At 53, Nigella Lawson looks as sleek and ravishing as ever. And she has many pots on the stove these days: Not only is she judging and executive-producing the ABC cooking competition The Taste, but she has just released her ninth cookbook, Nigellissima, a trove of gloriously simple Italian dishes.
The self-described "home cook" chats from her London abode, where she lives with her husband of nine years, Charles Saatchi, and three enviably well-fed kids: "My children often use this cookbook as a sort of catalog and say, 'We'll have one of those, please,'" she says with a laugh.
2 of 10Petrina Tinslay, Courtesy Clarkson Potter/Publishers
Enjoy real food, please
"I don't like low-fat versions of anythingin part because I think people just end up adding more carbohydrates in order to simulate that mouthfeel. But I also think, Why not just eat less of something, rather than having a low-fat version? I mean, I will always be greedyI'm eating one meal and talking about my next one. The only thing I like doing as much as eating is talking! But nevertheless I don't eat as much per sitting as I did, say, 20 years ago. I've taken up exercise rather than going on a diet, and I feel that's the healthier way of doing it. Depriving your body is not the way forward; adding exercise is."
"I'm a great believer in a shallot, which gives mild, sweet flavor and takes half as long to cook as an onion. There are days when one feels so utterly exhausted that the idea of peeling and chopping an onion is too much. I get it! I also often add a splash of red vermouth for an instant hit of flavor. It comes with a screw top and it lasts indefinitely, and it's cheaper than opening a bottle of good red wine just for cooking."
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Cook to reduce stress
"People always talk about the health benefits of certain foods, but the benefits of cooking itself are never really mentioned. The feeling of achievement that comes from doing something that's manual laborbut without heavy liftingis very good for your sense of calmness and self. All in all, I'm trying to make the case that cake-making is a very important health measure."
"Rather than using fat while you cook, like in a soup, you can just do a dribble of extra-virgin olive oil at the end. That way, instead of using 2 tablespoons, you're using probably about one-half teaspoon. While I'm on this, I always tell people: Please don't cook with extra-virgin olive oil, because you're wasting your money. You're buying it for that very strong, almost peppery taste, but when you cook with it, the flavor goes. If you're making a salad dressing, use half regular olive oil, half extra-virgin. My mother often mixed them. You don't need the taste to slap you about, sometimes you just want to be kissed by it."
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Choose sea salt instead of table salt
"I love saltiness, unfashionable though it is. I use proper salt, which for me is sea-salt flakes. When you go out to eat, people give you what I think of as bathroom scourer to put on your food. The saltiness from sea salt isn't chemical. It's softer, and it doesn't have a taste that makes you wince."
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Eat more farro
"I'm on a campaign to make farro more widely known. For many of us it's a new food, but it dates back to the Etruscans. It's a fabulously easy way of making risotto because you don't need to stir ityou just put a lid on. And you can make it in advance. You feel that you're having the most indulgent Italian food, but it's a whole grain, so it's healthy. Afterward, it gives you a slow release of energy, and you aren't going to feel that sense of white-carb fatigue."
"It's so difficult to give portion sizes, because it depends on who is eating, what else you had to eat that day, and if you're having anything else at the same time. I feel that as much possible, people need to make their own choices. No, we don't always make good choices. But being forced against our will never works. People castigate Americans for eating a lot, but I think it comes from the fact that America is a country built by people who came from starvation, so of course success means too much to eat! Any social historian would see how these patterns evolve."
9 of 10Petrina Tinslay, Courtesy Clarkson Potter/Publishers
Have the chocolate…
"The mistake people make is saying, 'I mustn't eat this' and 'I mustn't eat that.' Then all they do is fixate on what they can't eat. The girlfriends I have who are on permanent diets come straight into my kitchen, open cupboards, open cookie tins and eat ice cream. They can't understand how I can live in the house with so much chocolate. I tell them, 'It's really very simple. When I want a bit of chocolate, I have a bit of chocolate. And then I don't have to eat 10 bars of it!' I'm not denying myself, so I don't get that obsessive craving."
"You know, my absolute favorite would be some incredible bread and some incredible blue cheese. But I wouldn't have it that often because then it's not a treat. When my brother was little, he adored mashed potatoes. And you know how grandmothers want to show how much more beloved they can be than parents. So once when my brother came to lunch at my great-grandmother's she said, 'Darling, you don't have to have anything elseI've just made you a huge tureen of buttery mashed potatoes.' And of course he couldn't do it, because however much you love something, if you overdose, then it isn't a treat.