Watching Food Network star Nigella Lawson cook is as comforting as a bowl of mac-n-cheese. The British beauty turns her attention to pasta and panna cotta in her new cookbook, “Nigellissima: Easy Italian-Inspired Recipes” ($35, Clarkson Potter). The judge for ABC cooking competition “The Taste” dished with us about why she loves food and why she took a stand against airbrushing.
You say in the book that you decided you wanted to be Italian as a teenager. Why?
When I was growing up, everyone was very Francophile and wanted to be Parisian. I suppose it was my small way of having a small rebellion. It’s a bit like when you fall in love with a person; you can’t say exactly why, you just feel a sense of kinship straight away.
What helped create that connection?
There’s something about the Italian character. They’re very practical and steely, but at the same time they’re very passionate and spontaneous. What I love about Italy is that everyone is super involved with what they’re eating. You could ask anyone and they’d have an opinion; it’s not just those who ar e cooking. Being in Italy is like a lifelong cooking class.
What is it about Italian food that appeals to you?
It’s a very simple, direct way of cooking. An Italian recipe will never be overburdened with ingredients. [Chefs] trust they’ll speak for themselves. Italians teach you to use every bit of every ingredient.
Does Italian cooking allow for innovation and improvisation?
I think it does for me. I’m very precise and will say which are traditional recipes and which are ones that I have tinkered with. I felt that there was already a huge library of works written by Italians about Italian food; I wanted to share my gratitude and write a culinary love letter to Italy and show how it’s inspired the way I cook. You can borrow from other people’s creativity, because it fires up your own.
A lot of people get stressed out by cooking. Why?
People want to overreach. They see chefs cooking and don’t take into account that while they’re cooking solo on a TV program, in reality in a restaurant kitchen there may be 30 people doing all of the prep work. So it will never translate into a home kitchen.
You spoke out against the use of airbrushing in promo photos for “The Taste.” Why was that important to you?
I just said do not airbrush my tummy out. It sounds like I’m being noble, but I just didn’t want to give a false impression. I feel that you can’t eat food and have no tummy. I don’t like the sense that everyone has to be perfect in order to be on TV. Who’s to say it’s a bad thing to have a tummy? My husband would be absolutely horrified if I suddenly didn’t have a tummy. I would rather say this is me, take it or leave it.