STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The poet John Keats described this time of year, autumn, as the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. He wrote about the abundance of apples and gourds and nuts, which are just a few of the ingredients you'll find in Nigella Lawson's latest book. She's a food writer, and she's here with some recipes for the season. Welcome back to the program.
Ms. NIGELLA LAWSON (Celebrity Chef; Food Writer): Thank you so much.
INSKEEP: Well, we can think, as Americans, if we think of fall, of pumpkin pie and things like that.
Ms. LAWSON: Yes.
INSKEEP: But you're going beyond that as you think about a fall menu.
Ms. LAWSON: Well, I do. And I think that also what's fantastic about cooking in the fall is that, you know, everyone always is a bit mournful about the end of summer. I'm afraid to say I welcome the fall with open arms. The idea that it's going to get a bit chillier and I can be in the kitchen stirring something seems to me a fantastic state of affairs.
INSKEEP: I'm with you. I'm with you. It's a great season. Do you want to talk about specific recipes?
Ms. LAWSON: I'm very happy. I mean, I can start with the recipes I think are particularly suitable for the fall, or you can tell me.
INSKEEP: Oh, I'm going to let you be my guide. Go for one.
Ms. LAWSON: Well, I think pumpkin is great, but I think butternut squash, in a way, is much easier for the cook. The difficulty with pumpkin is that it's so hard to tell whether you're going to get, really, a Halloween pumpkin or whether you're going to get something that is, sort of, tender and luscious and will be a delight to eat. But squash, on the whole, are quite reliable. I'm a lazy person, so I'm always looking for ways to eat fabulously well without too much effort.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. LAWSON: I adore it's not that I'm - I adore being in the kitchen, but sometimes, you know, at the end of a long day peeling something can be too much. So, when I roast a butternut squash, I halve it and I take out the seeds, but I leave the skin on. I chop the squash up in rough chunks, and I roast. And then, when it comes out of the oven, I just crumble over blue cheese. And the tang of blue cheese against the sweetness and that - the Keatsian mellowness of the squash is fabulous. And then I have a few toasted pecans over it, which I suppose makes it look very beautiful and autumnal. But it's great.
And it's not only great because it's quick and easy, but actually you don't really need to have a meat course with that if you didn't want to because you've got an awful lot of protein, frankly, in the pecans and the blue cheese, and it's very filling. And sometimes, I don't know if this time of year you get those rather wonderful, rubied salad leaves that look beautiful. And I would be very happy to let the roasted squash cool down a little and then toss it in some mixed leaves. And it's a great first-course salad. So I think...
INSKEEP: Pretty versatile food there.
Ms. LAWSON: I think so. I think when food tastes good, you should not try and limit its opportunities to be eaten.
INSKEEP: You've got this recipe here, it looks very simple, for butternut squash and sweet potato soup. You begin this recipe by saying, ever since I overcame my prejudices against buying pre-chopped fruit and veg, my cooking life has got a lot simpler.
Ms. LAWSON: Yes, I'll tell you that partly because I do think there is something really ridiculous about paying over the odds for someone to chop fruit or vegetables for you and thereby leaching out many of the vitamins because it's been cut. If you buy them that have been chopped and then straight away frozen, they are actually still perfectly good for you. And sometimes we need that standby. If suddenly I've got people over, and I haven't got any warning, I know I can keep these chopped fruits in my freezer. My mother, however, obviously would be turning in her grave. But you know, sometimes we have to do things that would displease our mothers.
INSKEEP: You do what you do.
Ms. LAWSON: And what - really what brought about this great change was when I was last in Venice. I was walking through one of my favorite places on earth, the Rialto Market, and I saw many, you know, fabulous crones sitting with their own little stalls. And many of them had peeled and chopped vegetables so that the Italians there could buy them and put them in their soup. And I thought, well, really, if it's good enough for the Italians, who am I to be casting aspersions on this practice?
INSKEEP: There we go. Is it too soon in this discussion to move to dessert?
Ms. LAWSON: I can sense that you're a dessert man, and therefore I wouldn't begin to hold you up.
(Soundbite of laughter)
INSKEEP: So what's a good fall dessert, a good seasonal dessert?
Ms. LAWSON: Well, I have a weakness for something which is called Mont Blanc in French, Monte Bianco in Italian. But I do my mother's version, which I call an easily scaled Mont Blanc, because instead of cooking chestnut, I buy the puree. And really what you're doing is - it sounds this is what my grandfather would've called landscape cookery, but it's - you're building the mountain, the Mont Blanc mountain range through foodstuffs. You get a glass, and you put some very bitter dark chocolate underneath as if you were putting the soil down. And this - not milk chocolate, please, that really is - it's too cloying and fatty, and you want the sort of bitter dark chocolate...
Ms. LAWSON: Really, really minimum 70 percent cocoa solids, if that makes any sense to you.
