“Couscous” from “How to Eat”

“How to Eat” has been with me for 19 years. I got it on my first birthday in London in 1999. I had a newborn son and I was still trying to find my feet both as a Londoner and as a mother. My husband gave it to me purely because there was a whole section in the back devoted to how to feed children. Little did I know then how important this cookbook would be to me, 19 years later. It would definitely be one of my Desert Island Cookbooks.

I can’t possible recall when I first made the recipe for couscous, but I do know that once I started making it, I never stopped.

I’ve made this recipe so often now that I know it by heart. 100 grams of couscous to 150 millilitres of stock, and for our family, 300 grams of couscous to 450 millilitres of stock is a good amount. Put the two together, pop a lid on it, wait 10 minutes (or thereabouts), add some olive oil or butter, fluff it up, and it’s done.

In the ensuing years, I’ve adapted and changed this recipe countless times. Some popular variations include: adding roasted vegetables, adding feta, adding chopped flat-leaf parsley, sometimes doing all three. In the above photo, I added a new Waitrose frozen roasted vegetable assortment, which worked a treat.

Couscous carried my boys through their childhood and beyond. Soon after I started making this regularly, a new British friend (who is now an old British friend) said to me, “This couscous is perfect. It’s just the way it should be.” High praise indeed.

Once again, thanks Nigella.

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“Couscous” from “How to Eat”

“Minestrone” from “How to Eat”

The air was autumnal, the sky was grey and we had just returned from a week of eating all sorts of goodness in the US (read: fried chicken, pizza, cheesesteaks), so there was only one thing for it– a bowl of healthy soup. Minestrone fit the bill perfectly.

Once again, Nigella did not disappoint. As with all vegetable-centric dishes, the prep– chopping, peeling and the like– is what takes up so much time. But Nigella soothingly tells us in the introduction that you can chop one set of vegetables, throw it in at a low heat, and then move on to prepare the next one. It makes sense.

She does note that the soup does turn out to be “an undeniable khaki,” and that’s true. See above. This is one recipe where it probably is a good thing that there’s no photos in this book.

The one thing that tripped me up was Nigella’s recommendation to use Ligurian olive oil. I spent a fair amount of time in my local Waitrose trying, and failing, to find Ligurian olive oil. I went for the Tuscan olive oil instead, reasoning that it was the next region over, so close enough (though she says the Tuscan stuff is more peppery). But funnily enough, that night we finally sat down to watch “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” on Netflixa cookbook we reviewed earlier this year— and Samin Nosrat goes to Liguria to see them make olive oil. Coincidental or poetic? You decide.

We had loads of leftovers, but I’ve got to say that the soup is even better the next day. Once again, Nigella for the win.

“Minestrone” from “How to Eat”

“Oven Chips with Oregano and Feta” from “Ottolenghi Simple”

This is absolute genius. As a lover and aficionado of cheese fries in any form, I’m flummoxed as to why it never occurred to me to have feta cheese fries. I’m here to tell you they are delicious, incredible, and yes, simple.

But “simple” is a relative term. Would you define simple as cutting potatoes to form your own chips? If you answered no, then this wouldn’t be simple for you. But given that I’d done exactly this task once before and had a good handle on how to do it efficiently, it was not hard at all for me, but I could see how others would think it wasn’t worth the hassle.

However, the payoff for going to the trouble of cutting your own chips was huge. They were fresh and, in a weird way, light. I say weird because you toss them twice in different oil, first sunflower and then olive oil with garlic, but because they were fresh potatoes they weren’t as claggy as frozen chips usually are.

Undoubtedly the  pièce de résistance was the addition of the feta cheese. Yum. Will we be having this again? What do you think?

Kudos, Ottolenghi, kudos.

“Oven Chips with Oregano and Feta” from “Ottolenghi Simple”

“Slow-Cooked Lamb Shoulder with Mint and Cumin” from “Ottolenghi Simple”

The important thing to bear in mind if you want to make this recipe is the word SLOW in the title. The lamb shoulder needs to sit in the marinade overnight and then roast in the oven for 6 1/2 hours before it’s ready to eat. So you need to be very much on top of things to make this, and plan ahead. For that reason, it’s perfect for a Sunday lunch.

I know the picture above doesn’t look that appetizing. I suspect that Ottolenghi had the same problem since there’s no picture of this dish in the cookbook either. But what it lacks in looks, it makes up for in taste. It also made the whole house smell amazing, which made us all hungry.

If you do decide to make this, though, my top tip is to fill the roasting tin with carrots and other vegetables. I filled mine up with the required amount– though I didn’t add celeriac because I forgot to get it– and they ended up completely “carmelised” (Read: Burned) and inedible. So the next time I make it, I’ll add more vegetables and also be more assiduous in basting both the veg and the lamb while it roasts.

Was it easy? It was, actually. The only slight problem I came across is that I didn’t have fenugreek seeds in my spice cabinet, and when I went to source them in the usual spots the only fenugreek I could find was ground. So I subbed that in, but I don’t know if that made a difference. It still was quite delicious.

