Cooking With Shortcuts In 'Nigella Kitchen' Just because food writer Nigella Lawson loves to cook doesn't mean she always has the time to cook. Her latest book, Nigella Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home, is filled with quick, homey recipes for even the most harried cook.
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Cooking With Shortcuts In 'Nigella Kitchen'

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Cooking With Shortcuts In 'Nigella Kitchen'

Cooking With Shortcuts In 'Nigella Kitchen'

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

You and celebrity chef Nigella Lawson may have something surprising in common.

Ms. NIGELLA LAWSON (Chef): I do love cooking, and I would love to spend hours in the kitchen. But my life doesn't really mean that I can afford an awful lot of time. And I don't want to eat less well just because I've got less time at my disposal.

INSKEEP: If that is you, don't worry. "Nigella's Kitchen," her new cookbook, includes chapters with names like "Hurry Up! I'm Hungry," and it's filled with quick recipes for quality meals.

Ms. LAWSON: I call anything quick if I can get a meal on the table in under half an hour. However, a lot of the meals I get ready in a hurry - frankly, under 15 minutes.

INSKEEP: Hmm. Could you do this Scallops with Thai-Scented Pea Puree in 15 minutes?

Ms. LAWSON: Oh, completely. I mean, this is a particularly easy dish to do when you're really up against it, because it uses that great ingredient: A frozen pea. And the...

INSKEEP: You mean like the bag of frozen - like with the Green Giant on it or something?

Ms. LAWSON: The bag - the sort that you might put on your knee if you were to hurt it playing football.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LAWSON: Exactly that one.

INSKEEP: Okay.

Ms. LAWSON: And, you know, we have in fish and chip shops in England, we have something called mushy peas - which I'm afraid is far too low-brow for NPR, but there you go.

INSKEEP: You can't get low-brow enough for me, Nigella.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: That's always true.

Ms. LAWSON: And really, it's like a pea puree, but not a pea puree that you would get in a swanky restaurant. It's still got bits of kind of nubbly bits and rough bits in the texture. And what I decided is wouldn't it be quite nice to borrow some flavor in from a paste I always have to hand, 'cause it lasts for ages, and that's from Thai green curry paste.

So I cook the peas, and when I put them in the blender with some Thai green curry paste and a bit of sour cream. And I cook the scallops, really, just very simply in a little bit of oil and butter. And they take - I mean, it depends on what size they are, but I mean it's, you know, generally speaking, I'd say about two minutes a side.

INSKEEP: And there's a photograph here. It looks like you've browned them ever so slightly.

Ms. LAWSON: Well, they're so sweet. They caramelize slightly. What you have to do is not stir fry them, exactly. Let them sit for long enough and two minutes each side, so they actually get golden a little, whereas, if you stir fry them, they will cook, but they will never develop that teeny bit of caramelized crust, which is greatly to be desired.

INSKEEP: So leave them in place, but just for that right about of time.

Ms. LAWSON: Exactly.

INSKEEP: Okay.

Ms. LAWSON: And then very tenderly turn them after two minutes. And once I finish cooking the scallops, I plate them up and then I squeeze lime juice into the pan. And the scallopy juices and the butter, together with the lime juice, form a really rather fantastically light, tangy sauce.

INSKEEP: I like that you say that this Thai curry paste that you use in the pea puree is something that you ordinarily have around the house, anyway. It's just something you like. It can last a long time. I suppose somebody making this recipe might substitute in their own ingredient there, that they always have around the house.

Ms. LAWSON: Or that you could easily - the important thing to remember, I think, is that cooking is about balance. And the scallops are sweet and peas are sweet, so you need to provide some counterpoint to that.

INSKEEP: Is the tarragon chicken - which is the next recipe were going to talk about here - also one that's based on stuff you tend to have around the kitchen, anyway?

Ms. LAWSON: Yes. This is really my quick version of a traditional French recipe, which takes hours. And all I do is put a bit of 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.

INSKEEP: Okay.

Ms. LAWSON: And I cook a chicken breast. You know, first, I put in the maybe some spring onions or scallions with a bit of dried tarragon. So first, I cook that just a teeny bit - just for a minute or so, just to flavor the oil, really, more than anything else - put in a chicken breast. Then after five minutes, turn it, and so it will have scorched a bit on one side. And then I splosh in some dry, white vermouth, a bit of salt, and then I put a lid on the pan. And I let it simmer very gently for 10 minutes.

And because of that, it keeps the chicken breast tender. And then the minute it's a ready - which it will be ready then - so all I do then is take out the chicken breast, bring the - all the chickeny, vermouthy, tarragony juices to a bubble, add a teeny bit of heavy cream, and then a bit of fresh tarragon and pour that over the chicken.

And it is so soothing. It's comforting, and yet it's delicate. And normally, comforting food tends to be heavy. And this is a sort of a contradiction in all ways. It's light, but it's slightly rich. And it is delicate, and yet comforting.

INSKEEP: You know, I love that these dishes - when you look at the photographs of them - they look fancy. The ingredients sound fancy. But in the end, this is, as you've said, comfort food.

This next one here, chorizo and chickpea stew - I mean chorizo, it's basically bits of sausage, really tasty sausage.

Ms. LAWSON: Yes, it's sort of Spanish sausage. And it's - in my chorizo and chickpea stew, it's entirely a store cupboard standby for me. And it's just incredible.

So all you do is you get your chorizo, this fantastic paprika, really deeply orange sausage. And I cut it into coins and then I cut it in half, just because then later on, I want to people to be able to just spoon it into their mouths.

I put it without any oil into a pan. And then I throw in a bit of sherry, and it kind of bubbles up, and then it bubbles away. I then snip in - I found recently some canned cherry tomatoes, which look fantastic. I mean, they're no more trouble to have in the pantry - put those in. I like to have a bit of dried apricots in, as well - just because I like that slightly tart, fruity flavor with the rich heat of the sausages. I just slip them in. I frankly, I just call them above the pan and use a pair of kitchen scissors, you know, and that's how I'd do it.

And, you know, a bit of water, because it's going to bubble up away a bit and will evaporate, so you don't want to have too little juice. And five minutes -I mean, everything is already cooked. I've got some chickpeas I forgot to mention. Chickpeas or garbanzo beans - are they not in your and neck of the woods?

INSKEEP: No.

Mr. LAWSON: And that's...

INSKEEP: Heat away.

Mr. LAWSON: ...five minutes to heat up, and it's done.

Really, what have I done? I opened some cans and stir a pan. It's not difficult. And there's something about, suddenly, the fantastic sort of salty, chili smell of the sausage. And there's the riot of orange and red and gold in the pan that is just uplifting.

INSKEEP: Nigella Lawson's latest cookbook is called "Nigella's Kitchen," and you can find some of her recipes at npr.org.

Thanks very much, as always.

Ms. LAWSON: Thank you. Sorry, I talked far too much, as always. But then you don't do a bad job of that yourself.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: We're glad you're listening to Nigella Lawson talk on this Public Radio station, one of more than 700 locally-operated Public Radio stations across the country. You can also follow this program at npr.org, smartphones, iPads, Facebook, Twitter. We're @morningedition and @nprinskeep.

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Nice job, Steve.

I'm Renee Montagne - of talking.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Oh, thanks. Thanks.

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