INSKEEP: Oh, yes, we talked about this before that 70 percent was the way you want to go.
Ms. LAWSON: Yeah, I know. And I'm very bossy, very, very bossy on this score.
INSKEEP: That's OK.
Ms. LAWSON: And I'm very bossy on many scores. And then on top of that, I put the sweetened canned chestnut puree. And then I whip a little bit of cream. And I mean, you can also add a bit of rum, if you want, to the chestnut puree. That's not going to do you any harm. And then the cream, of course. So we have the beginning of the mountain, and the cream is the snowy peak. I buy store-bought meringues because, really, they're fine because all I'm doing is crumbling them on top to give the effect of some freshly fallen snow. And then, as my brother would say, I apply it to my face.
(Soundbite of laughter)
INKSEEP: Takes care of that situation.
Ms. LAWSON: It's so delicious.
INSKEEP: You call it still-life. It looks like landscape. And then you make it disappear. That's good.
Ms. LAWSON: But - and also, sometimes, I mean, I love sweet and savory together. And I've got a recipe which is Marsala Honey Pears with Gorgonzola. Now, all I do is I use the pear almost like it's a relish. So I cut it off a bit. Again, I don't peel. And I just fry the pears in a teeny bit of oil. And then I...
INSKEEP: Fried pears.
Ms. LAWSON: Yes. But they're not soft. It's almost pan-fried, in a way, just to help all the sweetnesses caramelize. And then I deglaze the pan with Marsala mixed with honey. And then it bubbles up around the pears and helps the caramelization. And then I throw some walnuts into the pan. And they, too, get stickily coated with something which is a mixture of mellow pear juices, honey, and Marsala. And I let them cool a bit. And that's fantastic with a big wedge of blue cheese.
INSKEEP: Sounds tasty.
Ms. LAWSON: And it looks fantastically autumnal. And it makes the most of what's available now.
INSKEEP: Nigella Lawson, great to talk with you.
Ms. LAWSON: And you.
INSKEEP: I can't tell you how intently the men in our studio were listening to that conversation with Nigella Lawson.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
It's delicious-sounding, though, Steve. I was listening very carefully too.
INSKEEP: It's delicious, yeah. OK, OK, OK. You can find some of her fall recipes, including that chestnut cream and chocolate dessert, at npr.org. It's Morning Edition from NPR News, I'm Steve Inskeep.
MONTAGNE: And I'm Renee Montagne. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
The leaves are falling — and food writer Nigella Lawson is ready to share some of her favorite autumn recipes. With ingredients like butternut squash, pears and chestnut puree, many of the flavors are tart but mellow, with an earthy sweetness.
Nigella Lawson: Dishes For Fall, Quick And Tasty
The autumn leaves are falling — and food writer Nigella Lawson is ready to share some of her favorite autumn recipes. With ingredients like butternut squash, pears and chestnut puree, many of the flavors are mellow but tart, with an earthy sweetness.
And while many people may be sad to see the end of summer, Lawson isn't one of them, she told Steve Inskeep.
"I welcome the fall with open arms. The idea that it's going to get a bit chillier, and I can be in the kitchen stirring something, seems to me a fantastic state of affairs."
As for the ingredients she recommends for cooking dishes this time of year, Lawson said, "Pumpkin is great, but I think butternut squash is, in a way, easier for the cook."
The problem, she said, is that there are so many types of pumpkins — and many of them are more decorative than flavorful. Squash, on the other hand, are much easier to depend upon.
And squash can be easy to work with, too. For instance, Lawson said that she will usually seed them and chop them up — but she leaves the skin on.
"I'm a lazy person, so I'm always looking for ways to eat fabulously well — without too much effort," she said.
Once the roasted butternut squash comes out of the oven, Lawson crumbles blue cheese over the chunks, letting the tangy bits play against the sweet and mellow gourd. And she adds pecans, which are plentiful in the autumn.
The dish can substitute for a meat entree, Lawson said. And if you have some nice salad leaves around, you can allow the squash mixture to cool, and toss it with the mixed leaves.
"It's a great first-course salad," Lawson said. And that versatility is important.
"I think when food tastes good," Lawson said, "you should not try and limit its opportunities to be eaten."
While she always enjoys fresh vegetables, Lawson said she has gotten over her distaste for buying pre-chopped foods.
"If you buy [vegetables] that have been chopped and straight-away frozen," Lawson said, "they are actually still perfectly good for you — and sometimes we need that standby" for when unexpected guests arrive.
"My mother, however, obviously, would be turning in her grave," Lawson said. "But sometimes we have to do things that displease our mothers."
Asked to name a nice dessert to finish off an autumnal meal, Lawson seized on the Mont Blanc. The dish, she said, is what her grandfather would have called "landscape cookery."
Chocolate stands in for the soil; chestnut puree represents the mountain, with cream as the snowy peak.
"And then, as my brother would say, I apply it to my face," Lawson said. "It's so delicious."