Tonight’s Dinner: Pasta Risotto with Peas & Pancetta from “Nigellissima”

CBAMRisottoWhat We’re Eating Again: Pasta Risotto with Peas & Pancetta, though we call it “Fake Risotto”

From: “Nigellissima”, October 2012 (Our original post can be found here.)

Why: We eat this all the time, because it’s the perfect dish for the nights in which I have 15 minutes to prepare dinner and all four of us have to be in four different places 30 minutes later. Everyone loves it, it’s delicious and it’s easy: the holy triumvirate of family dinners. Whenever I’m doing our food shopping, I make sure to throw in some orzo so we always have this pasta to hand. I’ve also made this when we’re away on holiday, as I’ve made it so much I have the recipe memorised. (See top tips below for how to do this yourself.)

Top Tips: I double the quantities that Nigella calls for when the four of us are eating dinner. That also makes it easy because it’s one bag of orzo. If you don’t have a scale to hand if you’re on the road, I put in roughly three handfuls of frozen peas for 300 grams, when I’m doubling the recipe. While using garlic olive oil is nice, it’s not essential. If I don’t have garlic olive oil, either I’ll add in some minced garlic or just go without.

If you’d like to make it yourself: You can find the recipe here, courtesy of Williams-Sonoma. Sorry, they’re not using metric in their calculations.

Tonight’s Dinner: Pasta Risotto with Peas & Pancetta from “Nigellissima”

“Nigellissima” – Our Verdict

Maureen: Oh, Nigella, how we love you.

Anna: Of course we do. Everyone loves Nigella.

Maureen: This is a very good book. It’s not my favourite of hers– “Feast” is still holding on to that title– but it’s very good just the same.

Anna: For the read alone it was wonderful. And the recipes were better than I expected. Shame on me.

Maureen: I’ve already made several things twice, which is a real testament to the cookbook. Some of the winners were sausage meatballs, fake risotto, nutella cheesecake and banana bread. I made the meatzza again too. This time, Andrew liked it more than the first time around, but Tim was not a convert. There were even several recipes that we tried that I didn’t even blog about. As far as I’m concerned, that’s always the mark of a good book. Which recipes did you like best?

Anna: Well I’m doing the pork loin again this weekend. The chicken and peppers next week, and definitely the mackerel pasta and Venetian stew are going to be made again. In fact this book is staying in the kitchen next to the cookbook stand for the time being because there are other recipes I want to try.

Maureen: This one is definitely a keeper. I also was happy to see that she toned down the “caricature of herself” bit of the television series. Not as much licking of the fingers this time. Hooray!

Anna: Lovely Nigella.

“Nigellissima” by Nigella Lawson: Our Conculsion

  • Overall Grade (A- F): A- (Maureen) A very good cookbook from Nigella– again– but not authentic Italian recipes. B (Anna)
  • Best recipes: Italian Sausage Meatballs and the Italian Breakfast Banana Bread (Maureen) Pork Loin, Chicken with Peppers and Venetian Stew (Anna)
  • Grade for Photography (A-F): A
  • Any disasters? Pasta Rosa was pretty dull.
  • Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Bookshelf. (Maureen is even going to put it on her high-rotation shelf).
“Nigellissima” – Our Verdict

“Shortcut Sausage Meatballs” from “Nigellissima”

I made a variation of this once before. We had arrived at our holiday let late on a Friday night after horrendous London traffic and a delayed ferry journey. I had intended to make our family’s stalwart Sausage Sauce, but I didn’t have the time or the patience. So I ended up taking the sausage out of the casings and making meatballs from them, which we had with pasta.

What I didn’t do that night, and what Nigella has ingeniously included here, is a very easy tomato sauce that you add to the sausages to finish it all off. Yum.

This is the perfect weeknight meal: it’s easy, it’s relatively quick and it’s delicious. It doesn’t require any special ingredients. In fact, she says in the introduction that you don’t necessarily need to use Italian sausages– even English would do. (I would stick with Italians, but that’s just because our amazing butcher, Dring’s, makes a fine specimen of one).

Would I make this again? Absolutely. In fact, I’ve already made it twice this month. Typing this up is making me ponder the possibility that tonight may be time number three.

