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   A Carnivore Finds Joy,

   by Nigella Lawson

  There is a Graham Greene play, "The Potting Shed," that tells the angst-ridden story of the impact on an atheistic family when one of their number has a religious vision, followed by a stunned conversion, in the shed of the title. The fear and tension of a family whose scornful disbelief is so suddenly shot to pieces resounds particularly with me, for I have a concomitant fear. My almost unutterable nightmare is this: One day I could wake up and find myself a vegetarian.

  I have nothing against vegetarians. I love vegetables. But as an eager eater, I would find it a cruel blow not to be able to eat meat. And as a cook, I would feel like a painter who suddenly finds most of the colors taken away from her palette.

  Of course, there is a lot to be said for limitations. At times when I have felt particularly saddled with them, I turn brave and chipper and try to convince myself that cooking, when you come to think of it, is not unlike writing a sonnet: the art lies in the constraints.

  And thus it can be done. For me, a dinner party is just the evening meal you cook for your friends while in an expansive mood. And this is a meal I would happily make for mine, regardless of dietary requirements.

  You do not have to be a vegetarian to appreciate the pleasure to be gained from dipping raw vegetables into untraditionally lemony guacamole, followed by a fragrant bowl of pasta with a sauce of the best tomatoes, with some striped ribbons of grilled zucchini on the side. For dessert, you'll have a sugar-dusted pyramid of ricotta fritters.

  Anyone who doesn't want to eat this doesn't deserve dinner in the first place.

  My difficulties with vegetarianism — if that's even what they should be called — are not political in the least. Apart from the fact that for me, any sort of deprivation breeds obsessive greed, I feel there is a more complex problem at hand: While it is easy to eat well as a vegetarian, it is bitterly hard to create a fabulous, whole meal without flesh, fish or fowl to augment the greens. The issue is not taste, but texture.

  Whenever I want to make a real, three-course dinner party with full and frank vegetarian appeal, I can feel the menu skittering off balance. True, there are more varieties of vegetable than there are of meat, but there are precious fewer textures.

  This is not an insurmountable problem, though, as I hope this week's menu reveals. You just have to work harder. And by work harder, I mean strive for lighter effect. In this regard, the season makes things easier. Even a full-on dinner party this time of year doesn't have to be a heavy-duty number.

  It's no coincidence, I suppose, that the dishes have an Italian accent. They may have relatively few vegetarians in Italy, but Italians have a way with vegetables that ensures their mainstream position without special pleading.

  That said, I admit my Italianified guacamole is a stretch: I've never eaten an avocado in Italy, nor met an Italian who would approve of one at his table. But I wanted some balance with the pasta to follow, and wanted a softer, less pungent version of guacamole to do that, so lemon replaces the traditional lime and I use summer-scented basil instead of cilantro; I use no jalapeρos at all.

  For similar reasons, I use scallions rather than regular, digestion-searing onions, and I don't use tomatoes. This dish is all green, all good.

  To serve, try to forget, if you can, tortilla chips. Use sugar snap peas, quartered fennel, or swords of bittersweet chicory instead, for dunking, or just smear this jade clay on fabulous toasted sourdough bread.

  The pasta that follows is in some sense the ur-pasta, spaghetti in its most primitive and delicious form: al sugo crudo, which translates from the Italian, quite literally, as spaghetti "with a raw sauce." Tomato sauce, of course. Raw tomatoes are thus peeled, deseeded and chopped, then left to steep with a little sugar, some salt, pepper, a bruised garlic clove and good olive oil. If your tomatoes are fresh and fat and ripe — and they will be, increasingly, as the weeks pass into summer — you'll find that there is perhaps no finer way to dress pasta.

  And by all means add cubes of fresh buffalo mozzarella to the soused tomatoes before if you want (and I often do). But my feeling is that if you're going for ricotta next, as dessert, then you can leave the tomato sauce cheeseless here.

  As for the grilled zucchini, these aren't obligatory either, but they do offer a sweet textural contrast to the pasta. Besides, this is dinner — why hold back?

  The baci di ricotta — perfect kisses, hot, soft and melting — are a surprisingly easy dessert if there aren't too many of you eating. It's just a question of mixing ricotta, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, eggs and flour in a bowl (by hand) and then frying rounded teaspoonfuls of the batter in just under an inch of oil until you have some light, small, vaguely ball-shaped fritters that need no more than a powdery dusting with confectioners' sugar. I love them, too, with a few sliced strawberries on the side. But you don't even have to treat them as a proper dessert. Just put a dish mounded with them on the table with coffee and watch them go.

  • Recipe: Grilled Zucchini
  • Recipe: Spaghetti al Sugo Crudo
  • Recipe: Italian Guacamole
  • Recipe: Ricotta Kisses (Baci di Ricotta)

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