Nigella: Inspired By A Coke, And Pasta In A Pinch

Nigella Lawson

Nigella Lawson says experimentation helped her cook up her linguine with lemon recipe. Rosie Greenway hide caption

itoggle caption Rosie Greenway

Nigella Lawson's appeal, like that of many great chefs, is her willingness to take chances.

For example, Lawson's mother always cooked ham with hard cider.

"Even the word 'recipe' is a bit too grand for it, because it's just the way she cooked ham," Lawson tells NPR's Renee Montagne.

But Lawson decided to experiment, thinking if ham and cider is a good pairing, other drinks might work, too. She made a bold move toward Coca-Cola and ham.

"And then I went really mad ... and took this a step further and thought, I'm going to do ham in Cherry Coke," she says.

After all, Lawson reasoned, "There is a very long tradition of cooking ham with fruit — ham with pineapple, a great '70s classic — and you cannot tell whether a recipe's going to work or not until you try cooking it. The worst that can happen is that you don't have the best supper of your life. And the best that can happen is that you feel thrilled and excited and gratified by the fact that it's worked."

In addition to evolving recipes from family classics, a great mother of invention for Lawson is time. She saw a lemon and risotto recipe once that she realized would work just as well with pasta, and voila: linguine with lemon.

And even though she invented that recipe, Lawson says, "What ends up in the book is probably not my first attempt."

And Lawson wants readers to remember, "What's the perfect balance for me may not be the perfect balance for the person using the recipe. In the end ... it's about taste."

And practice, practice, practice is how you find your taste, Lawson says.

"The best way of finding out what works ... is by experimenting when you're cooking just for yourself. You're not fearing someone else's judgment."

Lemon Linguine

This recipe has not been tested by NPR.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound and a half linguine (spaghetti)
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2/3 of a cup heavy cream
  • 10 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan
  • Zest and juice of 1 unwaxed lemon
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Fresh flat-leaf parsley

Fill just about the biggest pot you can hold with water and bring to the boil. When you have friends coming for lunch, get the water heated to boiling point before they arrive, otherwise you end up nervously hanging around waiting for a watched pot to boil while your supposedly quick lunch gets later and later. Bring the water to the boil, cover and turn off the hob.

I tend to leave the addition of salt until the water's come to the boil a second time. But whichever way you do it, add quite a bit of salt — Italians say the water in which pasta cook should be as salty as the Mediterranean. When the bubbling's encouragingly fierce, tip in the pasta. I often put the lid on for a moment or so just to let the pasta get back to boil, but don't turn your back on it, and give it a good stir with a pasta fork or whatever to avoid even the suspicion of clagginess, once you've removed the lid.

Then get on with the sauce, making sure you've set your timer for about a minute or so less than the time specified on the packet of pasta.

In a bowl, put the yolks, cream, grated parmesan, zest of the whole lemon and juice of half of it, a pinch of salt and good grating of pepper and beat with a fork. You don't want it fluffy, just combined. Taste. If you want it more lemony, then of course add more juice.

When the timer goes off, taste to judge how near the pasta is to being ready. I recommend that you hover by the stove so you don't miss that point. Don't be too hasty, though. Everyone is so keen to cook their pasta properly al dente that sometimes the pasta is actually not cooked enough. You want absolutely no chalkiness here. And linguine (or at least I find them so) tend not to run over into soggy overcookedness quite as quickly as other long pasta. This makes sense, of course, since the strands of "little tongues" are denser than the flat ribbon shapes. But I made this sauce with a very fine pasta, some sort of egg tagliarini, once and regretted it. You need the sturdier, but still satiny, resistance offered up by the linguine, which is why I stipulated this very pasta. Good spaghetti or tagliatelle would do if linguine are not to be found. Since the sauce is the sort of thing you can throw together after a quick rummage through the shelves of the corner shop, it would be unhelpful to be too sternly dictatorial about a pasta shape that is not universally carried.

Anyway, as soon as the pasta looks ready, hive off a mugful of the cooking liquid, drain the pasta and, off the heat, toss it back in the pan or put it in an efficiently preheated bowl, throw in the butter and stir and swirl about to make sure the butter's melted and the pasta covered by it all over. Each strand will be only mutely gleaming, since there's not much butter and quite a bit of pasta. If you want to add more, then do: good butter is the best flavouring, best texture, best mood enhancer there is.

When you're satisfied the pasta's covered with it's soft slip of butter, then stir in the egg, cream, cheese and lemon mix and turn the pasta well in it, adding some of the cooking liquid if it looks a bit dry (only 2 tablespoons or so, you don't want a wet mess, and only after you think the sauce is incorporated). Sprinkle over some just-chopped parsley and serve now, now, now.

Ham Cooked In Cider

This recipe has not been tested by NPR.

Ingredients

  • 4 1/2 to 5 pound joint mild-cure ham (smoked or unsmoked as you wish)
  • 2 carrots, quartered, plus 8 medium (or 6 large) carrots cut into half crossways then into half lengthways
  • 2 onions, halved, each half studded with a clove
  • 8 leeks
  • 10 peppercorns
  • 2 sticks celery or slice off, like a log, the bottom of the whole bunch
  • small bunch parsley, tied with a freezer bag wire
  • 1 bouquet garni
  • 4 cups dry hard cider
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar

If the ham is very salty, either soak in cold water overnight before draining and cooking, or put the ham in a large pan, cover with water, bring to the boil, and then drain and cook as follows. Otherwise — and mild cure ham probably needs neither of those treatments — put the ham in a large pot, add the 2 quartered carrots, the onions, the green end parts of the leeks (as long as they're not muddy), peppercorns, celery, parsley (if you keep the stalks together with a freezer bag wire it'll be easier to remove them later) and bouquet garni. Pour in the cider: I never mind which cider I use and I have profitably used apple juice, too. Then add cold water to cover and bring to boiling point.

Add the sugar, lower the heat and simmer briskly (or boil gently, depending on how you want to look at it) for about 1 hour 50 minutes. (And at about this stage you should start thinking about the potatoes, see below). Remove the carrots, green parts of leek and parsley, and put in the fresh carrots. After about another ½ hour, chop up the white bits of the leek. I would cut them into logs about 6 cm long. Add to the pan and cook for about another 20 minutes. The ham should be bubbling softly in its liquid for around 2 ½ hours, all told. When it's all cooked, remove the ham to carve it, take the vegetables out with a slotted spoon and then put the ham on a huge plate surrounded by the leeks and carrots. Or carve it to order at the table and put the vegetables on a plate on the table by themselves.

Now: the potatoes. You can do either of two things: You can boil the potatoes in a pan of water while the ham is cooking, or you can cook them in the ham water itself. The advantage of cooking them separately is that they offer a distinct, appropriately plain taste. And potatoes are really at their best when they are the bland but sweet bass note to sop up and support other, stronger tastes. Added to which, you are left with a clear stock at the end; if you cook the potatoes in with the ham, all you can do with the stock, really, is make thick soup. And unless you have a very big pot, the ham, vegetables and potatoes all in together will be a very tight squeeze.

Having said that, there is something wonderful about the sweet, grainy potatoes absorbing all that appley and salty stock. You decide. But whichever way you cook the potatoes, they should be the big, floury sort, not the pebbly, waxy ones. I reckon on 1 potato (cut into 4) per person; I might even do 1 ½ per person, but then I like to have too much rather than not enough.

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