STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Every so often on MORNING EDITION we talk food with the food writer Nigella Lawson, and food TV star we should add. She writes that summer food contains within it the idea of simple cooking. Nigella joined us from London to talk about how to use one special ingredient.
I'm surrounded by fritters and various other things, which we're going to talk about here.
Ms. NIGELLA LAWSON (Author, "Nigella Express"): Mm-hmm.
INSKEEP: But maybe we begin with an ingredient that you have suggested as - we're dealing with wonderful kinds of summer foods, late summer foods. You like to work with feta cheese. Why is that?
Ms. LAWSON: I'm a great fan of feta cheese. I suppose there are various reasons. One, which is that when it's summer, I think shopping is really so much worse than cooking, so I feel that you could have some feta cheese in the fridge and once - when it's in its vacuum-pack, it stays for a long time.
And I don't know whether this is romantic or real, but I have the notion of summer that an impromptu eating occasion pops up more often, and so I like to have things to hand.
I also think - and I say this as a very committed carnivore - that in the summer months, I don't know that I miss eating meat as much. Having vegetarian meals seems somehow more natural. Maybe it's because it's less heating.
INSKEEP: Well, it's seasonal. I mean the vegetables…
Ms. LAWSON: Yes.
INSKEEP: …are there.
Ms. LAWSON: I suppose so. But I suppose, on the other hand, you know, something I would add, this somehow may be coarse to say this, but we all know that really our bodies are self-regulating mechanisms. We see that in infants. And I dare say that when it's hot, you lose liquid and salt through sweating, therefore it's quite natural to want a very salty cheese. Was that too indelicate?
INSKEEP: No, that makes perfect sense. That makes perfect sense. What we've got here, this is eggplant and it's been wrapped around some feta cheese. Maybe you can explain a little more what's going on here. There's some mint supposedly involved. I'm just going to take a bite while you describe it.
Ms. LAWSON: Supposedly. Well, really these are like wraps, but instead of using, say, a tortilla or something, I griddle. I use a wedge griddle, but you can do them on the grill.
INSKEEP: It looks like a little egg roll actually.
Ms. LAWSON: Yes, it is. So for the eggplant, what I do is I brush the eggplant with oil rather than leaving it to soak, 'cause when you do that, those eggplants, I mean they can drink up cups and cups of oil.
I just crumble a bit of feta with - I like a seeded red chili, but it depends whether you want real fire or just heat. Some fresh mint, I go mad for mint in summer. I think it's very undervalued. And a bit of lemon and just some pepper.
INSKEEP: Do you want to just keep talking for a minute? 'Cause I'm going to take another bite here if you don't mind.
Ms. LAWSON: But I think these are great 'cause I - they're very flexible. So if you're having people over for drinks, you're not actually feeding them. They will do then. Best of all, you could just do them the day before, two days before and then get rolling. I also am a great believer in child labor, and although maybe giving them a chili is mean, you could get children to roll these.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. LAWSON: And I think, in a funny way, you could have them with a glass of white wine or you could be smart with a jacket potato as the evening was cooling.
INSKEEP: Now the reason that the studio smells wonderful this morning is mostly because of these zucchini fritters, which I'm eating with my hands. I guess they're about the size of a cookie. Can you describe what's going on here?
Ms. LAWSON: Well, you know, this is something I think I must have eaten a version of when I was in Turkey once. And I did think it was absolutely extraordinary that you could have a fritter and instead of it feeling like it was some sort of pancake or something heavy that one associates with comfort food, it tasted almost as if there had been the juice of the vegetables.
So you have the vegetable juice in a way because the strands of zucchini are so thin. And the feta for salt, and then again I've gone, you know, into mint overdrive but…
INSKEEP: And we've got - did you say feta in here again?
Ms. LAWSON: Yes.
Ms. LAWSON: Sorry, I've gone absolutely, you know, fetastic. And…
Ms. LAWSON: …it's not enormous amount of flour. I supposed it's - they're a bit eggy rather than floury, so I suppose it's a bit like little cakes of herb-y, zucchini-y scrambled eggs. It's not taste in a way because you really are going bare on sweetness, maybe the eggs are.
INSKEEP: You know, in trying to describe the flavor of these zucchini fritters, this isn't an exact parallel at all, but I am thinking a little bit of quiche.
Ms. LAWSON: Yes, I suppose that's right because I suppose it is like an egg custard.
INSKEEP: And the ones that I'm eating here are a little bit - they're warm but they're not hot. I can eat them again with my hands. And this is the way to do it, is through room temperature.
Ms. LAWSON: It sure is.
INSKEEP: I'm tempted to eat another one. They're so tasty.
