In my culinary journey I’ve had many inspirations. Many of them are close and familiar: my mother (but of course!), my father, my grandmother, and many of my aunts and uncles. I come from a cooking family. Not a famous cooking family to be sure, but one where many members just enjoy cooking. And those who don’t, still enjoy the eating. We are a simple but happy bunch…just put us in front of good food and we are satisfied.
Some of my inspirations are not as close or familiar – and by “not close or familiar” I mean that they wouldn’t know who I was from Adam. But they have inspired and nurtured my passion in the kitchen all the same, unbeknownst to them. And of these famous(er) culinary inspirations, on the very top of them all, is Nigella Lawson.
To say Nigella inspires me is actually a gross understatement. So much of what I believe in and value culinarily (and gastronomically) has been inspired by this woman. And what hasn’t been inspired by her, has, at the very least, been validated by the joy and pleasure, in both cooking and eating, that she so generously shares with the world. If you take a look at the very first entry on this blog you will see her cupcakes from How to Be a Domestic Goddess. You can say that she’s been with me from the start.
I agree with so many of her cooking philosophies and so much of what she says and does in the kitchen resonate with me. In fact, I can’t go through a single episode of any of her shows without nodding my head vigorously and murmuring, “Yes!” “Oh my god yes!” “So true!” “We are so alike!”…and other equally idiotic utterances of a superfan.
There are so many reasons why she is, in my book at least, truly a goddess in the kitchen (and in life): Her belief that not just eating, but also cooking, should be pleasurable is exactly how I feel about cooking as well. That the simple home-cooked meal is something to be valued in this frenetic world. That good ingredients make good food. But, in the same vein, that good shortcuts do exist and can help greatly…and are not something to be guilty of. Food is not something to be guilty of! That simple food can be sublime. That we don’t need to resort to culinary pyrotechnics to impress friends. That’s is OK not to be perfect in the kitchen (or in life for that matter!). That her qualification as a cook is neither through training nor profession but “as an eater” (mine too!). How she would show us her messy pantry and freezer in the earlier episodes of her shows (oh Nigella! Mine too! I felt so vindicated). How she is, before anything else, also a writer. The glorious way she speaks. How she can be eloquent and so very casual at the same time. That she knows how to enjoy a solo meal and indulge herself. How her cooking is instinctual and personal, and how she encourages everyone to do the same, to go with their own pleasures and the needs and rhythms of their own lives. That we should let our children into the kitchen and benefit from a little “child labor” (at the same time teaching them a valuable life skill!).
That food is as part of life as love is…and both should be enjoyed.
Aside from all that, it also must be said that we both love linguini and loathe green peppers.
I could go on but I will not subject you to any more of my obsessive ramblings, because if you let me, I could talk about Nigella for hours. You may not survive. And I want you to survive because there are meatballs coming up.
So…the fates must have felt my devotion because I had the opportunity to attend an event hosted by Del Monte to launch their Contadina line of products here. And who should be Contadina’s new brand ambassador but Nigella Lawson!
I am not ashamed to admit, when she came on stage, I was more star struck then I have ever been in my life (and most likely ever will be)! Like brains-are-mush star struck. Like close-to-tears star struck. Like Taylor-Swift-crazy-fan star struck. And while everything flowed on around me, photos being snapped, people chatting and posing and doing whatever it is one does at these media events, I just wanted to sit at her feet and listen to her. Forever.
When Nigella just happened upon our table while I was at the hob. I never post photos with myself in them on this blog but this was one for the books…never in my wildest imaginings did I ever think I would one day be cooking beside Nigella Lawson!
But! I am certain you’ve had enough cheesiness (creepiness) at this point. I’m not always like this so don’t abandon my blog I implore you! I’ll have something snappier for you next time, cleverer, wittier.
