The moment unfolded as if it had been choreographed by Nigella herself; it was as I sat, eating a Nigella flourless brownie and wondering where my Amazon pre-order had got to, that a bewildered delivery man arrived and thrust the parcel into my hands, my mouth still half full of brownie.
At My Table is Nigella’s eagerly anticipated 11th cookbook, and it is clear from the beginning that this time there is no agenda or ‘theme’; the subtitle is ‘A celebration of home cooking’, a collection of uncomplicated recipes that Nigella herself loves and cooks in her own kitchen. Indeed, there is a real sense of authenticity to the book that is reminiscent of her first book, How to Eat. Comprised of no more than a hundred recipes, this book does not feel at all like an exhaustive or corporate venture – there is a sense that each recipe has a place and a purpose, and it is not peppered with ‘fillers’ like so many other contemporary recipe books. It also feels like a very organic project, since the book is not painstakingly organised or divided into chapters; the photos, too, have a natural feel to them inasmuch as they are realistic and not over-styled, which eliminates the shame and disappointment often felt when one compares their own culinary creation to the well-lit and professional-looking version in the book. The recipes suggest that Nigella is trying to please no one but herself; she unashamedly refuses to follow food ‘trends’ and the ever-growing demand for new, exciting food concepts by including recipes such as devilled eggs and a queen of puddings, both of which could be accused of being outdated in the current food climate. Hilariously, she also gives a middle finger to the ‘clean eating’ phenomenon by ‘subverting the spiralizer’ and using it not to generate courgetti, but instead make deep-fried shoestring potatoes.
This confidence and lack of shame is what I perhaps love most about Nigella; episodes of the respective TV series Nigella Express and Nigella Kitchen were apt to conclude with dim-lit shots of the self-proclaimed domestic goddess sneaking downstairs after dark to indulge in another wodge of Devil’s Food Cake or a hastily made fish finger sandwich. It is refreshing not only that Nigella is a generous cook – she declares ‘I am never knowingly undercatered’ – but also that she admits and even celebrates her moments of indulgence at a time when the media is infusing so much shame and control into the way we see food; the majority of public figures that we are seeing in the food industry today tend to bathe in pools of self-righteous abstinence and wellbeing, and in doing so take the enjoyment out of eating for the rest of us.
The recipes themselves are simple. At its root, this is a book that is teaching even the least domestic people to prepare and cook decent, healthy, homemade meals. Whilst some critics have declared recipes such as ‘Chicken and pea traybake’ and ‘Cumberland sausage with apples and onions’ to be safe and boring, to me, these are the type of comforting dishes that every home cook should have in their arsenal. We may all be hyperventilating over kimchi, cauliflower rice and matcha tea, but when push comes to shove, good old comfort food never goes out of fashion. Writing about her Chicken Barley recipe, Nigella wisely affirms ‘This is the sort of food that gets left behind in the Instagram age: not pretty to look at, but gratifyingly reassuring to eat.’
So that I might produce the most comprehensive of book reviews, I took the liberty of road-testing one of the simpler recipes in the book; double chocolate and pumpkin seed cookies. I was drawn to these partly due to the ease of the recipe, but also though my intrigue of the unusual pairing of chocolate and pumpkin seeds. I was expecting nothing more than a decent chocolate biscuit from Nigella, but, as it is, these are by far the nicest cookies I have ever made. The texture was soft, chewy, fudgy, and almost-brownie like in the centre. Once cooked, the pumpkin seeds take on a nutty flavour and provide an occasional toasty crunch to the cookie, which works beautifully with the earthiness of the dark chocolate (do try and use the best cocoa and dark chocolate you can afford). Admittedly, these are rather rich and deeply chocolatey (due to a hefty 50g helping of cocoa powder in the recipe)…as chocolate cookies go, they really mean business.
A note on quantities: whilst Nigella states the recipe will make approx. 18 cookies, I found that from following her recommendation of a rounded tablespoon of mixture per cookie, I actually only made 8 large cookies.
DOUBLE CHOCOLATE AND PUMPKIN SEED COOKIES
Makes approx. 18 cookies
Unsalted Butter – 75g, soft
Caster sugar – 100g
Soft light brown sugar – 70g
Egg – 1 large, at room temperature
Vanilla extract – 1 teaspoon
Plain flour – 125g
Cocoa – 50g, sieved if lumpy
Bicarbonate of soda – 1 teaspoon
Fine sea salt – a good pinch
Dark chocolate chips – 125g
Pumpkin seeds – 50g
- Preheat the oven to 180 °C/160 °C Fan. Beat together the butter and sugars until paler in colour and fluffy.
- Add the egg and vanilla and beat to combine. scraping down the bowl to rescue and incorporate any batter clinging to the sides.
- In another bowl, use a fork to mix together the flour, cocoa, bicarb and salt. Gradually add to the creamed mixture in the bowl, beating it in gently.
- With a spoon or spatula, fold in the chocolate chips and pumpkin seeds; you will have a thick, firm mixture (but not a dough).
- Line a couple of baking sheets with baking parchment, then, using a rounded tablespoon measure for ease, form heaped mounds, leaving about 6cm space between them, easing the mixture out of the spoon with a small spatula onto the sheet. Don’t flatten them.
- Cook a batch at a time (or just bake half and freeze the other half, ready-formed to bake another day) for 10-12 minutes, by which time the surface will feel just set and be cracked in parts. They will still feel pretty soft but will firm up as they cool. Once they’re out of the oven, leave on the tray for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool a little before diving in. Or leave them to cool entirely if preferred.