Ms. LAWSON: Anyway, it makes sense at this time of year because zucchini, eggplant, so forth, they tend to be, you know, quite plentiful. So why not make them the star of the meal rather than having them just as a side dish.
INSKEEP: Should we proceed to dessert or is there more to deal with before I go after this little bit of dessert that's been put in front of me?
Ms. LAWSON: I think dessert would be fine now.
INSKEEP: Okay. Now this is just - this is basically just some store-bought ice cream, but on top of the store-bought ice cream is the news here, which is - well, you describe what we've got here. This is blackberries and…
Ms. LAWSON: It's really just a sauce of blackberries. So if you imagine making a jelly, I suppose, but instead of cooking it for a long time with tons of sugar, I've got a bit of balsamic vinegar.
Now an Italian taught me that 'cause she always puts balsamic vinegar with strawberries. It just brings out the taste enormously. It's not very much and there's also a bit of lemon. But really, you're trying to keep a balance between the sharpness of the berries, or maybe tartness is a better word.
Ms. LAWSON: I think that makes them taste fresh. I hate having sugar swamping everything.
INSKEEP: I love that you tried a little bit of vinegar, which I don't taste at all. I'm just wondering how you come about that. I mean, do you experiment with different kinds of liquids and sauces, throw in a little lighter fluid or whatever works until you finally come around to vinegar and that's the perfect thing?
Ms. LAWSON: Well, the vinegar starts off, as I say, because I knew that the Italians put vinegar, balsamic vinegar on their strawberries. So I had a kind of a clue there. But I think, really, that I do try quite a lot. And luckily, greed is such a motivator that I can look at the recipe now and think, you know what, maybe it would be rather nice if instead of the lemon and vinegar, why not try a bit of red wine?
You know, you might have some red wine over from supper, just by matching with the blackberries, how would that be? So I think you've always got a few pairs. And then maybe to counter the red wine, especially if it's been out for a while, maybe a tiny bit of honey. So I'd always be in my head thinking how can I make this work? The worst that can happen is it doesn't taste fantastic.
INSKEEP: And then you just drink a glass of red wine and everything's okay, basically.
Ms. LAWSON: Well, by the time I got to dessert, I think I've had more than one glass, I have to say.
(Soundbite of laughter)
INSKEEP: Well, Nigella Lawson, maybe we'll try to get you back to talk a little bit more about cooking in the fall.
Ms. LAWSON: I'd love that.
INSKEEP: She's the author of "Nigella Express" and many other cookbooks.
(Soundbite of music)
INSKEEP: Such a pleasure to listen to Nigella Lawson. And you can hear her describe her ideal Greek salad at the new npr.org, where you'll also find some of the recipes we just discussed.
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
Food writer Nigella Lawson doesn't much care for shopping in the summer. "[It] is really so much worse than cooking," she says. Her solution? Feta cheese. The aged, salty, grainy cheese keeps well and goes nicely with a variety of summer vegetables.
In Praise Of A 'Fetastic' Summer: Nigella Lawson
Food writer Nigella Lawson doesn't much care for shopping in the summer. "[It] is really so much worse than cooking," she says.
Her solution? Feta cheese. The aged, salty, grainy cheese keeps well for long periods of time in the fridge and goes nicely with a variety of summer vegetables. But Lawson sees another benefit of feta.
"I dare say that when it's hot, you lose liquid and salt through sweating," she tells NPR's Steve Inskeep. "Therefore, it's quite natural to want a salty cheese."
Natural, indeed. "Do you want to just keep talking for a minute, because I'm going to take another bite here," Inskeep says between samples of Lawson's grilled eggplant with feta, mint and chili.
The dish is simple: Grilled slices of eggplant are brushed with oil and then rolled with a stuffing of crumbled feta, red chili, a little lemon juice and some fresh mint.
"I go mad for mint in summer," Lawson says. "I think it's very undervalued."
Mint is also featured prominently in her zucchini fritters. But these fritters aren't the heavy, deep-fried things that might come to mind. They're "absolutely 'fetastic,' " Lawson says.
Instead of milk or cream, she uses feta. Add a pound or two of grated zucchini, eggs, a little flour, seasoning — and of course, the mint — fry them up like pancakes and sprinkle with lime juice.
Served at room temperature, the zucchini brings out a surprisingly sweet taste, she says. "It's a bit like little cakes of herb-y, zucchini-y scrambled eggs."
And with zucchini, eggplant and summer squash overflowing in many produce aisles, Lawson says, "Why not make them the star of the meal rather than having them just as a side dish?"
For dessert, she suggests ice cream topped with hot blackberry sauce. But instead of cooking the berries in sugar, Lawson uses balsamic vinegar.
"It just brings out the taste enormously," she says.
And that, of course, is the whole point.