What are the Christmas food must-haves in your family?
I’m very traditional, so we always have cocktail sausages while waiting around in the morning, then the turkey and everything that goes with it. I still do this thing I did when my children were little, which is making decorations to hang from the tree. It makes everything smell of Christmassyness. You don’t need a scented candle when you have a hanging gingerbread cookie. I also always have Quality Street – they look so pretty with all their different colours! Although they took away my favourite colour: the brown one.
Would any roast other than turkey make it to your Christmas table?
Well, I did do pork the year before last in lockdown because I didn’t have very many people to cook for and I thought turkey would be wasteful.
Talking of waste… Do you have any top energy-saving tips for this Christmas?
About 30 years ago, Anna Del Conte taught me to cook pasta with the flame off. You bring water to the boil, add the pasta and cook it for about two minutes, stirring it around to release some of the starch. You then cover the pan with a lid, switch off the flame and leave it for the same amount of time as you would if you were cooking with heat. She taught me about it because, when you have people over, you don’t want water spilling everywhere – and you don’t want to overcook the pasta.
What’s the one recipe you can’t live without?
Well, it’s not the ONLY one – that would be too cruel –but there is something I love… I wrote about it in my second book: a steamed syrup sponge. You always assume people want new recipes, but really it’s those old classics that are so good.
And is there a food you absolutely hate?
I don’t like green bell peppers. To say I hate them may be too aggressive, but if anything came with them, I’d push it away. Also, I always have to steep onions – I can no longer tolerate them raw. There it is… It’s a cruel world! But there are many, many wonderful things still left to eat in it.
Who has inspired your Christmas cooking most?
It has to be my mother. It wasn’t always a positive memory for me, as she often used to cry on Christmas Eve with the sheer stress of it all. So for me, Christmas cannot be a tense time – there’s no point. But I suppose, in part, I do cook like my mother and, as she died very young, it’s nice for me to be able to share her food with my children.
What’s your first memory of food?
I didn’t like eating a lot as a child, strange as that is. My earliest memories are not of eating, but of cooking with my siblings. It was more about getting a meal on the table rather than entertaining.
What one ingredient would you take to a desert island?
I think I would take chilli flakes, so even if I could only find unpalatable things to eat, I could zhuzh them up a bit. I do think chilli can add vigour and sparkle and bring out other flavours. It has, along with lemon, the ability to make a profound difference to food.
What’s the meal you’d miss most on the island?
Probably a roast. Life without roast chicken would be a bit difficult, but I would really miss a cup of tea more than anything else, to be honest.
…More than a glass of wine?
I could ferment berries and start creating alcohol. But a life without tea really would be too horrific to comprehend.
You’ve created a set of family recipes with Ocado. What can we expect from this new collab?
It’s such a joy, as it speaks to how I approach food anyway. I’ve created recipes for food I love that taste good. The recipes aren’t based on fancy ingredients or special processes and don’t take a long time. They are mindful of life and the current difficulties (they all feed four for under £5). I’m always looking for how I can create a recipe that gives the most delight while putting the fewest burdens on the cook.
What’s your favourite recipe for Christmas leftovers?
I’m always bunging things into rice or making tacos. And of course, the greatest thing for me across the Christmas period is the Christmas leftovers sandwich. Even as I’m enjoying my Christmas dinner, I’m thinking about those leftovers sandwiches. I love all of that. I like that sense of security, which I know I’m lucky to have, that the leftovers will all be there.
What’s your favourite day of the Christmas period?
Boxing Day, as I absolutely love leftovers. You know how people say, “Oh no, not turkey again!” But I think, “YES PLEASE.” I enjoy all the cold cuts and permutations, and you end up with more and more leftovers as you proceed.
Discover all of Nigella’s new recipes with Ocado here.