I happen to like Nigella Lawson very much (i.e. her food programmes on television) and think it’s marvellous the way she always looks on the bright side, whatever else might be said of her culinary skills. She is not out to impress, she is out to please and satisfy, and enjoy herself in the process — and I love that about her. I have two or three of her books but I have to admit to not having tried even one of the recipes therein. I looked at one once and closed the book in self-loathing despair: it was all about ‘cups’ (I reason in grams and kilograms) and other arcane culinary steps that puzzle me into inaction. And yet on television, when I can ‘see’ what she is up to, I think I can easily replicate a recipe.
What I share with Ms Lawson is a visceral fear of not being within reach of food. I do not make midnight rampages into the fridge as she does on her TV shows but I definitely need the reassurance of food in my surroundings. My cupboards must never be bare … that would be very frightening indeed. I hate being invited at someone’s house for dinner and discovering that the food is tasteless or worse. I have been known to cry over ‘bad’ food at a restaurant. And when I travel, I always carry a little bit of food for the trip, even if it’s only nuts and chocolate or dried fruit. When I accompanied my son on a school trip to Moscow and St Petersburg (this was a few years ago), my suitcase was full of parmesan cheese and parma ham, nuts, chocolate, dried fruit and yes, I confess, even 12 large plastic bottles of mineral water! (A friend told me how her husband had drunk Moscow water and got himself into a terrible state of health because there were traces of uranium or whatever in the drinking water.) I am sure that good food is to be had in Moscow and St. Petersburg but I knew that the school’s travel budget would be taking us to affordable establishments where quality would not necessarily take centre stage. I was right. And I always carry my own salt in my handbag — proper unrefned sea salt (the kind that is good for your health) as opposed to the nasty tablesalt that supermarkets sell and that ruins your health. I get alternately teased and mocked over this salt habit but I also notice that people turn to me at the restaurant table when they need a pinch of salt to liven up what’s in front of them on their plate.
What I don’t share with Ms Lawson is a sweet tooth. Dessert and pudding is something I never look at on a restaurant menu. I am usually too full to want to eat dessert. Last week, while ironing and watching a Nigella programme on TV, however, I was very much intruiged by a carrot cake she prepared. She had drawn her inspiration from Venice where she had eaten it made this way and discovered that carrot cake was indeed a Venetian invention of its Jewish population in the Ghetto (the word ‘ghetto’ actually hails from Venice). What is very ‘good’ about this recipe is that it contains no flour, so suitable for those with gluten problems. It looked easy enough to make … and here is the result!
The ingredients are: 150ml olive oil, 250g almond flour (or peeled almonds that you can process into flour), 150g sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 3 eggs, juice of half a lemon, lemon zest, a grating of nutmeg, a handful of raisins steeped in sherry (I didn’t have any so used whisky instead), toasted pine kernels, 2-3 grated carrots. The carrot cake is accompanied by a cream made up of: 250g mascarpone, 2 spoons icing sugar and a good glug of sherry.
Nigella insisted that the carrots be grated by hand and eggs and sugar and olive oil creamed also by hand – but I contravened on this and used the food mixer and the result was jolly good, pace Nigella.
Start by preheating the oven at 180°C.
Here are all the ingredients (except for icing sugar). Please note that the lemon should be a non-waxed organic lemon! Put a handful of raisins in a cup or jar or glass and pour plenty of sherry or other liqueur over them to soften them.
Scatter the pine kernels over the top (the reader with a beady eye will notice that I didn’t toast the pine kernels, which I should have done, I forgot in the heat of all this photographing. Always toast pine kernels, it is better for our health apparently).
Thank you Nigella!