Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Off the Shelf: Nigella Lawson's "Feast"

IMG_7551Nigella Lawson's book Feast is a book I like to check out of the library at this time of year. Nigella is an anomaly to me and for years I've been trying to figure her out. She is one of the most talented food writers I know and her writing never ceases to inspire me. In fact, I find Nigella's cookbooks most useful just for her incredible word pictures that make you say, "yes, yes, yes, that's exactly what (said food) is like."

However, I have a hunch that many of Nigella's recipes are made up on the fly, and don't really conform to normal cooking standards or methods. Nigella doesn't care. She's all about the moment and what tastes good now. However, her books are filled with lovely photos and so many recipe ideas, not to mention her descriptions. Her books are worth browsing and then, if you don't quite like the sound of her recipe, you can go online and find something similar.

Just listen to some of Nigella's descriptions:

Pumpkin and Apple Crumble: "Sweet, grainy cubes of pumpkin turned, with wincingly sour apples, in spiced butter and topped with a brown-sugar rubble of sandy crumble: this is the most cozy, warming dessert you could imagine."

"You don't have to be a vegetarian to appreciate the pleasure to be gained from dipping raw vegetables into untraditionally lemony guacamole, followed by griddled slices of eggplant, wrapped around a minted, garlicky easy cheese filling and doused in sweet tomato sauce, and then for dessert, a sugar-dusted pyramid of ricotta fritters. Anyone who doesn't want to eat this, doesn't deserve dinner in the first place."

"This is not so much a recipe, more an enthusiastic suggestion: a scented, simple salad with which to greet a turquoise-skied summer's day."

"There is something about muesli, real muesli, that makes me feel I am some intellectual, beautiful free spirit, throwing pots and writing poetry or political diatribes in 1960's Hampstead. And it's a feeling I quite like."

Now look at some of the chapters in Feast:
Thanksgiving and Christmas
New Year
Meatless Feasts
Valentine's Day
Easter
Passover
Breakfast
Kitchen Feasts
Chocolate Cake Hall of Fame
Midnight Feasts
Wedding Feast
Funeral Feast


I opted to try the Pumpkin and Apple Crumble and the Maple-Roasted Parsnips. Unfortunately, I substituted butternut squash in the pumpkin and apple crumble, which left me with chunks of meaty squash instead of melt-in-your-mouth lumps of soft pumpkin (so don't substitute in this recipe!). And, the parsnips were disappointing -- more because I think they were not fresh and therefore dried out in the oven rather than crisping up and becoming candied morsels of delight. But you can have a go yourself:

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PUMPKIN AND APPLE CRUMBLE
(Feast)

3 lbs pumpkin, to give 1 lb 14 oz when peeled and de-seeded, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tart cooking apples (2 lbs)
4 Tbsp. butter
1/2 c. sugar
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
3/4 c. golden raisins
vanilla ice-cream for serving

Topping:
2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
10 Tbsp. butter
1/2 c. light brown sugar
2 Tbsp. raw cane sugar or demerara sugar

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Put the peeled and chunked  pumpkin into a large pan, and peel and core the cooking apples. Cut them to a similar size to the pumpkin and add to the pan with the butter, sugar, lemon juice, spices, and sultanas.

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Cook over medium heat for about 10-20 minutes, partially covering with a lid until the pumpkin and apple have softened. Tip the pumpkin and apple into a dish.

Put the flour, baking powder and baking soda into a bowl and rub in the cold butter to resemble rough oatmeal. Fork in the light brown sugar, and then tip the crumble topping evenly over the pumpkin and apple in the dish. Finally, sprinkle over the raw cane sugar. Bake for 45 minutes, turning the dish once in the oven to color evenly.

Let the crumble stand for about 20 minutes before serving, with some good vanilla icecream.

Serves 8-12.

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MAPLE-ROAST PARSNIPS
(Feast)

2 lbs parsnips
vegetable oil
1/3 c. maple syrup

Preheat oven to 400F.

Peel the parsnips and halve them crosswise, then halve or quarter them lengthwise. Put into a roasting pan and coat with vegetable oil. Dribble over the maple syrup and roast until tender and sticky brown (30-45 minutes).

Serves 8-10.