And if that’s not enough…I’ve made you some meatballs with all the Contadina products I took home…
Shortcut Sausage Meatballs with Linguine
(adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Shortcut Sausage Meatballs from Nigellissima on the BBC)
- 1 500-gram pack Contadina linguini
- 1 pack (about 400-450 grams) Italian sausage
- Contadina pure olive oil
- 4-5 stalks thick green onions or very thin leeks, chopped
- 1 – 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 425-gram can Contadina crushed tomatoes
- 1 420-gram bottle Contadina Aglio Arrostito Pasta Sauce
- sea salt and black pepper
- 1-2 bay leaves
- about 3-4 stalks of parsley, leaves picked and chopped
- small bunch of basil, leaves picked
- Contadina extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
– Take the sausages out of their casings and roll into small meatballs, about the size of a cherry tomato. Set aside on a baking sheet.
– Place a pot or pan that will fit all your ingredients over medium high heat. Add a couple of generous glugs of the pure olive oil. Swirl the pan so the oil coats the bottom in a thin layer. When the oil is hot add the meatballs and sauté until all sides are golden and bronze.
– Add the chopped green onions/leeks to the pot and toss. When they start to soften add the dried oregano and toss to distribute evenly.
– Add the crushed tomatoes along with the pasta sauce into the pot and stir gently. Half fill the empty tomato can with water, swirl to get the last vestiges of tomato out, and add to the pot. So the same with the bottle of pasta sauce (half fill only). Stir.
– Season to taste with salt and pepper. Make sure to taste first before adding any salt as Contadina crushed tomatoes are slightly salted and the pasta sauce is already seasoned, plus the Italian sausage will also add a lot of flavor to the sauce.
– Add bay leaves and chopped parsley and simmer without a lid for about 15-20 minutes or until the sauce has reduced a bit and thickened slightly.
– While your sauce is simmering, cook the linguini as per package directions.
– When the sauce is done remove from the heat and toss in basil leaves and drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil.
– Serve meatballs with the linguni.
My pantry is never without a can of tomatoes in it, whether whole, chopped, or crushed. I hardly ever use tomato sauce, at least not that fully processed, smooth type. I prefer cooking with the chunkiness, and fresher flavor, of canned tomatoes. Why not actual fresh tomatoes? I read somewhere that if you don’t have absolutely stellar, sweet tomatoes you are better of using quality canned ones. I have to agree. Our local tomatoes are wonderful for a lot of things, but for sauces I find good canned tomatoes more my preference.
So suffice to say that, although Nigella definitely took most of my brain space that day, I was also happy to have a chance to test-drive the Contadina products. And I am glad to report that I am quite happy with them. The tomatoes are full-flavored and fresh-tasting, with little of that canned aftertaste. The pasta, which is made with 100% durum wheat semolina, has a good firm texture.
This recipe is from one of my favorite episodes of Nigellissima, wherein she makes a simple sauce of meatballs using sausages. It’s quick and easy, and delicious! Using Italian sausage means you don’t have to mix and season your own mince mixture, plus your meatballs are already brilliantly flavored. One of the best parts of the episode however, in my opinion, is that she has her young niece and nephew help her out in making the meatballs. I too love to have my children help out in the kitchen, even if it means a little more mess. So I had them help me roll the meatballs for this too, just like in the video.
I decided to use one can of crushed tomatoes and one bottle of the roasted garlic pasta sauce for another layer of taste, which I think worked very well. Add the savory and spicy Italian sausage and you have quite a boldly flavored sauce. I also added fresh basil in the end for a bright green note to cut through the rich sauce.
The one point I did do differently though was to use linguini instead of spaghetti noodles. I hardly ever have spaghetti noodles at home because I really prefer linguini. That being said, this would be equally wonderful scooped onto a bowl of hot rice. Or wedged into a bun for a brilliant take on a Sloppy Joe.
After all, like Nigella says, it’s important that our cooking is our own and that we adapt to suit what pleases us. I wholeheartedly agree.
p.s. Contadina products are already in selected supermarkets and will soon be in one near you!