In her latest six-episode cooking show, Nigella’s Cook, Eat, Repeat, celebrated British chef Nigella Lawson shares a litany of recipes that have a hold on her – whether that’s new meals she was inspired to learn to make or time-treasured recipes that continue to spark joy.
The recipes are derived from her acclaimed cookbook of the same name that came out in autumn last year.
Lawson says most of her recipes don’t start off with her sitting down with pen and paper, trying to think up new meal ideas for her cookbooks and shows. Instead, the creation of new dishes often begin in a far more organic way.
“A great percentage of the recipes in the show didn’t start off as recipe ideas, they started off as cooking something for supper and then thinking, ‘Ooh, I like this, I think it needs a little bit of tweaking’ and actually I used a certain vegetable because that’s all I had, but it would actually be better with a different one, so the recipes start off in a more free-flying way,” she says in an exclusive Zoom interview with The Star.
On the show, you will discover all sorts of interesting new meal ideas like Lawson’s fish finger bhorta, which is a union of fish fingers (a meal that features heavily on British dining tables everywhere) and the mashed vegetable dish of bhorta, which originates from the Indian sub-continent.
And although it is in her nature to meddle with food and try new things, Lawson says there are some meals that are so sacred that she simply would never tamper with them. Her crème caramel recipe – which features on the show – is one of them.
“It’s impossible if you like cooking not to think, ‘Oh, I’ve always cooked this cake in this way, but I want to see what it would be like if it was something very different.
“But I have to say there is a crème caramel recipe in the show – it was my lockdown luxury in a way – I would not tamper with that. I cook it so often and I’ve got it as I wanted it and it’s such a source of pleasure,” she says, laughing.
FISH FINGER BHORTA
Serves 2, with essential leftovers
For the pink-pickled onions
1/2 red onion
red wine vinegar or lime juice to cover
For the bhorta
2 regular onions (approx. 300g)
2 red chillies
2 fat cloves of garlic
1 x 15ml tbsp finely grated fresh ginger (approx. 50g chunk of ginger)
12 fish fingers
3 x 15ml tbsp cold-pressed rapeseed or vegetable oil
2 x 15ml tbsp English mustard (from a jar)
2 tsp sea salt flakes (or 1 tsp fine sea salt)
125g young spinach
3 x 15ml tbsp roughly chopped coriander, plus more to serve
Make your pink-pickled onions as far in advance as you can: at least 2 hours, and up to 24. Cut your red onion half – or use a whole onion if you prefer, as you will easily find yourself adding them to much else – into fine half-moons.
Put these into a jar with a lid, or simply into a bowl that you can cover. Pour over red wine vinegar (or lime juice), pressing down on the onions until they are all just immersed. Put the lid on the jar or cover your bowl, and leave the onions to steep.
When you’re ready to make and eat the bhorta, heat the oven to 220°C/200°C Fan. While you’re waiting, peel and slice your 2 regular onions into fine half-moons, deseed the chillies (or not if you prefer) and slice them finely, and peel the garlic. If the skin is tough, peel the ginger (using the tip of a teaspoon) then grate it finely to give 1 tablespoonful.
When the oven’s hot, and your ingredients are assembled and ready, put the fish fingers on a baking sheet and cook for approx. 20–25 minutes, which may be slightly longer than the packet directs, but will ensure the breadcrumb coating is really crisp.
Meanwhile, warm the oil in a large frying pan (I use a wok-shaped stir-fry pan), and cook the onions over medium-low for 15–20 minutes, stirring regularly, by which time they will be pale gold and soft.
Add the sliced chillies, stirring all the while, for 3 minutes, then stir in the grated ginger, mince or grate in the garlic, and cook, still stirring, for another 2 minutes. Spoon in the mustard and salt, stirring to combine, then add the spinach leaves and let them wilt in the pan, stirring, for 2–3 minutes, stirring regularly, then squeeze in the juice of the lime.
Take the pan off the heat while you get the fish fingers. Break them up a bit with a spatula and then add them to the wok or frying pan. Toss everything together, breaking them up further, and sprinkle over the coriander.
Serve topped with the pink-pickled onions, adding extra chopped coriander if wished.
CRÈME CARAMEL FOR ONE
2 x 15ml tbsp (25g) caster sugar
2 tsp cold water
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
2 tsp caster sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
150ml full-fat milk
Heat the oven to 140 C (120 C fan-forced), put the kettle on, tear off a piece of foil and cut out a square that’s 1½-2 cm bigger than the diameter of the top of the dish or mould you’re using. When I first rushed to make this, I used a sweet little 200 ml ceramic pudding basin that I must have bought once in a fit of cute, and found in the back of a messy cupboard. Fortune smiled: it was just right for the job. Otherwise, I favour preserving jars, drinking glasses or ceramic or glass ramekins; they all need to have a 200 ml capacity and be heatproof.
Put your chosen mould very near the hob, and spoon the sugar into a very small saucepan with a light-coloured interior – I use my pixie-pan, more properly known as a butter melter, with a 9 cm diameter, but a milk pan of about 14cm is just as good–and add the 2 tsps of water. Swirl the pan a little, then put over medium-low heat to melt the sugar and bring it to the boil, lifting the pan up and giving it a swirl every now and again. Don’t even think of stirring it.
Once the now-clear melted sugar starts bubbling away, you can turn the heat up a little, and then wait for it to turn first gold, then amber, then watch until it’s somewhere between maple syrup and chestnut; I like the caramel to be as dark and smoky as it can be without actually burning. Be patient, lift up and swirl the pan often and monitor it closely; as Tammy almost sang, Stand By Your Pan. Immediately it’s turned the requisite deep amber, pour the caramel into the bottom of your mould, and now give this a swirl, just so the caramel goes a little up the sides. Place the mould in a small tin or ovenproof dish.
In a Pyrex jug or similar, briskly stir the egg yolks with the sugar and vanilla extract, just until combined. I use a small silicon spatula for this, as a whisk would get too much air into the mixture.
Warm the milk about 40 secs in the microwave, and then pour it over the eggs and sugar, stirring and scraping with your little spatula, making sure there are no visible yellow bits of egg left at the bottom. Strain this–you must not think of dispensing with this step–over your caramel-lined mould and then, with a teaspoon, carefully remove any bubbles or froth. Cover the mould with your square of foil, making sure it doesn’t touch the custard mixture, and seal it well all around the edges.
Pour hot water from the just-boiled kettle into the tin or dish to come about a third of the way up the mould, and slowly and steadily put it in the oven. Bake for 30 mins, then lean in and very carefully remove the foil, and leave in the oven to cook for a further 20 mins by which time it will be just set, with a little bit of a quiver.
Remove the tin from the oven and very carefully lift the crème caramel mould out of the water, and leave it on the kitchen counter until completely cold. Cover with food wrap and place in the fridge overnight, or for at least 6 hrs.
Take the crème caramel out of the fridge 30 mins before you want to eat it. Uncover, and with a very small palette knife, try very gently to pull the top of the soft-set cooked custard away from the sides of the mould. Fill a dish about 3 cm deep with water from a just-boiled kettle, or very hot water from the tap, and stand or dip the crème caramel mould in the water for the count of 5.
Now for the fun part: sit a saucer or small lipped plate on top of the mould, turn it swiftly and firmly the right way up and give the smallest of shakes to help dislodge it. You will hear a muffled squelch as the crème caramel begins to slide out of the mould and onto its saucer. Gently remove the mould, and gaze at this tender, bulging, copper-topped beauty for a moment, before you plunge in your teaspoon, and become suffused, as you eat, by sweet serenity.