When Nigella Lawson develops recipes, she pays close attention to balance.
“That’s what cooking is, about balancing salt and sweet and fire and sourness and also textures. That is just what cooking is ‚Äî in effect, life,” says the British celebrity cook.
Her 10th book, “Simply Nigella: Feel Good Food,” reflects the way she likes to cook at the moment ‚Äî with recipes that are uncomplicated, relaxed and delicious.
Lately the television personality says she can’t get enough of roasted cauliflower. She makes Warm Spiced Cauliflower and Chickpea Salad With Pomegranate Seeds often because it’s so simple.
“I go home and put the cauliflower in and then I take my coat off, then I’m ready for the chickpea bit and it’s done. I would say that’s my most frequent meal I have.”
She says it’s also delicious for lunch the next day.
“Someone the other day said, ‘I’ve had this for lunch every day for three days.’ I said, ‘I’m sorry you haven’t beaten my record yet. I’ve had it every day for weeks.’ I just always make sure I’ve got it.”
She encourages home cooks to feel free to make substitutions. “All these recipes can be infinitely fiddled with,” she says.
For instance, she often doesn’t put tomatoes in the cauliflower recipe. “If I haven’t got any good tomatoes I don’t bother.”
Here is the recipe along with Lawson’s favourite mac ‘n’ cheese and a dessert she created to satisfy her children’s love of chocolate chip cookies that are gooey on the inside.
WARM SPICED CAULIFLOWER AND CHICKPEA SALAD WITH POMEGRANATE SEEDS
This can be a quick dinner or a vegetable side dish. It can be further bolstered by crumbling in some feta.
“This is also very, very good cold, so if you have some left over, it makes a fabulous box lunch, or provides instant gratification on those days you have to eat fridge-side, with your coat still on, you’re so hungry,” writes Lawson.
1 small head cauliflower
45 ml (3 tbsp) regular olive oil
2 ml (1/2 tsp) ground cinnamon
10 ml (2 tsp) cumin seeds
375 ml (1 1/2 cups) chickpeas (home-cooked or drained from a can or jar)
15 to 30 ml (1 to 2 tbsp) harissa, to taste (and depending on the heat of the harissa)
4 smallish ripe vine tomatoes (about 175 g/6 oz total)
5 ml (1 tsp) sea salt flakes or kosher salt, or to taste
45 to 60 ml (3 to 4 tbsp) pomegranate seeds
625 ml (2 1/2 cups) Italian parsley leaves
Preheat oven to 220 C (425 F). Trim cauliflower and divide into small florets. Pour oil into a large bowl, add cinnamon and cumin seeds, and stir or whisk to help spices disperse. Tip in prepared cauliflower and toss to coat. Pour contents of bowl into a small oven pan (Lawson suggests a disposable foil baking pan measuring 30 by 20 cm/12 by 8 inches) and place in oven for 15 minutes. Don’t wash the bowl you’ve been using yet.
Add chickpeas to this bowl, and add harissa, tasting it first to see if you want the full amount; toss to coat. Quarter tomatoes and add to bowl, and shake or stir to mix. When cauliflower has had its 15 minutes, remove pan from oven and quickly tip chickpeas and tomatoes over cauliflower. Toss to combine before returning to the oven for a further 15 minutes until cauliflower is tender.
When it’s ready, remove from oven and sprinkle salt over vegetables, then toss to combine with half of the pomegranate seeds before dividing between 2 bowls. Divide parsley leaves ‚Äî without chopping them ‚Äî between the 2 bowls and toss to mix. Scatter with remaining pomegranate seeds.
Leftovers can be cooled, then covered and refrigerated within 2 hours of making. Will keep in refrigerator for up to 2 days and can be served cold.
Makes 2 hearty servings or 1 with leftovers.
SWEET POTATO MACARONI AND CHEESE
Lawson says this is her favourite macaroni and cheese
“It is delicious and I love the way that the orange of the sweet potato makes it look like plastic cheese. To balance the sweetness of the potato there’s the saltiness of feta and a teeny touch of bitter sage,” she says.
500 g (1 lb) sweet potatoes
1 pkg (284 g/10 oz) pennette or other small short pasta (approx. 500 ml/2 cups)
60 ml (4 tbsp) soft unsalted butter
45 ml (3 tbsp) all-purpose flour
500 ml (2 cups) whole milk
5 ml (1 tsp) English (hot) mustard
2 ml (1/2 tsp) paprika, divided
175 ml (3/4 cup) crumbled feta cheese
375 ml (1 1/2 cups) grated sharp cheddar cheese, divided
4 fresh sage leaves
Salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 200 C (400 F). Put on a large-ish saucepan of water to boil, with the lid on to make it come to a boil faster.
