Clas­sic cook­book

A cel­e­bra­tion of Nigella Law­son’s How to Eat, in­tro­duced by Nigel Slater

The Observer Food Monthly - - CONTENTS - Pho­to­graphs Ro­mas Fo­ord

How To Eat is easy to find on my book­shelf. It is the book in tat­ters. The one whose spine is torn, whose pages are smeared, smudged and scorched. The book that has clearly done ser­vice for 20 years.

You can tell from the ti­tle this is more than a recipe book. From the first en­try for roast chicken (stick half a lemon up its bot­tom) to the last – Mar­mite sand­wiches (cream the but­ter and Mar­mite to­gether as if you were mak­ing a cake) – the book is clearly the work of a roll-your-sleeves-up cook. Some­one deeply fa­mil­iar with the ap­petites of food-lov­ing friends and a grow­ing fam­ily. This is not some pic­tures-of­plates cof­fee-ta­ble tome.

Nigella’s prose is lus­trous, se­duc­tive and re­as­sur­ing. You feel you are sit­ting by the cooker, Nigella pass­ing you slightly-too-hot frit­ters from a pan as you gos­sip. She gen­tly guides and ca­joles her read­ers rather than bark­ing or­ders at them. This is less a cook­ery man­ual, more a guide to hav­ing a good time at the ta­ble. It says every­thing that Delia wrote How to Cook and Nigella

How to Eat . And that’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween this and most other cook­books. This is about meals rather than recipes, be it a soli­tary sup­per (pasta with an­chovy sauce) or lunch for six (roast pork, red cab­bage and gin­ger­bread).

There is much re­lief here for the new cook: “One doesn’t want to wade too deep into canapé land.” And much help­ful­ness for us all: “This [hazelnut cake] hap­pens to be a bril­liant way to use up freezer-stored egg whites .”

The book re­spects the clas­sics but isn’t en­slaved by them. Nigella of­ten talks about the “tyranny” of the recipe. There is much gen­eros­ity too. Other writ­ers are cred­ited where barely nec­es­sary, she gives the reader a long and in­ter­est­ing in­tro­duc­tion to each dish and you come away feel­ing Nigella is hap­pier bran­dish­ing a la­dle than she is a tea­spoon. She is greedy in the best pos­si­ble way. The por­tions are am­ple, the in­gre­di­ents un­stint­ing, the prose warm and com­fort­ing. Any one of her pud­dings would bust a gus­set.

Yes, this is more than a cook­book, but heav­ens, the recipes are good. There is a bal­ance be­tween the use­ful ev­ery­day stuff – “crum­ble”, “gravy”, “may­on­naise” – and the more deca­dent: “A camp, but only slightly, din­ner for six.” Whether it was in­tended or not, the recipes are au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal. You know the in­clu­sion of a baby­wean­ing chart, plus sug­ges­tions for lin­guine with clams, fairy cakes, Mid­sum­mer din­ner for eight and Christ­mas Eve goose are recipes based on the hon­est re­al­ity of fam­ily life rather than some­thing dreamed up at a food stylist’s desk.

How to Eat is, at its heart, a deeply prac­ti­cal yet joy­ously read­able book. Three para­graphs in and one feels in­spired, heart­ened and rav­en­ous. A chap­ter or two later, your new friend at your side, you are all set to head off to the kitchen and have a truly glo­ri­ous time.

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