The cookbook includes a shorthand guide for all the recipes: S for “Short on Time”, I for “10 Ingredients or Less”, M for “Make Ahead”, P for “Pantry” and L for “Lazy” and E for “Easier than you Think.” This one was labelled I-M-L-E, and I would definitely agree with all of those, especially, “Easier than you Think.”

If you’d like to make this yourself, Ottolenghi included the recipe in his 2018 Easter recipe roundup for the Guardian. Click through here to see it.

“Slow-Cooked Lamb Shoulder with Mint and Cumin” from “Ottolenghi Simple”

“Mustardy Cauliflower Cheese” from “Ottolenghi Simple”

It’s autumn: the days are shorter, the nights are closing in more rapidly, the trees are turning, all of which means it’s time to return to our most favourite food group: CHEESY COMFORT FOOD.

Of course, comfort food comes in all types of guises, and frankly, cheesy comfort food is good all year round. But there’s something about digging into a bowlful of cheese and other delights when the air is chilly that soothes the soul.

Cauliflower cheese, a British delicacy if there ever was one, is definitely one of my comfort foods because it involves two of my favourite ingredients: cauliflower and cheese– just like it says on the tin. I would rename this version Coronation Cauliflower Cheese, because that’s exactly what it tasted like– a coronation chicken sandwich but in cauliflower cheese form. The use of black mustard seeds, green chillies, mustard powder, curry powder and cumin seeds gave it an Indian vibe, and very much in a good way.

My only regret was not doubling the sauce because I used it to swirl my plain-tasting roast chicken into it. Yum. I could have done that all day.

This was a very clever take on cauliflower cheese. Highly recommended.

 

“Mustardy Cauliflower Cheese” from “Ottolenghi Simple”

“Stuffed Peppers” from “Jamie Cooks Italy”

Stuffed peppers were a staple in our 1970s/80s American household. You’d take bell pepper, stuff them with rice, beef mince, tomatoes and cheese. I loved, and still love, them. My husband Tim does not feel the same fondness for them.

So when I told him I was making stuffed peppers for dinner, he was less than enthusiastic. But once he tasted them, he changed his mind. The reason? These are Stuffed Peppers Extraordinaire, which are stuffed not with the usual, but with pork mince, ‘nduja, fennel seeds and breadcrumbs, then topped with ricotta cheese.

Like I said, Stuffed Peppers Extraordinaire.

Once again, Jamie is on to a winner in this book. These were absolutely delicious, and I could see making these often.

However, two things to note: First, Jamie advised roasting the red peppers for 30 minutes and I feared they would absolutely collapse after that much time (and also, I was short on time), so I roasted the peppers for 15 minutes to get them cooked, but not so cooked that they wouldn’t hold the filling. As you then roast the peppers once stuffed for another 30 minutes, I figured it would be fine, and it was. Second, he calls for “crumbly ricotta cheese”. I was unsure what he meant by that, so after conferring with my trusty cheesemonger, I drained regular ricotta over a cheesecloth in the frig for a few hours before cooking, so it would be crumbly. That seemed to work.

Also, here’s a top tip: after the peppers were done roasting, there was a beautiful oil made up of the pork and ‘nduja in the pan. I took the rocket we were going to have with the peppers and tossed it in it for a delicious dressing. Yum.

All in all, another good dinner.

“Stuffed Peppers” from “Jamie Cooks Italy”

Two Pasta Dinners from “Jamie Cooks Italy”



To the surprise of no one, this cookbook, which has Italy in the title, is very strong on its pasta dishes. I mean, I would expect nothing less, though history has shown us here at Cookbook a Month that not all cookbooks deliver what they promise. In this case, at least, Jamie in Italy knows how to cook pasta.

We loved both these dinners. Roll on Jamie.

Sausage Linguine: As previously discussed, anything in this house that has the addition of pork products– be it bacon, sausage or otherwise– is a winner. For this recipe, you fry up a sausage, then add tenderstem broccoli, garlic, anchovies, chilli flakes and small glass of white wine. Toss linguine into the pan once cooked and then sprinkle cheese over the top (of course). Perfection.

Bucatini Amatriciana: This is also delicious. Essentially, you fry pancetta, add a sliced red onion, smash up a can of plum tomatoes, stir it into spaghetti and then eat. As Andrew is now in charge of cooking for himself at university, I’m going to send this recipe to him. It’s delicious, it’s quick, it’s easy: the holy grail of student/new cooks everywhere. Dinner FTW.

The fact that I could simplify both of these recipes into one sentence each is a real plus in my book. Don’t get me wrong– multi-page recipes have a time and a place, too, but it’s usually not on a weeknight when I’m trying to get dinner ready fast. Both will be winging their way into Andrew’s inbox. We’ll see if he actually makes them.

In the meantime, we can add these to the FTW weeknight dinner rotations.

Two Pasta Dinners from “Jamie Cooks Italy”