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