Just because food writer Nigella Lawson loves to cook, doesn't mean she always has the time to cook.
"I'd love to spend hours in the kitchen," she tells NPR's Steve Inskeep, but like many of us, she finds herself rushed at mealtime. "And I don't want to eat less well just because I've got less time at my disposal," she says.
Lawson's latest cookbook, Nigella Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home, includes a chapter titled Hurry Up! I'm Hungry, and is filled with quick, homey recipes for quality meals.
Not only can Lawson easily think of meals she can have on the table in under a half-hour — she says many of these recipes are truly 15-minute undertakings.
Lawson's Scallops With Thai-Scented Pea Puree is one of those quick and easy recipes. The secret? Frozen peas, Lawson says — "the sort that you might put on your knee if you were to hurt it playing football."
The recipe is one of humble origins: "At fish-and-chip shops in England we have something called mushy peas," Lawson explains, "which I'm afraid is far too low-brow for NPR, but there you go. It's like a pea puree, but not a pea puree that you would get in a swanky restaurant — it's still got kind of nubbly bits and rough bits to the texture."
To give the puree flavor, Lawson cooks the peas, and then puts them in a blender with sour cream and Thai green curry paste. "I always have it at hand," she explains, "because it lasts for ages."
After preparing the puree, Lawson cooks the scallops in a thin coat of oil and butter. The trick, she says, is to let them become golden in the pan without stir-frying them — scallops are sweet, and will develop a thin caramelized crust if left to their own devices. A friend of all chefs pressed for time, scallops only take about two minutes per side to cook properly.
"Very tenderly turn them after two minutes," Lawson instructs. "Once I finish cooking the scallops, I plate them up, and then I squeeze lime juice into the pan. The scallopy juices and the butter together with the lime juice form a really rather fantastically light tangy sauce."
Nigella Kitchen: Recipes From The Heart Of The Home By Nigella Lawson Hardcover, 512 pages Hyperion List Price: $35
Lawson's speedy approach to scallops also eliminates a trip to the supermarket — frozen peas and Thai curry paste are ingredients that Lawson usually has around the house anyway, and someone else making the recipe could substitute the curry paste with favorite flavors of their own.
"The important thing to remember I think is that cooking is about balance," Lawson advises. "The scallops are sweet and peas are sweet, so you need to provide some counterpoint to that."
'When I Feel Too Frail To Peel A Clove Of Garlic'
Lawson's recipe for Tarragon Chicken also makes use of ingredients that she tends to have around the kitchen.
"This is my quick version of a traditional French recipe which takes hours," Lawson admits. "And all I do is put a little garlic flavored oil — which I always, always keep in the house for those times when I feel too frail to peel a clove of garlic. And there are such times."
Before cooking the chicken breast, Lawson sautes some spring onions or scallions with a bit of dried tarragon for about a minute — "just to flavor the oil really more than anything else," she says. She then briefly cooks the chicken in the sauce for about 5 minutes on each side, leaving the breast slightly scorched. Dab on some dry white vermouth and bit of salt, and then put a lid on the pan for 10 minutes, allowing the chicken breast to simmer gently in its sauce while remaining tender.
The moment the chicken breast is ready, take it out of the pan, and bring the "chickeny, vermouthy, tarragony juices" left behind to a boil.
"Add a teeny bit of heavy cream, and then a bit of fresh tarragon, and pour that over the chicken," says Lawson. "And it is so soothing ... Normally, comforting food tends to be heavy, [but this chicken] is sort of a contradiction in all ways — it's light but it's slightly rich, and it is delicate and yet comforting."
Recipe: Try Lawson's recipe for Chorizo And Chickpea Soup. She calls it "a full-on feast thrown together to enormous effect, simply with ingredients that you can more or less keep on permanent standby."
Just Open Some Cans
In addition to frozen peas and shortcuts on classic French recipes, Lawson doesn't shy away from your standard canned goods. Her Chorizo And Chickpea Soup makes use of canned cherry tomatoes.
"It's entirely a store cupboard standby for me," she says.
It all comes down to the right sausage — in this case, chorizo, a deep orange sausage that is heavily flavored with paprika. Lawson cuts it into coins, then cuts the coins in half. "I want people to just be able to spoon it into their mouths," she explains.
Lawson throws the chopped sausage into a pan without oil in it, then douses it lightly with sherry, which sizzles and then bubbles away. She tosses in chickpeas and some canned cherry tomatoes. Dried apricots add some extra zing.
"I like that slightly tart fruity flavor with the rich heat of the sausages," Lawson says. "I just slip them in. I frankly, I just hold them above the pan and use a pair of kitchen scissors."
Because the sausage and canned tomatoes have already been cooked, the stew takes a grand total of 5 minutes to heat up.
"Then it's done," says Lawson."Really, what have I done? Opened some cans and stirred a pan. It's not difficult. And there's something about the fantastic salty, chili smell of the sausage — that sort of riot of orange and red and gold in the pan that is just uplifting."
