British television celebrity and best-selling cookbook author Nigella Lawson recalls that when the other girls wanted to be French, she wanted to be Italian.
"As a teenager, what drew me was the combination of familial warmth and glamour that was somehow both earthy and chic," Lawson said about Italy, where she lived between high school and college.
Her eighth cookbook, "Nigellissima," focuses exclusively on 120 Italian-inspired recipes.
"Somehow by speaking Italian, I came into the person I am," the 53-year-old, Oxford-educated cook added.
London-based Lawson, who is appearing in the U.S. cooking show "The Taste," spoke to Reuters about creating recipes and about how her most joyful moment in the kitchen is opening the fridge, seeing what is inside and trying to make something taste good from it, which she admits is "absolutely the antithesis of a cookery book."
Is this your first Italian cookbook?
"It sort of is, and isn't. It's the first that's just Italian, or Italian-inspired. Because Italy has been such a big influence in my life, in my cooking life, there are actually more Italian recipes in my other books. But this is the only time I've done a book with such a narrow focus geographically."
How would you describe your take on Italian cuisine?
"I suppose what I bring to it is a slightly more contemporary, urban edge in the sense that I live a busy modern city life, whereas so many Italian recipes come from a time when women were expected to spend a long time in the kitchen. I suppose I bring a kind of temporary impatience because it's the way I live now."
How did you learn to cook?
"I've never learned to cook. I just cooked from when I was a child, always. I come from a large family and my mother believed in child labor, so I've cooked since I was about six. I do come from a food-obsessed family. That helps. I did have to teach myself how to cook weighing and measuring. It was an education in itself, and an interesting one."
Do you create the recipes in your books?
"Well, they're mine, and if they're not I will always say. I think it's improper not to credit recipes. Often I credit someone even if I've changed it enormously because I feel for the reader it's very interesting to see the evolution of a recipe. So I will go back through the mists of time (to trace) how this recipe evolved."
How does being a home cook, rather than a professional chef, influence your approach to preparing food?
"Cooking for me is in part an evangelical zeal that I want to share. If I've loved a book that I've read, I want to share that as well. A chef needs to feel they're being original. I just have the home cook sensibility: not wanting to waste money or time.
"Generally I make sure that if I buy a certain stash of ingredients, I can cook many different dishes. Cooking is not about heaping in ingredient after ingredient after ingredient. If I read a recipe and I'm exhausted by the time I finish reading the ingredients list, I know I'm never going to cook it."
Did you enjoy co-hosting the reality TV show "The Taste?"
"I had a certain amount of trepidation but I really enjoyed it ... Because it was really about the taste of the food and not about personalities, I didn't think it was going to descend into the cruelty of some reality TV, that would appall me."
Sicilian Pasta with Tomatoes, Garlic & Almonds
1 1⁄4 pounds fusilli lunghi or other pasta of your choice
salt for pasta water, to taste
8 ounces cherry or grape tomatoes
6 anchovy fillets
2 tablespoons golden raisins
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1/3 cup skinned almonds
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil leaves from small bunch
basil (approx. 1 cup, packed )
Put abundant water on to boil for the pasta, waiting for it to boil before salting it. Add the pasta and cook following the package instructions, though start checking it a good 2 minutes before it's meant to be ready.
While the pasta is cooking, make the sauce by putting all the remaining ingredients, except the basil, into a processor and blitzing until you have a nubby-textured sauce.
Just before draining the pasta, remove a cupful of pasta-cooking water and add 2 tablespoonfuls of it down the funnel of the processor, pulsing as you go.
Tip the drained pasta into your warmed serving bowl. Pour and scrape the sauce on top, tossing to coat (add a little more pasta-cooking water if you need it) and strew the basil leaves on top.