Shortcut Sausage Meatballs from “Nigellissima”

450-500g Italian Sausages

2 x 15ml tablespoons Garlic Oil

4 fat or 6 spindly Spring Onions, finely sliced

1 teaspoon Dried Oregano

60ml White Wine or Vermouth

2 x 400g Chopped Tomatoes, plus water to rinse 1/2 can

2 Bay Leaves

Salt and Pepper, to taste

Chopped Fresh Parsley, to serve (optional)

Squeeze the sausage meat from the sausages and roll small cherry-tomato-size meatballs out of it, putting them onto a clingfilm-lined baking tray as you go. Your final tally should be around 40.

Heat the oil in a large, have-based pan or flameproof casserole and add the meatballs, frying them until golden; as they become firmer, nudge them up in the pan to make room for the rest, if you ca’t fit them all in at first.

When all the meatballs are in the pan and browned, add the spring onion and oregano and stir about gently.

Add the wine or vermouth and chopped tomatoes, then fill half of one of the empty cans with cold water and tip it into the other empty can, then into the pan. The can-to-can technique is just my way of making sure you will out as much of the tomato residue as possible.

Pop in the bay leaves and let the pan come to a fast simmer. Leave to cook like this, uncovered, for 20 minutes until the sauce has thickened slightly and the meatballs are cooked through. Check the sauce for seasoning, adding some salt and pepper, if you like.

During this time you can cook whatever you fancy to go with the meatballs, whether it be pasta, rice, whatever.

Once the meatballs are ready, you can eat them immediately or let them stand, off the heat but still on the stove, for 15 minutes. The sauce will thicken up a bit on standing. Should your diners be other than children who baulk at green bits, sprinkle with parsley on serving.

“Shortcut Sausage Meatballs” from “Nigellissima”

“Venetian Stew” from “Nigellissima”

Anna: I knew this was going to be yummy.

Peter: Why?

Anna: Because it is beany and pancetta-y, salty and a bit sweet. What I didn’t realise was how quick and easy it was going to be.

Peter: You did russle it up pretty quickly. It’s perfect for a cold autumn night.

Anna: Monster portions though! You will have plenty for lunch tomorrow while I’m out.

Peter: I’m happy with that. How did you manage to stop the polenta from going hard immediately?

Anna: Another Nigella tip. She increases the normal proportions of water to polenta in this recipe to ensure it stays soft and creamy. Genius. I would like this again.

Peter: That’s good, as so would I.

“Venetian Stew” from “Nigellissima”

“Italian Breakfast Banana Bread” and “Chocolate Hazelnut Cheesecake” from “Nigellissma”

If you’d like to make the cheesecake– and I recommend you do– click on this sentence to find the recipe.

If you’d like to make the banana bread, and it is an excellent use of brown bananas– click on this sentence to find the recipe.

First things first. You should know that since the beginning of the month, I’ve made both of these treats twice. That’s how good they are.

I’ve always had a bit of a love-hate relationship with banana bread. I find that the only way I can force myself to eat it is if there is chocolate and/or nuts in there somewhere. I keep on making it, though, because I hate to waste food and I know the black bananas in the fruit bowl that are mocking me can be used in a banana bread. So I persevered.

But now I think I’ve found the perfect banana bread recipe (with one alteration on my part). Nigella very cleverly has you add a few teaspoons of instant espresso to the mix. Not only does this mask the banana flavour, it also makes it more sophisticated version of this breakfast treat.

The one alteration on my part was to add 100 grams of chocolate chips to the mix. This addition works great with the espresso flavour and also manages to mask the banana flavour even more. Frankly, there’s nothing better than biting into an unexpected chip of chocolate, is there?

This cheesecake is a wonder. As this is the non-baked variety, all you need to engage in is a little forward planning in order to have a delicious dessert. Both times I made this I was short on time, so I slotted in assembly of the ingredients the day before I needed the cake, and BANG, I was done 10 minutes later. I’m sure Nigella would agree that this is not cooking, but assembly, and we were all the richer for it.

The cheesecake isn’t going to work for anyone who doesn’t like Nutella, chocolate or hazelnuts, since that’s pretty much the extent of the ingredients. It is also very rich. There’s probably about a million calories in every slice, so you should slice small ones.

Will I make these treats again? You bet. Anytime I have some black bananas mocking me, they will find a new lease on life in this banana bread. The cheesecake isn’t going to win any awards on the “Great British Bake Off”, but it’s good and people love it.

Win. Win.

