I own an embarrassingly large number of cookbooks, but like many things, I have a few favorites that I find myself reaching for time after time...my desert island cookbooks if you will. This is a series of posts that will describe these books that make up my core collection. I hope that you find them and the recipes they contain as enjoyable and useful as I do.
Well, as this is my fifth post in this little series, it feels only right that it should be my last. I mean, you couldn't really take more than five books to a desert island, now could you?
And it seems only fitting that my last choice should be the most basic of the bunch: How to Eat by Nigella Lawson. For the record, my runner up choices include Sunday Suppers at Lucques, Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cooking (this is a small, old-looking paperback that I picked up at Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks in the West Village, and does not seem to be on Amazon), The World Vegetarian, Serena, Food & Stories, and At Home in Provence.
We're all more than familiar with this doyenne of domesticity at this point. She of the provocative finger licking, suggestive mmmm's and bosom-showcasing tops. Whatever you may think of the new richer, slicker version of Ms. Lawson, I believe that her basic ethos has remained unchanged: food should be pleasurable, and to be pleasurable it must be both good and easily doable.
What I love about this book is that, as her first, it is just undeniably her, and her ethos shines through unfettered. There are no pictures, just pages and pages of wonderful, imaginative recipes interspersed with charming witticisms, light philosophizing and stories. It almost is a book that you could sit down and read as you would a novel (I actually have done so, albeit in a piecemeal fashion).
The recipes alternate between things that your vaguely alcoholic but very cultured British aunt would request, if you had one that is (I personally have always wanted one, she would eat the Rhubarb, Muscat and Mascarpone Trifle), things that a man with very basic taste in food would love (Minute Steaks With Bearnaise Sauce), things that a sophisticated 30-something woman would prepare for dinner on her night in (Sole With Chanterelles), and things that a family as a whole could enjoy together (Spanish Stew).
I have a particularly soft spot for the Barbados Cream (I believe you are supposed to serve it over fruit or something similar, but embarrassingly, I tend to eat it without accompaniment...while standing in front of the refrigerator) and Anna's Chickpea and Pasta Soup.
From How to Eat by Nigella Lawson
1 1/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/3 cup plain yogurt
about 1/3 cup light brown sugar (I like to use dark)
Mix everything together and beat till fairly but not too stiffly thick. Pour into a shallow bowl measuring approximately 8 inches in diameter. Sprinkle over it a thick carpet of brown sugar, cover with plastic, and leave somewhere cool for at least 12 hours or, better still, 24 hours.
Anna's Chickpea And Pasta Soup
From How to Eat, by Nigella Lawson
2 cups dried chickpeas
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons salt
3 quarts vegetable stock, meat stock, white wine and water, or water
3 rosemary sprigs
8 garlic cloves, peeled and bruised
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
1 pound tomatoes, skinned and seeded (I just used canned whole tomatoes here)
salt and freshly milled black pepper
8 ounces small tubular pasta such as ditalini
2-3 tablespoons chopped parseley (optional, but I like it)
chili oil, for serving (optional)
grated parmesan, to serve
Put the chickpeas in a bowl and cover with plenty of water. Mix together the baking soda, flour and salt and add enough water to make a thin paste. Stir this mixture into the bowls with the chickpeas and leave to soak for at least 12 hours, and preferably 24 (I would err on the longer end here, I've found they can take as long as 36 hours).
When the chickpeas have doubled in size (you don't have to get your ruler out; trust your eyes), they are ready to be cooked. Drain and then rinse them. Put them in a large pot and add the vegetable stock
Tie the rosemary sprigs in cheesecloth and add to the pot. This will make it possible to remove the rosemary without leaving any needles to float in the soup. This might sound persnickety, but when I ignored the advice, I found the sharp and, by now, bitter needles an unpleasant intrusion. If you feel intimidated by the idea of cheesecloth then use, disgusting though it sounds, an old clean knee-high stocking and tie a knot at the open end (I would just interject that I would bite the bullet and go with the cheesecloth), or use a tea infuser.
Add the garlic to the chickpea mixture and pour in half the oil. Cover the pot tightly and bring to the boil. You will have to gauge this by ear without peeping in. Lower the heat and cook over the lowest simmer until the chickpeas are tender, 2-4 hours. Take a look after 1 1/2 hours.
When the chickpeas are tender, remove the garlic and the rosemary bundle, which should be floating on the surface. Puree the tomatoes in a food mill or in a food processor and add to the soup with their juice. Stir well, add salt and pepper to taste, and cook for 10 minutes further or so. This is the point at which you should stop when you're cooking the soup in advance.
When you want to eat it, put the soup back on the burner and reheat it, so that you can proceed to the final step, which is to cook the pasta. Before you add the pasta to the soup, check that there is enough liquid in the pot. If not, add some boiling water. Now, to the boiling soup, add the pasta and cook till al dente. At this point, I like to add chopped parsley, but the glory of this soup will be undiminished if you prefer not to. But do pour some of the remaining olive oil into the pot of soup, and drizzle some more into each bowl after you've ladled the soup in. Serve with chili oil and parmesan on the side.