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   Quick and Heartwarming
   for Everyday

   By Nigella Lawson

  It's no secret that you can eat very well without cooking. Anyone who can get to a good bakery and cheese counter is going to have a great meal.

  True, there is a reward that comes from the greedy joy of making yourself something to eat, but this doesn't need to be a particularly demanding task. On days when I can't muster the energy to make anything more labor-intensive than a plate of mozzarella and tomatoes, I hardly feel I'm shortchanging myself. Nor should I. The simple act of slicing that milky-white ball of softly bulging mozzarella, arranging it on a plate with a perfect, ripe tomato and pouring a peppery green streak of olive oil over the whole is enough to make me happy.

  I wouldn't even stoop to smug loftiness about takeout dinner, and have no time for those who do. In fact, I can't help feeling that what puts so many people off cooking is the notion that it's something they ought to be doing. The ghastly notion that cooking is somehow a moral imperative and that those who do cook are better than those who don't or can't is responsible for making thousands of people feel inadequate before they even step into the kitchen.

  But there is so much to be gained from making quick, after-work dinners for two, or even just one of you. It is how to learn to cook, or learn to enjoy it. The pressure's off, and you see cooking for what it is — simply the preparation of good food to eat. For instance, gorgeous, soft and sweet calf's liver; tender scallops; a beautiful, clattering mound of mussels. The fact that none of these take more than a few minutes to cook is clearly a bonus, too.

  This sort of cooking is not tricky or elaborate, and it certainly doesn't have to be time-consuming. It's just about putting something in a pan and then taking it out. No expertise or dexterity is needed. (It's important to remember this, by the way. If the preparation of food involved arcane knowledge or deep training we would have fallen out of the evolutionary loop a long time ago.)

  How difficult is it to fry a few pieces of bacon or pancetta in a pan, and then turn some slices of calf's liver into the salty fat, so that the sweet moussey meat is infused with savory flavor? If you have some Marsala, that wonderful, smokily throaty fortified wine from Sicily, then splosh some into the hot pan once the meat is removed; it will bubble up into an easy, delicious sauce. If you don't have Marsala, then consider buying some; it's the easiest way to give mellow depth to meat sauces, stews, soups — pretty well anything. Otherwise, use sherry or the wine you may be drinking for dinner.

  Sherry, indeed, is much like Marsala, an instant provider of aromatic liquid intensity, and I use it — along with rusty threads of saffron infused in hot water — in place of white wine in what would otherwise be moules marinière. Mussels make perfect sense when there are just one or two of you; since you need about two pounds of mussels per person, it is just too unwieldy to cook them for a tableful of people.

  Soften some chopped onion and garlic in oil (rather than the butter that the traditional French version requires), add liquid, then mussels and cook for about three minutes: dinner is served. I love this sort of eating. It leaves you with a big bowlful, to be picked at while you talk, the supper made more substantial by dunking great big wedges of fabulous bread into the golden musky juices.

  Scallops with pea purée are scarcely more effort. I have no shame at all about using frozen peas (or petits pois if you can get them). Fresh peas are good only if you pick them yourself, then pod and prepare them immediately — and while I don't know about you, that is just not a possibility in my everyday life. Nor am I one for the bucolic fantasy. It's simpler just to open the freezer door and get on with it.

  Before I fry the scallops I like to heat some olive oil with a clove of garlic and stalk of rosemary to give flavor to both the oil and the verdant pea purée, but this is a step you could forgo. (Though if that's the case, consider using butter in the peas instead — and maybe a little fresh minced garlic — and fry the scallops in butter with a drop of oil, in order to keep it from burning.)

  As for crispy breaded pork chops with baby spinach salad, they are an act of homage to Balthazar, one of my favorite Manhattan restaurants. They show how potent a force and motivator greed can be. I didn't even eat the dish myself, but was driven crazy with longing by a friend who went there for dinner and described every mouthful to me. So this is appropriation by proxy, and I have no way of telling how much it owes to the original. It takes a little more time and effort than the other recipes, but boy does it repay that effort.

  Besides, taking a rolling pin and bashing the living daylights out of the pork chops before you cook them is a great way to take the office stresses out of your system before you sit down to dinner.

  • Recipe: Mussels With Saffron and Sherry
  • Recipe: Scallops With Pea Purée
  • Recipe: Calf's Liver With Pancetta and Marsala
  • Recipe: Crunchy Pork Chops with Baby Spinach Salad

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