For so many of us, Italian food is comfort food. Big bowls of pasta, simply prepared vegetables, and silky, decadent desserts are enough to make anyone feel Italian at heart — even Nigella Lawson.
The latest book from the English “queen of home cooks” is Nigellissima, our pick for this month’s Cookbook Club. Filled with simple, no-fuss recipes, it’s Lawson’s love letter to the pleasures of cooking and eating the way Italians do. There’s something for any occasion: minestrone with tortellini and seared pork chops for busy weeknights, plus a selection of dishes to create an elegant Italian-inspired Christmas (think pork belly slices and bright, lemony romanesco). As always, Lawson’s recipes are straightforward and efficient, maximizing the cook’s time in the kitchen.
“I lived in Italy for almost a year in between leaving school and going to university and after that, there was no going back!” Lawson told us. “I used to want to write a big book on Italian food, but that was before the Italian food boom, and I felt there was no need to add to the many ‘straight’ books on the subject. What I wanted to do is write about how Italian food, Italian attitudes, Italian ingredients inform and inspire how I cook in my kitchen; you could say that Nigellissima is a culinary love letter to Italy!”
Below, we share two recipes from Nigellissima. Scroll to the bottom of this post to learn more about our Cookbook Club!
Pasta Risotto with Peas and Pancetta
Here, Lawson cooks pasta much as she would traditional risotto. She loves the rice-shaped pasta here most of all: the orzo oozes its starchiness out into the sauce rather than being flushed down the sink via the colander and—what’s more—you need only one pan, which should be a heavy one. The amount of water specified here is a starting point only: you may need to add more if the pasta’s absorbed all the water before it’s cooked.
2 Tbs. garlic-flavored oil
6 oz. cubed pancetta
1 1/4 cups frozen petits pois
8 oz. orzo pasta
2 1/2 cups boiling water
Salt, to taste
1 Tbs. soft butter
2 Tbs. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Warm the oil in a heavy pan that will hold everything later; a Dutch oven or saucepan of 10 inches diameter should be big enough. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring, until it becomes crisp and bronzed, then add the peas and stir for a minute or so until the frozen look leaves them.
Add the pasta and turn it about in the pancetta and peas, then pour in the boiling water. Add salt (cautiously, especially if this is for children—the pancetta is salty, as is the Parmigiano-Reggiano later); then turn down the heat and let simmer for 10 minutes, though check on it a couple of times and give a stir or two, to stop it from sticking and to see if you need to add a little more water from the kettle.
When it’s ready, the pasta should be soft and starchy and the water absorbed. Beat the butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano into the pan, and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately in warm bowls. Serves 2 hungry grown-ups or 4 small children.
Here, Lawson makes small-size tiramisu, which means you have a dessert worth making for fewer people (you don’t need a partyful), and in less time. Unlike the big, trifle-style tiramisu, these tiramisini—think coffee-soaked Savoiardi cookies, topped with the familiar whipped Marsala-spiked mascarpone in small-portioned martini glasses—don’t even need to sit overnight before being ready to eat.
7 Tbs. espresso or strong instant coffee
2 Tbs. coffee liqueur
4 Savoiardi cookies (ladyfingers)
2 egg whites
1 cup mascarpone
2 Tbs. honey or sugar
2 Tbs. Marsala
About 1 Tbs. good-quality unsweetened cocoa powder
Make the espresso and pour it into a heatproof pitcher, adding the coffee liqueur, then let it cool. (If it’s a cool day, place the pitcher outside the window for 10 minutes.)
Break each Savoiardi cookie into about 4 pieces and drop them into 4 small (about 1/2 cup) martini glasses, then pour the cooled espresso mixture over them. Tamp down gently, making sure the biscuits are soaked all over.
Using an electric hand mixer, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Set aside.
Scrape the mascarpone into another bowl, adding the honey. Beat with the electric hand mixer (no need to clean it first) and, when smooth, slowly beat in the Marsala.
Fold in the egg whites, one-third at a time, then dollop this mixture over the soused Savoiardi in each glass, using a spoon to whirl it into a swirly peak at the top.
Transfer the martini glasses to the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes or up to 24 hours. Dust with cocoa, pushing it through a fine-mesh strainer, just before serving. Serves 4.
Love collecting cookbooks? Enjoy trying new recipes? Join us for a monthly Cookbook Club class. Led by our talented culinary experts, these exclusive cooking classes showcase recipes from a different cookbook each month.
- Each 1½ – to 2-hour class features cooking tips and techniques and a three-course tasting menu from the book’s best recipes, prepared while you watch.
- Class fee of $75 includes the cookbook with signed bookplate.
- Participants receive a 10% discount on store purchases the day of the class.
- Available monthly at select stores; class times vary by store location.
- Space is limited and reservations are required. Call a participating store to register.