Nigella’s cookbook conjures Italy, while Supergrains gives gluten-free alternatives

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      One of the best things about British culinary star Nigella Lawson is that she unapologetically cooks the foods she likes to eat, whether they’re trendy or not. The domestic goddess fills her recipe books with indulgent dishes and doesn’t hide her love for a big, greedy bowl of pasta. The latter isn’t exactly fashionable in these gluten-free times, with other cookbooks focusing on wheat-free or meat-free dishes. We’ll look at one such cookbook later; but first, Nigellissima.

      The key word in Nigellissima: Easy Italian-Inspired Recipes (Knopf Canada, $45) is inspired. Lawson never pretends to be something she’s not, and she doesn’t claim her recipes are authentically Italian. Rather, they’re riffs on what she’s eaten abroad, cooked up with whatever she has on hand in her British kitchen. For example, a Sicilian pasta with sardines, capers, and currants inspired her version with tinned smoked mackerel, Marsala, and pine nuts. Risotto Milanese led to her creamy, saffron-tinted pasta with the prosaic name Yellow Spaghetti. She blends mascarpone and white truffle paste into mashed potatoes because…well, doesn’t that sound good?

      While her recipes combine influences, Lawson does have a connection to Italy. Given her glamorous image, it’s a bit surprising to learn that she spent a teenage gap year working as a chambermaid at a Florence pensione. Yet her down-to-earth attitude makes it easy to picture her as a young person hanging around the family-run pensione’s kitchen with Nonna and spending the little money she made on simple meals of tortellini in broth, as she recounts in Nigellissima.

      As always, Lawson’s practical approach to cooking makes her book reader-friendly. For example, in one recipe she admits that eight ounces of fettuccine is “an inelegantly large amount” for two people, but she calls for that amount nonetheless. That’s the weight of the average supermarket packet, and as Lawson notes, “it seems silly to leave any in the package.”

      As well as pasta, Nigellissima covers meat and veg with an Italian slant. The Sweet Things chapter is the most notable: think How to Be a Domestic Goddess with an Italian twist. It includes a bundt-shaped Yogurt Carton Cake, named after the Italian family tradition of using a yogurt carton as a unit of measurement. There’s also Panettone French Toast, panna cotta, and an intriguing one-step, no-churn coffee ice cream. The latter is made with condensed milk and espresso powder and served scooped into a sweet brioche bun, as Lawson enjoyed it in the south of Italy. While it’s unclear how the “embarrassingly easy” chocolate hazelnut cheesecake links to that country, the photo of the Nutella and cream cheese concoction makes you want to take a spoon directly to the page.

      Chrissy Freer’s Supergrains shows that gluten-free meals like millet salad can be satisfying too.

      Those looking for less decadent meals will find them in Supergrains: Cook Your Way to Great Health (Appetite by Random House, $24.95). In contrast to Lawson’s cookbook, the cover of this one proudly touts the fact that it contains over 40 gluten-free recipes (out of 100 total). The closest to indulgent these recipes get is a gluten-free carrot quinoa cake with cream cheese frosting.

      Author Chrissy Freer divides the book into 12 “supergrains”, which she describes as unrefined grains that are packed with nutrients and fibre. Some of them—like oats, barley, brown rice, and quinoa—are staples that many cooks already use on a daily basis. But others—like amaranth, millet, spelt, and freekeh—need more of an introduction. That’s where this book is most useful: it includes primers on exactly what each grain is, the different forms it comes in, how to cook it on its own, and how to incorporate it into all kinds of recipes.

      For example, in the chapter on millet, Freer explains that millet is a small, round-seeded grain that’s thought to have originated in western Africa. Millet is gluten-free and can be bought in grain, meal, puffed, or flour form. The grain can be used in salads instead of rice or added to soups and stews. Puffed millet may be added to granola, and the flour used in flatbreads. Millet meal can be used in baked goods and “is delicious combined with ground almonds in a gluten-free cake” where one might use polenta. Indeed, a recipe for and photo of one such cake, drenched in orange syrup, make it look quite tasty.

      Freer devotes a significant number of recipes to baked goods, such as pizza made with spelt flour, amaranth and raisin cookies that utilize puffed amaranth, and banana and chocolate muffins made with chia seeds. Salads are also featured prominently; for example, there’s a roasted beet, buckwheat, and goat cheese salad made with buckwheat groats. Inspiration abounds for working more of these healthy grains into your diet: you may never have thought to crust baked salmon with chia seeds or sprinkle them on grilled asparagus.

      And if, like Nigella, you crave a big bowl of pasta, there’s a creamy gluten-free buckwheat pasta with pancetta and broccoli, too.




      Mar 29, 2013 at 2:32pm

      Barley, spelt, kamut, freekeh and farro and most oats are NOT gluten free!

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      cocoa puffs

      Mar 29, 2013 at 9:15pm

      i'm looking for ways to get more gluten in my diet. are there gluten supplements one can get?

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      Carol Gibson

      Mar 30, 2013 at 8:08pm

      @ Helen: Where does it say that those grains are gluten free? Re-read the text: "it contains over 40 gluten-free recipes (out of 100 total)."

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      Apr 4, 2013 at 1:38pm

      good food

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