Peel sweet potatoes and cut them roughly into 2.5-cm (1-inch) pieces. When water’s boiling, add salt to taste, and then sweet potato pieces, and cook for about 10 minutes or until soft. Scoop them out of the water into a bowl using a slotted spoon and lightly mash with a fork, without turning them into a puree. Don’t get rid of this water, as you will need it to cook your pasta in later.
In another saucepan, gently melt butter and add flour, whisking to form a roux, then remove pan from heat, slowly whisk in milk and, when it’s combined and smooth, return to heat. Exchange your whisk for a wooden spoon, and continue to stir until your gently bubbling sauce has lost any floury taste and has thickened. Add mustard and 1 ml (1/4 tsp) of the paprika. Season to taste, but do remember that you will be adding cheddar and salty feta later, so underdo it for now.
Cook pasta in sweet-potato water, starting to check 2 minutes earlier than package instructions dictate, as you want to make sure it doesn’t lose its bite entirely. Drain (reserving some of the pasta cooking water first) and then add pasta to the mashed sweet potatoes, and fold in to combine; the heat of the pasta will make the potatoes easier to mix in.
Add feta cheese to sweet potato and pasta mixture, crumbling it in so that it is easier to disperse evenly, then fold in bechamel sauce, adding 300 ml (1 1/4 cups) of the grated cheddar as you go. Add some of the pasta cooking water, should you feel it needs loosening up at all.
Check for seasoning again, then spoon brightly sauced macaroni and cheese into 4 small ovenproof dishes (each about 375- to 425-ml/1 1/2- to 1 3/4-cups or 1 large rectangular dish measuring 30 by 20 by 5 cm deep/12 by 8 by 2 inches deep). Sprinkle remaining cheddar over each one, dust with remaining 1 tsp (1/4 tsp) paprika, then shred sage leaves and scatter skinny green ribbons over top.
Place dishes on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes (or, if you’re making this in a larger dish, bake for 30 to 35 minutes), by which time they will be piping hot and bubbling.
MAKE AHEAD: The macaroni and cheese can be made 1 day ahead. When the pasta has cooked, reserve 105 ml (7 tbsp) of the cooking water and add this to the white sauce (it may look a little thin but the pasta absorbs the sauce as it cools). Transfer to the ovenproof dishes (without the sage topping). Once cool, cover and refrigerate within 2 hours of making. Sprinkle with cheddar, paprika and sage just before baking and cook for an extra 5 to 10 minutes, checking that the macaroni and cheese is piping hot in the centre before serving.
Makes 4 servings.
CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE DOUGH POTS
Here is a cookie dough you bake in a little dish and then eat with a spoon, dolloped with ice cream or creme fraiche.
Any time you’re having friends over for supper ‚Äî be they children or adults ‚Äî and don’t know what to make for dessert, this is the answer, says Lawson.
If you don’t own ramekins, use a pie dish. Lawson has used one that measures 20 cm (8 inches) in diameter at the base and 25 cm (10 inches) in diameter at the lip, and it needed 5 minutes’ longer cooking time. But the ramekins give you a better goo-to-crust ratio, and that’s what these are all about, she says.
250 ml (1 cup) all-purpose flour
2 ml (1/2 tsp) fine sea salt
2 ml (1/2 tsp) baking soda
125 ml (8 tbsp) soft unsalted butter (1 stick)
75 ml (1/3 cup) plus 15 ml (1 tbsp) light brown sugar
5 ml (1 tsp) vanilla paste or extract
1 extra large egg
175 ml (3/4 cup) small bittersweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 180 C (350 F), and measure flour, salt and baking soda into a bowl, forking together to mix.
With an electric mixer or by hand, beat butter and sugar until you have a light and creamy mixture, then add vanilla paste or extract and egg, beating again to incorporate.
Gently fold in flour mixture; once it’s mixed in, fold in chocolate chips.
Divide dough among 6 ramekins (you will need about 70 ml/4 1/2 tbsp of batter for each one). Using a small offset spatula (for ease) or the back of a teaspoon, spread mixture to cover bottom of ramekins, and smooth tops.
Place ramekins on a baking sheet and bake for 13 to 15 minutes. They will still be quite gooey inside, but the top will be set, and they should be golden brown at the edges and just beginning to come away from the sides of the ramekins.
Leave to cool for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. You can spoon a scoop of ice cream on top of each one or serve with cream or creme fraiche on side. They will set as they cool, so don’t dally.
Makes 6 servings.
Source: “Simply Nigella: Feel Good Food” by Nigella Lawson (Appetite by Random House, 2015).