“Italian Breakfast Banana Bread” and “Chocolate Hazelnut Cheesecake” from “Nigellissma”

“Spaghetti with Tuna, Lemon & Rocket” from “Nigellissima”

Peter: Tuna dinner!

Anna: Are you suggesting this is a student meal?

Peter: For students today. You couldn’t get rocket in my day. In fact I don’t think we knew what rocket was.

Anna: This calls for very posh tuna so I don’t think many students will be making this. I think this would be a very good quick summer dinner. Very fresh, very light. Probably not the first thing I’d make on a cold, rainy October night next time.

Peter: I liked it. I’d be happy to have it again. Maybe sitting in the garden next summer.

Anna: If it ever stops raining.

“Spaghetti with Tuna, Lemon & Rocket” from “Nigellissima”

“Ruby-red Plum and Amaretti Crumble” from “Nigellissima”

Anna: When did you make this Kirstin?

Kirstin: Last night, when I made that roast chicken and pepper recipe again.

Anna: And what was your verdict?

Kirstin: I wished the plums had been riper, but that’s not Nigella’s fault.

Anna: I didn’t have very ripe plums either, but it didn’t seem to matter. It may have been because I cooked the plums earlier and they sat in their sugary, buttery juices for a few hours.

Kirstin: They looked beautiful didn’t they?

Anna: They did indeed. And I’m a sucker for amaretti biscuits so I loved the crumble.

Kirstin: Do you think a splash of alcohol in the plums would have been good?

Anna: I was just about to say that. Amaretto. Yum yum yum.

“Ruby-red Plum and Amaretti Crumble” from “Nigellissima”

“Mountain Macaroni” from Nigellissima

Ella: This is scrummy. Especially those crunch bits on the top!

Tom: Oh yes, that’s the yummiest part of a pasta dish like this. I love the potatoes in it too. They really do add something to the flavour.

Miles: This is my favourite pasta ever.

Georgia: I love this, K.

Kirstin: A resounding success and perfect comfort food. Gruyere on the top and wonderful leftovers too. I made it this morning and just heated it up this afternoon. Should I make it again?

Tom, Ella, Miles and Georgia (in unison): YES!

“Mountain Macaroni” from Nigellissima

“Squid and Prawns with Chilli and Marjoram” from “Nigellissima”

If you would like to try this recipe for yourself click here.

Anna: Nigella suggests you serve this with black ‘venere’ Italian rice. I remember she had a previous recipe that called for this rice, maybe in Kitchen, I’m not sure. And I couldln’t find it anywhere. Until I stumbled on it in an hypermarch in France and bought 3 boxes. The problem is, as I recall now, I don’t actually like it that much.

Peter: Why is it black? Does it have squid ink in it?

Anna: No, I just think it’s black rice. So it’s probably very good for you. It makes the dish look very dramatic, which is the point I think.

Peter: It tastes ok to me. It compliments the seafood. I don’t think basmati would be the same.

Anna: It certainly has more bite than normal rice. But what we should discussing is the fish. What do think?

Peter: It was quite a small portion for me. Maybe it could be bulked up with some other fish?

Anna: It would be easy to do more squid and that’s always filling. It was definitely very light and I always like the combination of chilli, garlic and lemon. You can’t go wrong really. But this recipe is not rocking my world.

Peter: Another underwhelming recipe from Nigella?

Anna: It’s perfectly fine, and maybe it’s the rice that’s putting me off. She suggests serving it with pasta too which I think would work better.

“Squid and Prawns with Chilli and Marjoram” from “Nigellissima”

“Chicken with Tomatoes & Peppers” and “Cannellini Beans with Rosemary” from “Nigellissima”

Anna: This is brilliant!

Peter: Why do you say that?

Anna: It was super-quick, really easy and tastes delicious!

Peter: It’s very nice, I agree. The chicken tastes quite sweet, in a good way.

Anna: That will be the Marsala. I made this earlier in the day and let it sit, which is no bad thing with chicken thighs, and then prepared the cannellini beans at the last minute.

Peter: The beans go really well with the chicken.

Anna: It’s the rosemary that compliments the chicken so well. Do you know what the best thing about this is?

Peter: I think you’re going to tell me.

Anna: I added some couscous to the leftovers and gave it to Louis for lunch today and he wolfed it down! There’s more in the freezer for him too. Thank you Nigella.

“Chicken with Tomatoes & Peppers” and “Cannellini Beans with Rosemary” from “Nigellissima”