In the first two weeks of her four-month solo lockdown last year, British cooking queen Nigella Lawson sought comfort in carbs - bread, rice and pasta - and chocolate.
"After two weeks, I thought, 'this is ridiculous'. So I really concentrated on thinking about what I wanted to eat and cooking myself a lovely dinner," the 61-year-old cookbook author tells The Sunday Times via Zoom from London.
"I took so much pleasure in the ceremony and ritual, and the deliciousness of eating alone and cooking for myself."
She retested several recipes and added others to her cookbook - Cook, Eat, Repeat. It was published last year in conjunction with her new cooking show - Nigella's Cook, Eat, Repeat.
The seven-episode series showcases a selection of recipes from the book, focusing on comfort cooking that makes the most of her favourite ingredients. It premieres on BBC Lifestyle (StarHub TV Channel 432) tomorrow at 7pm, and streaming service BBC Player (str.sg/3wBw). The Christmas special will air closer to the occasion.
The show - filmed from mid-August to early October last year - does not have scenes of the celebrity chef hosting people, a staple in her previous shows, such as Nigella: At My Table (2017).
That gave her more time and space to regale viewers - in her signature soothing voice - with the stories behind her recipes.
"The pandemic completely dismantled the relationship between sociability and eating because, generally, eating is a social affair," she says.
So she turned to dishes such as her "lockdown life enhancer" of gochujang lamb shanks with pappardelle, something she would eat frequently with her 27-year-old daughter and 25-year-old son.
They are her kids with her late husband John Diamond, who died of cancer in 2001. She divorced her second husband, businessman Charles Saatchi, in 2013.
"It was a pleasure to make it for myself and have memories of a fuller table while I'm eating it," she adds.
Sweet treats created during her solitude include creme caramel and mine-all-mine cookie recipes which cater for just one person, as she notes that many dessert recipes usually provide for a few people.
Do not expect "razzle dazzle" dishes in her new show.
Instead, she whips up comfort dishes such as her go-to chicken in a pot with lemon and orzo; and fried chicken sandwich - complete with a homemade old-fashioned sandwich loaf (see recipe).
The recipe - adapted from Australian baker Dan Lepard's - uses spoilt milk instead of sour cream, to minimise waste in her cooking. "My milk management is not that great," she quips.
Similarly, she uses bananas in their entirety. The flesh goes into her banana, chocolate and tahini pudding. She saves the peel - leaving it to soak in boiling water, turmeric and salt - for a banana skin and cauliflower curry.
She says: "When I was making banana bread, I kept thinking that I was sure I heard somewhere that banana peels are edible. If I used them to make something which is quite spiced, in a rich and aromatic sauce, maybe it would take on some of that flavour. And it was really a revelation.
"They don't taste as you would imagine. It's pleasurable to make a meal of something that would go in the bin."
Familiar condiments appear in the show as well, such as crispy chilli in oil and gochujang which are "absolutely essential" for adding flavour instantly to dishes, says the self-proclaimed condiment queen.
Other staple ingredients in her cooking include lemons, anchovies, soya sauce, miso and ginger.
Prior to the lockdown, she admits that the only things she was concerned about not having in her pantry were tea and flour.
"I needed to drink tea and make bread," she adds.
Emphasising how important cooking is to give structure to one's day, she says: "I know a lot of people find it difficult to cook for themselves and I want to tell them how pleasurable it can be.
"You have something to focus on which feels safe and comforting when the world is feeling very unsafe, chaotic and alarming."
OLD-FASHIONED SANDWICH LOAF
• 500g strong white bread flour, plus more for dusting
• 7g fast-action dried yeast
• 2 tsp (8g) caster sugar
• 2 tsp (12g) fine sea salt
• 125ml spoilt milk (or sour cream), straight from the fridge
• 150ml cold water
• 100ml hot water from a just-boiled kettle
• 45g soft unsalted butter (plus more for greasing tin); omit if using sour cream
• Vegetable oil, for kneading
1. Mix the flour, yeast, sugar and salt in a large bowl.
2. Pour the spoilt milk (or sour cream) into a measuring jug, add cold water, followed by boiling water. Stir the soft butter into the jug. It will not melt entirely.
3. Pour the jug of wet ingredients into the bowl of dry ingredients, stirring along with a wooden spoon or Danish dough whisk or your hands. Stir until all the flour is absorbed into the dough. Form into a rough ball, cover the bowl with food wrap or a shower cap and leave for 10 minutes.
4. Pour a little oil onto the kitchen counter and spread it with your hand to an area big enough to knead on. Take the dough out of its bowl and knead for 10 seconds. Form the dough back into a ball, return it to its bowl, cover it again and leave for 10 minutes. Repeat this process twice and, after the third knead, form the dough into a ball again, put it back in the bowl, cover and leave for an hour to proof.
5. Line the bottom of a 900g loaf tin and grease the sides with butter very lightly.
6. Take the risen dough out of its bowl and pat it out on your oiled surface till it is about 2cm thick, with one edge about 4cm shorter than the length of your tin. Starting with this edge and, using both hands, tightly roll the dough into a Swiss roll and place it seam side down in the tin. You may have to press the short sides gently to fit it in. Leave to rise for one to 1 1/2 hours, until it is peeking out just above the top of the tin.
7. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200 deg C (180 deg C fan). Dust the top of the risen dough with flour and bake for 45 minutes, by which time the bread will be risen with a rounded and deep biscuity golden top.
8. Take the bread out of the tin and place it on a wire rack to cool before slicing it. To keep the loaf fresh, store in a bread bin or wrap it in a tea towel.
Makes one loaf
MINE-ALL-MINE SWEET AND SALTY CHOCOLATE COOKIES
• 50g plain flour (or gluten-free plain flour)
• 10g cocoa powder
• 1 /8 tsp baking powder
• 1 /8 tsp bicarbonate of soda
• 1 /8 tsp fine sea salt
• 50g soft unsalted butter
• 25g caster sugar
• 15g soft dark brown sugar
• 1 /4 tsp vanilla extract
• 25g dark chocolate chips
• 1 /4 tsp sea salt flakes
1. Heat the oven to 180 deg C (160 deg C fan) and get out a non-stick baking sheet or line it with a sheet of parchment paper.
2. Stir the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and fine sea salt together in a small bowl to combine them.
3. In a slightly larger bowl, vigorously beat the butter, both the sugars and the vanilla extract with a small wooden spoon until you have a creamy mixture.
4. Add a generous spoonful of the dry ingredients to the creamed butter and sugar and beat it in gently with your wooden spoon. Then, beat in the rest of your dry ingredients, in about three batches. Once the dry ingredients are absorbed, beat vigorously until you have a sticky, rich-brown dough that clumps together, at which point you can stir in the chocolate chips.
5. Weigh the mixture and halve it equally. Squidge each half in your hands to form two fat patties about 7cm in diameter and place them on your baking sheet at least 10cm apart, as they spread while cooking.
6. Sprinkle 1 /8 tsp of sea salt flakes over each cookie, and bake in the oven for about 12 minutes, until the top of each cookie is riven with cracks.
7. Once the surface is cracked – in the last two minutes of baking – and the cookies have spread, they are ready. They will feel very soft to the touch. Take the baking sheet out and leave to rest for five minutes.
8. Slide a metal spatula under the cookies and gently transfer them to a wire rack. For optimal eating pleasure, leave for another 10 minutes before biting into one.
Makes two large cookies
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•Nigella's Cook, Eat, Repeat premieres tomorrow at 7pm on BBC Lifestyle (StarHub TV Channel 432) and BBC Player (str.sg/3wBw).