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An Italian-Inspired Valentine's Feast From 'Nigellissima'

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An Italian-Inspired Valentine's Feast From 'Nigellissima'

Food

An Italian-Inspired Valentine's Feast From 'Nigellissima'

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Valentine's Day is Thursday. Do not say you haven't been warned. And one way to show your love for your Valentine is to cook a romantic dinner for two, which is why we've invited Nigella Lawson back for a little inspiration. She's got a new book out next week. It's called "Nigellissima: Easy Italian-Inspired Recipes."

It's nice to talk to you again.

NIGELLA LAWSON: Always lovely to talk to you.

MONTAGNE: Well, that sounds - I mean I've always loved your name, Nigella. But Nigellissima, that's rather romantic.

LAWSON: Well, it was something of joke that I put - it got the Italian theme across. And also, I suppose, the ending, -issima, really means like the, you know, extended essence of. And I felt that the food in this book is very much the food I cook all the time.

MONTAGNE: Well, you know, it's probably worth pointing out that St. Valentine was originally from Rome. But you also have a special link to Italy, a special love for Italy.

LAWSON: I do, but a less illustrious one, in the sense that I - in between school and university, I went to live there and worked as a chambermaid. You don't make a lot of money chamber-maiding, but you do need to eat. And so, you have to learn how to eat on a budget and that teaches you about cooking.

But also, I'm a nosy person. So I just loved investigating everyone's rooms, and clothes, and wardrobes and everything.

(LAUGHTER)

MONTAGNE: Well, you have come up with several recipes for us, which would put together the beautiful meal. The very first dish is, although Italian inspired, pretty much basically good old American Mac and cheese.

LAWSON: I don't make any particular claim that this is an Italian dish. But I wanted to use some of the more sophisticated Italian flavors, to a fantastic old-fashioned comfort dish. And I do think, often when people think romantic or special occasion dinners, they get too fancy, when what we all know is we all love comfort food. And this is just an elegant version.

MONTAGNE: This would describe what that recipes.

LAWSON: Well, really, it's like a little elbow macaroni, or what I call pixie penne, which is very little penette(ph). And the sauce, just heat a bit of white Vermouth or white wine, with a teeny bit of chicken broth. And then whisk in a mixture of some grated Gruyere with a bit of cornstarch.

Now, what happens is you get a, sort of, wonderfully, gooey, stringy, fairly light cheese sauce. And then, into that, I whisk some mascarpone and a bit of truffle butter or paste or teeny bit of truffle oil. Then you mix that with some cooked macaroni. Now, you could bake it into individual ramekins. Or you could perhaps more romantically, do it in one dish and have two forks.

MONTAGNE: And I suppose in a real pinch, if you're alone on Valentine's Day, there's no better comfort food then a very elegant macaroni and cheese.

LAWSON: Oh, perfect. And I feel that those who are not sharing their supper with someone else should not be penalized.

(LAUGHTER)

MONTAGNE: At the heart of your romantic dinner is in the main course. And what you're suggesting is Tagliata for two.

LAWSON: Indeed. Tagliati is the cut. So I took it at steak just for two minutes on each side. And then I do an odd thing, which is I put it in a marinade when normally you'd marinade meat before. But I do it after; just with a bit of teeny bit of extra virgin olive oil, some crushed red pepper flakes and dried oregano, a bit of salt and red wine vinegar.

And then I slice (unintelligible) the meat across. And then I also have some cherry tomatoes which I use in the marinade. This is the incredibly luxurious, but also quite budget conscious. Because whereas normally you'd get two steaks for two people, this works just getting one steak for two people, because you cut the stage in such thin diagonal slices that it goes much further.

And I think just with a bit of beautiful bread, you don't need to start cooking many sides, which I think you want to keep the stress factor out of any special occasion like this.

MONTAGNE: Really, Valentine's Day is all about sweets - sweets for the sweet. And you have a lovely and very - it looks like stress free version of homemade ice cream. You don't even require an ice cream maker.

LAWSON: No, I'm so keen on this recipe. And I say that I hope, not immodestly, simply because it's so easy to make. You mix sweetened condensed milk with instant espresso powder. It's not espresso powder. It's actually like instant coffee but the stronger version, and some espresso of a coffee liquor and some heavy cream coffee. Whip everything together and then you just freeze it and it stays so creamy.

And even though sweetened condensed milk is indeed sweet, the sharpness and the bitterness you get from the instant espresso powder balances it out. And it gives it a bit of pep. But it's one of my absolute, kind of, supper stalwarts.

MONTAGNE: We made some of the No-Churn Coffee Ice Cream. Also, let's see. What do we have here. Bourbon and rum, other possible versions of this. And...

LAWSON: Oh, of course, you could gussy it up all manner of ways. You could have amaretto and you could put some toasted flaked almonds on top. I mean that's the wonderful thing about cooking - you can add your own touch.

MONTAGNE: Mmm. You know what this resembles is gelato. A little bit...

LAWSON: Yes.

MONTAGNE: It's that creamy, a little bit more than just straight American-style ice cream.

LAWSON: No, it's really extraordinary that it does taste very Italian. When reading the ingredients, one would not think that.

MONTAGNE: How can this be so easy? Why aren't we always, always making ice cream all the time? This is just so simple.

LAWSON: Well, I have a few very simple ice cream recipes. Generally speaking, I do a lot of no-churn ice creams that are basically just whipped cream with a very acid fruit juice and then some alcohol. And, of course, why alcohol is important is that alcohol never freezes. So it stops the ice cream from going rock-solid.

MONTAGNE: Let's get serious here: chocolate. And you have a Chocolate Hazelnut Cheesecake.

LAWSON: It's one of those things, that again, is the inspiration is Italian only in the sense that the chocolate hazelnut spread is Italian. And also, because I know all my Italian friends are crazy for cheesecake because, it's for them, it's exotic. So I thought, well, what would happen if I mixed cream cheese with the Nutella or (unintelligible) that's what we have - that's the Italian version of the chocolate hazelnut spread - and added some hazelnuts to the graham cracker crust, along with everything else, and a teeny bit of the spread to help it cohere?

And it was so easy and so delicious because, of course, the tang of the cream cheese counters the enormous sweetness of the chocolate hazelnut paste. It's very easy to make.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much, Nigella.

LAWSON: Oh, well, thank you. And may you have a wonderful Valentine's Evening.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: And you can find Nigella Lawson's recipe recommendations for Valentine's Day at NPR.org.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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