Recipe: Scallops With Thai-Scented Pea Puree
by Nigella Lawson
Make Ahead Tip: The pea puree can be made 2-3 hours ahead. Drain peas and immediately rinse with plenty of cold water. Puree when cold with 1 tablespoon of the curry paste and the creme fraiche or sour cream. Put in a bowl, cover and leave in a cool place or in the refrigerator. Reheat gently in a saucepan, taste and adjust seasoning before serving. If using sour cream, make sure that the puree doesn't boil, otherwise it will turn grainy.
I love the bouncy sweetness of scallops and, although you might think the equal sweetness of the peas would be too much alongside, the deep flavor of cilantro and chiles and the sharpness of lemongrass miraculously provided by the Thai green curry paste, make it a zingy and yet still comforting accompaniment. This is a real treat of a supper, both for the eater and the cook.
-1 pound (31/2 cups) frozen petits pois or peas
-1-2 tablespoons Thai green curry paste
-1/3 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
-salt, to taste
-2 teaspoons peanut or other flavorless oil
-2 teaspoons butter
-6 big scallops (such as sold in shell by fishmongers) or 10–12 small bay scallops (such as sold in packages in the supermarket), preferably diver-caught
-juice 1 lime
-1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro or Thai basil
-Cook the peas in boiling, slightly salted water until tender, then drain and tip into a blender, adding 1 tablespoon curry paste and the creme fraiche or sour cream. Season to taste with salt and perhaps add more curry paste, depending how strong it is.
-Heat the oil and butter in a frying pan until foamy, then fry the scallops for about 2 minutes per side. If you are using big scallops, then it is sometimes easier to cut them in half across. When they are cooked, they will have just lost their raw look in the middle and be lusciously tender, while golden and almost caramelized on the outside.
-Lift the scallops onto 2 warmed plates and then de-glaze the hot pan by squeezing in the lime juice. Stir to mix well and pick up every scrap of flavor, then pour this over the scallops on each plate.
-Dish up the pea puree alongside the scallops, and sprinkle with the chopped cilantro or Thai basil. Serve with another wedge of lime, if you feel like it.
Excerpted fromNigella Kitchen: Recipes From The Heart Of The Home by Nigella Lawson. Copyright 2010 by Nigella Lawson. Excerpted by permission of Hyperion.
Recipe: Chorizo And Chickpea Soup
by Nigella Lawson
Make Ahead Tip:
The stew can be made up to 2 days ahead. Transfer to non-metallic bowl to cool, then cover and refrigerate as soon as possible. Reheat gently in large saucepan, stirring occasionally, until piping hot.
Freeze Ahead Tip:
The cooled stew can be frozen in airtight container for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and reheat as above.
If ever there were justification for cupboard love, this would be it: a full-on feast thrown together to enormous effect, simply with ingredients that you can more or less keep on permanent standby. And, like so many of these recipes, it's pretty well instant. After all, if you haven't got time to shop, it's hardly likely you'll be able to spend many hours at the stove.
I am, anyway, a huge fan of bulgur wheat — think couscous, only more robust — but cooked like this, with some strands of pasta tossed in hot oil first, it really has something extra. I was taught to do this, just chatting stoveside, by an Egyptian friend when I was in my twenties, and I've never seen any reason to change the drill. He, actually, didn't use torn-up spaghettini but, rather, lokshen, which are the short lengths of vermicelli customarily found in echt chicken soup.
This is a tradition about as far away from the chorizo-cooking culture as you could get, but the chickpea-studded, tomatoey and paprika-hot stew goes extremely well with the nubbly grain. I keep a stock of cherry tomatoes in sauce in the cupboard, but regular canned tomatoes could be substituted easily enough.
2 tablespoons regular olive oil
2 ounces spaghettini or vermicelli, torn into 1-inch lengths
2 3/4 cups bulgur wheat
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons kosher salt or 1 teaspoon table salt
1 quart water
2 bay leaves
12 ounces chorizo, cut into coins and then halved
1/4 cup amontillado sherry
1/2 cup (about 16) soft dried apricots, snipped into pieces with scissors (optional)
2 x 15-ounce cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans) or mixed beans, rinsed and drained in a colander
2 x 14-ounce cans cherry tomatoes, plus 1 1/2 cans water
salt and pepper, to taste
fresh cilantro, to serve (optional)
-Warm the olive oil in a thick-bottomed saucepan on a medium heat.
-Fry the pasta bits in the oil for a minute, stirring, until they look like slightly scorched straws.
-Then add the bulgur wheat and stir for another minute or two.
-Stir in the cinnamon and the salt, and then pour the water into the pan. Add the bay leaves, and bring to a boil, then turn down to the lowest heat, add a lid, and leave for 15 minutes, until all the water has been absorbed.
-Put another thick-bottomed saucepan on a medium heat, add the chorizo pieces, and fry until the orange oil runs out. Then add the sherry and let it bubble away. Add the apricots (if using), along with the chickpeas (or beans) and canned tomatoes, and I fill each empty tomato can with water and swish it out into the pan. Put on a high heat to bubble for about 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
-Serve with the bulgur wheat and, if there's any on hand, some chopped cilantro.
Excerpted from Nigella Kitchen: Recipes From The Heart Of The Home by Nigella Lawson. Copyright 2010 by Nigella Lawson. Excerpted by permission of Hyperion.