid nor black rice on hand. A quick demo from my fishmonger on squid prep was all that was needed for the protein and I skipped the black rice for some wild rice already in the cupboard. Visually, it turned out nearly as nice as the book’s photo and tasted of earth, of sea, of chili.
There are a few crossover dishes such as Italian Tempura Shrimp (page 84) and Chicken with Tarragon Salsa Verde (page 95) and a section devoted to Italian Christmas. These dishes add a bit of interest to this Italian cookbook. But the message here is no fuss, mostly quick Italian.
Whether you are already a fan of Ms. Lawson or are discovering her cooking for the first time, you will find this book useful as a natural extension to your Italian cooking repertoire. With a few basics stocked in the cabinet and fresh herbs in the fridge, you, too, can be a domestic goddess.
This review first appeared on August 12, 2023.