The healing powers of Nigella

There’s just something infinitely comforting about watching Nigella Lawson talk about food. Its luxurious, and the cooking equivalent of a long hug, and I can think of few things better after a bad day.

From the understated, homely classiness of her kitchen to the way in which she greets a sandwich as if it were an old friend from years ago only to devour it seconds later, everything about it is either something I can aspire to or identify with.

For me, food is often an escape.  When I’ve had a bad day and I’ve got things getting me down, I comfort eat. A whole pizza and garlic bread? Easy. Pasta for 3? More like pasta for 1. You get the idea – I am the definition of a person who eats their feelings. And this, my friends, is where the cooking comes in.

Nigella talks often of the joy that she gets from cooking, and from cooking for other people. So one day I thought “if she enjoys it, maybe I will too. Heaven knows I want to be Nigella.” and I set out to make her carrot cake, and never looked back. There’s something about the smell of a baking cake, or a fragrant, gently simmering curry, or a strikingly red pasta sauce that brings a sense of satisfaction to me that is only compounded by the feeling of making something for you and your friends to enjoy together.

And the thing is, by the time I’ve taken a dish from raw ingredients to being on a plate in front of me, my mood has often lifted and I don’t feel the need to comfort eat anymore. Even better if I’m cooking for friends – the look on their faces when they see the food, the smiles on their faces when they finally taste it, and the realisation that I’ve brought even a small amount of pleasure into their lives just brings me so much happiness.

Nigella talks a lot about “living around” her kitchen table and that’s something that I didn’t realise would be so pivotal until I looked over from the stove top to see four of my best friends smiling. I realised that actually, despite having a bad day, there are always good things and things worth putting in the effort for.

I’ll finish with one of my favourite recipes that always cheers me up on a night, graciously adapted from one of Nigella’s recipes for my own anchovy-hating tastebuds. It’s also super quick and you can go from fridge to plate in 25 minutes.

 

INGREDIENTS

Serves: 2, or 1 if you’re really hungry

  • 175 grams gemelli pasta, or just fusilli is good too
  • salt (for pasta water)
  • 1 x 15ml tablespoon regular olive oil
  • 1x 15ml tablespoon capers, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic (peeled and minced)
  • ¼ teaspoon dried chilli flakes (or half a chopped red chilli if you like it hot)
  • 150 grams cherry tomatoes (halved across the equator)
  • 4 x 15ml tablespoons dry white vermouth (worcestershire sauce works too)
  • 2 x 15ml tablespoons mascarpone cheese, though regular cream cheese works too
  • 1 x 15ml tablespoon parmesan cheese (finely grated, plus more to serve)
  • 2 x 15ml tablespoons fresh parsley (finely chopped leaves)

 

METHOD

  1. Bring a pan of water to boil for the pasta. Salt generously and add the pasta. Check the pasta packet for advised cooking times, but do start tasting a good 2 minutes before you’re told it should be ready. Make sure to keep a cup of the water once the pasta is cooked.
  2. Once the pasta is in, put the oil and finely chopped capers into a heavy-based frying pan and cook, stirring over a medium heat for about a minute, or until the capers have almost dissolved into the oil. Stir in the garlic and chilli flakes, then turn the heat up a little and tumble in the tomatoes, stirring them gently for about 2 minutes
  3. Pour in the vermouth, then stir and push the tomatoes about in the pan for around another 2 minutes until they break down a little and let out their juices. A little salt in the pan will draw out the juices too. Take the pan off the heat, stir in the mascarpone and, when it’s all melted into the sauce, duly stir in the Parmesan and parsley.
  4. Add a tablespoon or so of the cooking water to the pasta sauce; this will help the sauce coat the pasta. Drain the pasta, add it to the sauce and toss well to mix. Sprinkle with a little parsley and take the Parmesan to the table to serve.