The problem with worshipping at the altar of goddess Nigella and god Nigel is that their generous enthusiasm convinces you you’re a wonderful home cook, when in reality they demand nothing more from you than the ability to soften onions (Him), or lasciviously dribble cream into all and sundry (Her).*
But bless them, they are always encouraging their followers to wander from the fold, to trust our own judgement and use their recipes as mere guides rather than commandments. Frankly though, I’m a liability off-piste. One afternoon at university I tried to invent a new class of savoury snack by pouring miso soup on my Weetabix. Needless to say, the moral I took from that particular tale was that devotion to the Nigels He & She was crucial if I didn’t want my culinary skill level to plateau at misconceived Japanese/Kellogg’s fusion food.
However, as a very early post on here noted, I have been doing some serious homework of late. Reading cookbooks will never be able to teach me how to make pastry – I’m not sure even a personal lesson from Nigella herself could do that – but after reading hundreds of recipes, you do begin to spot the underlying patterns that make for good eating, and to understand which leaps of food faith aren’t likely to end in a bowl of tepid, miso-sodden cereal.
Which brings us to last night, when I thought I might make some sort of warm salad with squid and sweet potato, just because it sounded – tasted? – in my head like it might work. I thought I might add some capers for a bit of salty spike, and plenty of chopped fresh herbs, and dress it with lemon, and olive oil…
And then, because I’m still a bit tentative about these things, I googled squid + sweet potato, and lo! it turned out the lovely Ottolenghi’s done it all before. Nigels above! The relief!
A few months ago I would have followed the big O’s instructions down to the last 3/4tsp of salt, but – aside from stealing his idea of using maple syrup in the dressing – I was just happy to know my culinary instincts aren’t completely out of whack, and would you believe it, I made a rather nice dinner all on my own.
Warm squid & sweet potato salad with wild garlic flowers
Chop a sweet potato into mouth-sized chunks. Drop into boiling water and cook for maybe 5 mins until just tender. Drain and season. Meanwhile, prepare the dressing by whisking together: 1tbsp lemon juice, 1tbsp maple syrup, 4tbsp olive oil, s&p, a finely chopped shallot. Tear some salad leaves (I used a red chicory and Romaine combo), and put in a bowl with the sweet potato and a roughly chopped, generous handful of any combination of parsley, mint and coriander. Heat some olive oil in a frying pan, slice three squid into rings, and add when the oil is very hot. Fry for barely a couple of mins, until the the squid is just cooked through. Tip into the salad with a tbsp of capers. Because I bought some wild garlic last week, I had some of the edible flowers in a pint glass on the draining board, so I finished with a (smug) sprinkling of those.
* If you want to see my gods together in truly sensual action, have a look here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hK61hlek064