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Cookbook Review: Nigellissima, The (British) "Italian" Celebrity Chef + Nigella Lawson's "Tiramisini" Recipe

British celebrity chef Nigella Lawson's latest cookbook, Nigellissima, focuses on Easy, Italian-Inspired Recipes per the subtitle and BBC series by the same name. Nigellissima promises to be, in essence, the "shortcut sausage meatballs" to modern Italian domestic bliss. How to be a Domestic Goddess, Italian-style: Green beans with pistachio pesto, mascarpone whipped potatoes, "tiramisini" (get the recipe after the jump). You get the idea.

Noticeably different from previous books is the subtle change to chapter titles. It wasn't so long ago that "Party Girl" and "Trashy" chapters were trending in Lawson's cookbook nomenclature (Nigella Bites ); in Nigellissima, the chapters largely follow the more straightforward (read: not rooted in television promotion) model: "Pasta" and "Vegetables and Sides" are among the purely descriptive chapter titles. But flip past that "authentic Italian" table of contents, and the book is pure Lawson.

In other words, whether this cookbook will be at home on your shelves isn't so much about the recipes, but how you feel about the quality of food celebrities today.

We're going to venture a guess that the food stylists and photographer (Petrina Tinslay, an excellent photographer) were told to take the term "food porn" literally (a Lawson trademark long before it became a Pinterest catch-phrase). There's that shimmering pot of "Italian gold lentils" (casteluccio lentils), impossibly plump leaves of fresh basil tucked between wedges of (hot) balsamic-glazed roasted red onions with fennel, chickens under a brick (here, Cornish game hens) that look like they actually enjoyed being smashed by 400 degree clay bricks -- and a glistening, emerald green (peas, zucchini, green beans, basil) pot of vegetable minestrone with curls of tortellini that could double as a Georgia O'Keefe exhibition flyer. Even a simple dark chocolate sauce looks impossibly sexy in that mainstream television food porn way.

Are the recipes revolutionary? Many, like herb-spiced "Tuscan fries," squid ink spaghetti, and Lawson's quick version of lasagna have been on too many other cookbook pages in recent years to count. Others might be worth your "Italian" holiday consideration, depending on your taste, like a turkey breast stuffed with Italian sausage and Marsala-steeped cranberries (she admits the "undeniable American influence at play") or quick chestnut ice cream using chestnut puree and whipped cream ("nothing gives me quite the same frission of intense, sugar delight").

No matter that Lawson did not focus on Italian food until more recent years. Languishing book sales this time around? A couple of Italian home cooks dishing out a brutally honest "meatzza" recipe review? We're not likely to see a frown on Lawson's face. There are television shows to promote and a massive cookbook empire to grow (£50 million+ to date).

"Should I feel bashful about giving a recipe that involves little more than opening a can?," begins the Introduction to a simple cannellini bean recipe with olive oil and rosemary (open a can of beans, add a little garlic, herbs and olive oil). "Well, if I should, I don't. I don't apologize for speed or ease when the outcome is so enduringly pleasurable."

Hey, we don't ever apologize for opening a can of beans, chopping a few herbs and giving it all a generous pour of whatever beautiful olive oil local producer Theo Stephan (Global Gardens) has just bottled. But we don't exactly consider it an "Italian" cookbook-worthy recipe, more just a pretty great weeknight pantry idea (add it to the recipe header before the full homemade bean recipe as a weeknight shortcut). Then again, we're not a celebrity chef. Right. It seems as good a time as any to finish off with that "tiramisini" recipe.

Tiramisini

From: Nigellissima by Nigella Lawson.

Serves: 4

Excerpt from recipe introduction:

Some say, challenging more generally accepted ideas about the provenance, that tiramisu was invented in a casa chiusa (a house of ill repute) to give the working girls a pick-me-up, as the name (tira-mi-su) suggests. Whatever its inception, this one reverts to the original formulation -- although in dinkier format. This is not because I am a huge fan of the cute -- you know that -- but because it means you have a tiramisu worth making for fewer people (you don't need a partyful), and in less time. By which I mean very much less time, since, unlike the big, trifle-style tiramisu, these tiramisini -- think coffee-soaked Savoiardi sponge fingers, topped with the familiar, whipped Marsala-spiked mascarpone in small-portioned martini glasses -- don't even need to sit overnight before being ready to eat.

7 tablespoons espresso coffee (or strong instant coffee)

2 tablespoons coffee liqueur

4 Savoiardi biscuits (ladyfingers)

2 egg whites

1 cup mascarpone

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons Marsala

Approx. 1 teaspoon good quality cocoa powder

4 small martini glasses (approx. ½ cup each)

1. Make your espresso and pour it into a heatproof jug, adding the coffee liqueur, then leave it to cool. I find 10 minutes outside the window on a cool day does it!

2. Break each Savoiardi cookie into about 4 and drop the pieces into the martini glasses, then pour the cooled espresso mixture over them. Tamp down gently, making sure the biscuits are soaked all over.

3. Using an electric mixer for ease, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks, and set aside for a moment.

4. Scrape the mascarpone into another bowl, adding the honey; I love the way its mellow sweetness marries with the Marsala, though sugar would be fine too. Beat with the electric mixer (no need to clean it out first) and, when smooth, slowly beat in the Marsala.

5. Fold in the egg whites, a third at a time, then dollop this mixture over the soused Savoiardi in each glass, using a spoon to whirl it into a swirly peak at the top.

6. Let these stand in the fridge for at least 20 minutes and up to 24 hours, then dust with cocoa, pushing it through a fine-mesh strainer, just before serving.

See also:

Q & A With Nigella Lawson: On Her New Cookbook Nigellissima, The Taste, And Whether There's Too Much Food on TV


Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook. Find more from Jenn Garbee @eathistory + eathistory.com

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