The latest orthodoxy about bookselling in these straitened times must be that a book has to be big to sell well. Hence the 492 pages devoted to Nigella’s latest opus Kitchen which weighs in at 1890g or 4lb 2 oz. (Out of curiosity I checked).
Does the world actually need another Nigella book? Or another of Jamie’s or Gordon’s, come to that? Even if you only own one there’s very little chance you’re going to cook through all the recipes. If you’ve bought all seven so far there can barely be room on your bookshelf. Maybe fans feel if they skip a volume some terrible curse will strike them down and all their cakes and souffls will flop.
That said a new Nigella book has much to offer that you don’t get in her tiresomely arch TV programmes. She lives and breathes (heavily) food - I suspect she spends most of her waking hours thinking about it. While some of her ideas are pretty gross (I wouldn’t wish Grasshopper Pie on my worst enemy) others are genius. The ideas of making roasties from gnocchi and ‘chocolate brownie bowls’ in which to serve voluptuous scoops of ice cream are inspired.
Most of her middle of the night brainwaves, it has to be said, seem to involve concoctions that are sugary and/or carb-laden. Nigella is not an author to turn to if you’re on a healthy eating kick. But I will definitely have to try her Marmalade Pudding Cake, not to mention her Pumpkin Scones, Treacle Slice, Beer-braised Pork Knuckles with caraway, garlic, apples and potatoes, Indian Roast Potatoes and Peanut Butter Hummus (why did no-one ever think of that before?). Oh, and a wonderfully puffy Toad-in-the-hole made with sausage patties rather than whole sausages: “the platonic ideal of the Sunday night supper” as Nigella puts it.
What redeems her books - and it’s easy to forget amidst all the pouting and innuendo - is that she actually is a cracking writer having been a serious journalist (and a former deputy literary editor of The Sunday Times). For every incredibly irritating “If you like blue cheese as I swooningly do” there is an elegantly crafted passage that is sheer joy to read (viz the introduction to the Maple Pecan Bundt Cake recipe that shows Nigella at her self-deprecating, humourous best, confessing that she actually isn’t a natural baker).
There are some seriously good ideas about what to do with leftovers (viz the Mixed Meat Pilaff) though the rather messy design of the book makes it hard at times to see where one recipe stops and another begins and some great practical tips in the Kitchen Confidential section. Like how to make your own buttermilk and why you don’t need self-raising flour.
I don’t think it’s as good as ‘How to Eat’ but I find myself being drawn to the book in spite of myself. And at the current discounted price of £13 - less than the cost of a pizza and a cheap glass of wine, for heavens sake - it’s ridiculously good value.