Timeless tips from Nigella Lawson

SIXTY GOING ON THIRTY: Nigella Lawson
SIXTY GOING ON THIRTY: Nigella Lawson
Image: SUPPLIED

For more than 20 years, Nigella Lawson has been a champion of easy, enjoyable, and, often, indulgent food — and today, as she turns 60 (despite barely ageing a day since her early television days of Nigella Bites and Nigellissima), we have a lot to thank her for.

From the publication of her very first book, How to Eat, in 1998 (now immortalised as a Vintage Classic), it was clear to many that Nigella would become a household name in the world of food writing.

“Slowly, this book brought back my old enthusiasm,” Diana Henry has written of Lawson’s power to inspire her into the kitchen.

Since then Nigella has published countless classics, from Nigella Bites and the Italian-inspired Nigellissima, to the baking bible How To Be A Domestic Goddess and Nigella Express.

Many of us have her to thank for trays of classic fudgy chocolate brownies and girdlebuster pies — recipes perhaps now known by heart.

From her cookbooks and televisions series, in which she shares useful tidbits and time-saving hacks (delivered among such exuberant phrases as “gorgeous golden globules”), and from candid interviews which have revealed her wonderfully refreshing outlook on health, body image and diet culture, here are some timeless tips we’ve learned from the domestic goddess over the years.

Raiding the fridge at midnight (for snacks of any size or type) is perfectly acceptable.

Never overlook retro ingredients. In Forever Summer (2005, republished as Nigella Summer in 2014, Penguin,), her “old fashioned” tomato salad stars a homemade version of salad cream — a recipe that went viral after Nigella posted it on her Instagram feed.

If you want to taste your food, turn down the music. Nigella recently sparked debate when she announced that the loud music favoured in many trendy restaurants nowadays leaves her “unable to taste her food”. 

We needn’t to be slaves to recipes in order to eat well. Nigella’s How To Eat (1998) spoke to scores of people who felt overwhelmed by recipes with unattainable ingredients and lengthy instructions.

PLAY IT SAFE: When planning a picnic don’t take anything that will grow waxy or dry in the heat
PLAY IT SAFE: When planning a picnic don’t take anything that will grow waxy or dry in the heat
Image: SUNDAY TIMES

When making something for a picnic, she advises in How to Eat, “choose nothing fussy, nothing that will grow waxy or dry in the heat.” 

Just 375g spaghetti, 50g unsalted butter, 1 tsp marmite and a little grated Parmesan can create a meal worthy of kings. Unconvinced? Try it for yourself — it features in Nigella Express (2007).

You don’t need a qualification to cook. In many of her books Nigella stresses that, “I am not a chef. I am not even a trained or professional cook. My qualification is as an eater.” 

Life would be better with a transparent toaster.

After one featured in her latest TV series, At My Table, the need to see one’s bread browning suddenly became pressing. This one from Amazon has a good likeness.

For the perfect poached egg, crack an egg into a tea strainer to separate the watery parts of the egg white.

Next, tip the egg into a ramekin and add 1 tsp lemon juice, before dropping into just-simmering water and poaching for three to four minutes  — according to Nigella, lemon juice has the same effect as adding vinegar but solves the problem of a slightly vinegar-tinged egg.

Snacking’s okay. “If you need to eat between meals, don’t allow yourself to feel you’ve failed,” she said in an interview with The Radio Times.

TIE THE ROSEMARY DOWN: Tie a sprig or two of rosemary in muslin, or even in a clean stocking, to prevent the needles from poking into your dish
TIE THE ROSEMARY DOWN: Tie a sprig or two of rosemary in muslin, or even in a clean stocking, to prevent the needles from poking into your dish
Image: SUPPLIED

If a recipe calls for a sprig or two of rosemary, tie them up in muslin or even in a clean pop sock or stocking.

This prevents the rosemary needles from poking into your dish.

Words and phrases like “rambunctious”, “rapturous” and even “a hint of inner thigh wibble”, really do have a place in food writing.

“A tablespoon is not what you might think of as a tablespoon, that’s to say some capaciously bowled piece of cutlery for dishing vegetables out at the table, but a precise measurement: 15ml.” (Feast, 2006)

On days when you crave a takeaway pizza but can’t bring yourself to indulge, use shop-bought naan breads as a base and build your own. A recipe can be found in Nigella Express.

“If you have hot enough gravy you never need worry about how cold everything else has got — a very important factor when catering relatively large-scale.” (Feast) ​

You don’t need expensive equipment to bake.

“Your hands, a bowl and a wooden spoon should see you through most of it, along with a couple of Springform tins, a loaf tin, a muffin tray, a pie and flan dish and a rolling pin,” Nigella writes in How to Be a Domestic Goddess (1998, Penguin). 

That said, an electric stand mixer will make your baking life infinitely easier.

NO HARM DONE: Ready-grated Parmesan is quite acceptable
NO HARM DONE: Ready-grated Parmesan is quite acceptable
Image: SUNDAY TIMES

It’s acceptable to use ready-grated Parmesan — just make sure if has a resealable tub to avoid drying out.

When having people round for supper, get the oven heated and any pans and pots filled with water and boiling in advance, she advises in Nigellissima (2012, Penguin).

It’s fine to keep your rings on when kneading bread. In fact, it just adds to the glamour.

Basil “enhances the natural sweetness of peas” and so is a good alternative in pea soup (How to Eat).

Replace croutons in your Caesar salad with small roasted potatoes, as Nigella does in her recipe; because what recipe can’t be improved with the addition of a roastie?

Curves should be celebrated, rather than, in Nigella’s case, airbrushed. In December 2018 she revealed that she has had to ask American TV companies not to airbrush her “sticking-out stomach”.

Silk robes are still in: searches for slinky dressing gowns spike every time Nigella is filmed in one.

There’s no such thing as a guilty pleasure. “I think you should only feel guilty if you don’t take pleasure,” she says.

ESSENTIAL EATING: If you make anything from scratch for a weekday breakfast, make it a muffin
ESSENTIAL EATING: If you make anything from scratch for a weekday breakfast, make it a muffin
Image: SUPPLIED

If you’re going to make anything from scratch for a weekday breakfast, it’s got to be a muffin.

Nigella Bites (2001, Penguin) includes her version, which requires only “the laziest of stirring.”

Sometimes, the simplest pleasures are the best — like baking a cake.

“There’s something about seeing such elemental change, that flour, butter, sugar, eggs could become this — and more, that you’ve brought it about — that’s so satisfying.” (How to be a Domestic Goddess)

When attempting to manage the minefield of modern intolerances and dietary preferences, Nigella says to “make sure that everyone has something to eat, but I don’t see my job as having to cater for every dietary whim.”

There’s always a time for junk food, “but you need proper food to feel properly alive”.

The most effective way to learn how to cook is to watch someone doing it.

HAVE A LITTLE FAITH: Don’t taste the wine in a restaurant — just ask the waiter to pour
HAVE A LITTLE FAITH: Don’t taste the wine in a restaurant — just ask the waiter to pour
Image: SUNDAY TIMES

Trust the sommelier. Nigella has said that she never tastes the wine first in restaurants, “I just ask the waiter to pour.”

There’s still a place for seduction in the kitchen.

Now famous around the world (even if unintentionally) for her culinary innuendoes, Nigella proves that cooking is, after all, meant to bring pleasure.

There’s always room for some “careful tinkering” when making a dish.

On the other hand, if you really don’t enjoy cooking, she says, don’t do it. “Why make yourself miserable?”  — The Telegraph 

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