This week saw a red-letter day in the cookery calendar: The release of recipe books from the King and Queen of the culinary world
The Kitchen Diaries
Natasha Tomalin, Stylist’s designer, roots for Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries II (out now, £30, Fourth Estate)
The release of a new cookbook excites me so much more than any novel, especially if its author’s recipes feature regularly on my supper table. Luckily for me, two culinary giants just happened to release their new cookbooks on the same day: Nigella Lawson’s Nigellissima and Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries II. Nigel’s book is written in diary format through each day of the year and really warrants its rather hefty size. In fact, it doubles up as both cookbook and great bedtime read. What I love most about this book is how much it focuses on seasonality. Nigel cooks according to what’s growing in his garden or what he can find at his local farmers’ market, and it makes you really think about the ingredients you’re using.
The Kitchen Diaries II also scored highly for its pictures. Whether you’re a visual person or not, great food photography can really make you want to try a recipe and nearly all the images in Nigel’s book made my mouth water. I decided to road-test Nigel’s 11 September recipe: broad bean, feta and spinach pie. The recipe was so easy to follow and the ingredients minimal and, of course, seasonal. The result was sensational. I felt so pleased with my pie, I tweeted Nigel saying how lovely the recipe was, to which he replied: “Natasha, that’s great to hear. It’s a bit of a favourite here. Thank you!”
The recipe I tried from Nigella’s book made me equally happy. I cooked her mini macaroni cheese all’Italiana. It was delicious and not as heavy as other macaroni cheese recipes as it doesn’t use the traditional roux method. In fact, Nigella’s version is much easier than most and even tastier thanks to the addition of chicken stock and truffle oil. And even though this is Nigella’s take on Italian food, all of the ingredients were easily accessible, which is perfect for a stress-free weeknight supper.
While Nigella’s book is definitely better for the quick fix supper with no fuss and great results, Nigel just has to win for the range of recipes (365 in total), attention to the seasons and how the cookbook offers inspiration all year round.
Stylist’s associate editor Alix Walker gets herself in a right old state over Nigel Vs Nigellissima (out now, £26, Chatto & Windus)
I can’t choose. I won’t choose. I love them both too much. With their over-the-top-passion for everything from tomatoes to runner beans and their “sumptuous, unctuous” descriptions that feel too rude to be associated with a particularly zingy goat’s cheese.
I have read and re-read Nigel’s original Kitchen Diaries in the same way I once read Judy Blume’s Forever. So the release of the second volume excited me more than my new Acne jumper. As before, it charts his year in food and each recipe comes with such lovely descriptions and musings about food and life that even if you never cook a single thing, you’ll have more than got your money’s worth.
But I did make something: Nigel’s crab, avocado and lime salad. And it was amazing. Then again I trust Nigel’s recipes so much that I wouldn’t even consider any other outcome. He has a way of taking simple ingredients and making them feel special. No fuss. No unnecessary steps or expense. He just has an innate feel for what works.
But then there’s the other Nige, who I’m equally fond of. I even made her famous chocolate Guinness cake for my wedding cake.
Her new book, the gloriously titled Nigellissima, is an ode to Italy. It’s a book that she’s wanted to write ever since spending a gap year there as a chambermaid. And you can feel her passion for the country oozing, “sumptuously and unctuously”, off every page. I made two recipes – her ‘meatzza’, because it has such a brilliant name, and her chilli crab risotto. Both were so simple you can put them together in 30 minutes while watching TV and they were so comforting and tasty I would make them again and again.
So that’s why I can’t choose. And I won’t choose. Unfortunately my editor has just told me that I have to. So I will. But I don’t like it: Nigella wins. If only for the fact that a recipe book that features dishes such as ‘back-to-black spaghetti’ and ‘tiramisini’ is the perfect antidote to looming dark nights and exactly what I fancy at this time of year.
The winner: Nigella
Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries II is utterly brilliant and a real pleasure to read – and he gets a lot of bonus points for prompting us to pay attention to seasonal food – but the prize has to go to Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration. Nigella Lawson and Italy are such a perfect pairing, both famous for passion, la dolce vita and generosity. It’s a wonder that she hasn’t written an Italian cookbook long before now. Hopefully this isn’t her last.