Before we left Sydney, I did a massive declutter of cookbooks. I have no idea how many I actually donated to the local op shop, in fact, I don’t want to know. I was only getting rid of them because I knew that I had no shelf space in the new house, although if I’m being completely honest I had no shelf space where we were either – something the real estate agent had pointed out when she “suggested” that we do some serious decluttering before she took photos and began to “show” the house.
When I was deciding what books to keep (and I kept many), I had to keep to some strict criteria. To stay on my shelves the book had to fall into one of the following categories:
- something I cooked from regularly
- great food writing
- great foodie travel writing
- have a good story
- be an absolute classic
- had been given to me by someone I adored
One book that caused me some deliberation was Gordon Ramsay’s Healthy Appetite. The book is a good one, but not one that I cook from much at all and given that it didn’t qualify for any of the above categories, it probably should have gone on the “free to a good home” pile. The problem was that he’d inscribed it to me and signed it. There was even a message he’d written inside. Not that I can read it, the man seriously has handwriting a doctor would be proud of.
The thing is, I didn’t want him to write in it at all. It’s just that my friends had lined up for a signature and I was with them and he wasn’t taking no for an answer – but that’s another story entirely. He was in town for the first season of Masterchef (yes, that long ago). In any case, I now have a book with an indecipherable inscription in it that I can’t bring myself to get rid of.
It’s why I was surprised when I bought Nigella’s “Nigella Express” from the second-hand bookshop at Mooloolaba Beach and found the following written inside the front cover:
Happy 50th Birthday. May this book bring you and your friends together for lots of laughs, full bellies and one or more naughty drinks.
It goes without saying that I’m a massive fan of Nigella – after all, one of my ambitions in life is to cook my way through her books. (Side note – Sarah has mentioned that given my attention span isn’t fabulous, that she’s hoping I’ll move on from that one soon. End of side note.)
While I suspect that the book may have been written to go with the TV series – given that the chapters are TV series chapters – rather than the TV series written to go with the book, that doesn’t matter to me.
The thing that I love about Nigella’s books is the writing – the introductions to chapters, the introductions to recipes. She truly is a writer who cooks, and she writes recipes as an eater would.
Everything in this book is about either cutting corners, saving time, or letting the oven do all the heavy lifting. It’s food for when you have other things to do than cook, and food that lets you do other things while it’s cooking. Some recipes aren’t recipes so much as ideas or a collection of ingredients. No recipe requires you to turn the page. (Side note: I hate books where that happens. It’s the only problem I have with Edd Kimber’s One Tin Bakes – how many recipes required you to turn the page for the method or, in some cases, the remainder of the ingredients. Not good. End of side note.)
As for what I’ve cooked from it (so far)? Before I go there, I have another tangent I need to stray down as the inscription I found in the book inspired a scene in my upcoming novel Escape To Curlew Cottage.
In the novel, four women – Tallis, Gail, Fee and Caro – have come together over a love of baking. Each of them has felt in between something, looking for a purpose, if you like. They form a little baking group and gather to cook a meal for themselves once a month at Tallis’ house. Each month a single cookbook is chosen, and everyone contributes something from that book. Cooking together, they chat, they find their place, and they find (for want of a better word) their tribe and a sense of belonging and purpose.
Into this comes my protagonist, Claire Mansfield, the host of Time For Tea, a TV show where teams of home cooks come together to bake the perfect high tea. She’s also in between things.
Anyways one of the books they cook from is this one, and because it’s the Christmas episode, what they cook is a tad festive. Naturally, I’ve tried each of these from the book and where Nigella has published the recipe on her website I’ve included the link:
- Mozzarella with crazy gremolata
- Tuna and beans
- Butternut squash with pecans and blue cheese
- Scallops with chorizo
- Festive Fusilli
- Pollo Alla Cacciatore
- Holiday Hotcake
In addition to that I’ve made:
- Potato and Mushroom Gratin
- Eton Mess
- Smoked Trout Pate
- Ouefs en Cocotte
- Coq au Riesling
- Mirin-Glazed Salmon
- Noodle Soup For Needy People
- Totally Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Sesame Peanut Noodles
- Crunchy Salad with Hot and Sour Dressing
- Hokey Pokey
with still more that I need to try.
From these, which recipe will I share? I can’t go past the Noodle Soup For Needy People.
This is the perfect soup for when you’re working from home and there’s no soup in the freezer or for supper on a Sunday night when you’ve been out for lunch and want something light.
Don’t get hung up on quantities for this and feel free to throw your own veg in, but this recipe serves 2.
Noodle Soup For Needy People
What you need:
- 175g udon noodles
- 750ml chicken stock (or you can use vegetable or dashi stock if you like)
- 1 teaspoon soft brown sugar
- 1 star anise
- 1 teaspoon crushed or grated ginger
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 heads baby pack choi, finely sliced
- Other veg eg sugar-snap or snow peas, mushrooms, other Asian-style greens. Nigella suggests bean sprouts, but I think they are a completely irrelevant ingredient. Anyways, go for about 225g veg.
- 2 tablespoons chopped coriander – for garnish
What you do with it
- Cook the noodles as per the instructions on the packet. When they’re done, divide them between 2 bowls.
- Fill a saucepan with the stock, sugar, star anise, soy sauce, ginger.
- When the stock comes to the boil toss the veg in. They should only take a couple of minutes.
- Pour over the noodles.