02/20/2013 06:44 EST | Updated 04/22/2013 05:12 EDT

Easy pasta with lamb ragu and decadent chocolate cake from 'Nigellissima'

TV personality and cookbook author Nigella Lawson's new book is "Nigellissima: Easy Italian-Inspired Recipes."

The book contains 120 simple and fast recipes which feature her take on flavourful and robust Italian food. There are chapters on pasta, meat, fish and fowl, vegetables and sides, sweet things and an Italian-inspired family Christmas.

She also includes tips on stocking your pantry.

"I don't want to send people to the shops all the time, but I want to say these things helped make my cooking life easier," she said in a recent interview in Toronto.

Lawson keeps vermouth on hand, for example.

"Unlike nearly every other English person in the world, I don't have a bottle of wine on the go at all times. So because I don't, I don't like being made to open a bottle of wine just for a recipe because it's expensive. Good vermouth is cheaper than bad wine."

She keeps it in the cupboard and white vermouth is the one she uses most often. When she's in a hurry, she doesn't like to use red wine because it takes so long to "cook out," but red vermouth has already been mellowed "so you just splosh it in and you have the wherewithal for a cocktail as well."

Here are two recipes from the book.

Curly-Edged Pasta With Lamb Ragu

This is one of Nigella Lawson's go-to weeknight suppers. She says you can cook the ragu longer at a lower heat, if desired, but it's also perfect as is. This recipe calls for pappardelle — those egg-rich, wide ribbons — but you can use whatever type of pasta you have on hand.

"Ragout" is French, "ragu" Italian, and this meat sauce is inspired by the Sicilian combination of sweet lamb, dried wild mint and crushed chili flakes, though Lawson said she has added an Anglo note with a little red currant jelly.

22 ml (1 1/2 tbsp) garlic-infused olive oil

1 banana shallot, chopped

5 ml (1 tsp) dried mint

5 ml (1 tsp) oregano

1 ml (1/4 tsp) crushed red pepper flakes

250 g (8 oz) ground lamb

1 can (398 ml/14 oz) diced tomatoes

10 ml (2 tsp) red currant jelly

7 ml (1 1/2 tsp) Worcestershire sauce

Pinch salt, plus more for pasta water

Freshly ground pepper

250 g (8 oz) pappardelle

Handful fresh mint, to garnish (optional)

Put a large pan of water on to boil for the pasta and warm garlic oil in a small, heavy-based pan that comes with a lid; cook shallots, stirring for a minute or so.

Sprinkle in mint, oregano and red pepper flakes, stirring again in hot pan before adding meat. Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring to break it up with a wooden spatula or spoon, until it loses a bit of its pinkness.

Add tomatoes, red currant jelly, Worcestershire sauce, salt and some grindings of pepper, then give a good stir and bring to a bubble. Partially cover with the lid and simmer for 20 minutes.

At the appropriate time, salt the boiling water and cook pasta according to package instructions, making sure to check for readiness a couple of minutes before it's supposed to be done. Once cooked and not-too-efficiently drained, return pasta to pan and dress with lamb ragu.

Sprinkle a little bit of fresh mint onto each bowl, if desired, to serve.

Makes 2 servings.


Chocolate Olive Oil Cake

Nigella Lawson said she made this cake for a friend who had been diagnosed with celiac disease. It's also dairy- and gluten-free. It's "very, very, very easy."

The cake is delicious served warm, with some raspberries or other berries on the side, as well as a dollop of mascarpone or ice cream.

150 ml (2/3 cup) regular olive oil (plus more for greasing)

90 ml (6 tbsp) good-quality unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted

125 ml (1/2 cup) boiling water

10 ml (2 tsp) best vanilla extract

375 ml (1 1/2 cups) almond meal (flour) or 175 ml (3/4 cup) plus 15 ml (1 tbsp) all-purpose flour

2 ml (1/2 tsp) baking soda

Pinch salt

250 ml (1 cup) superfine sugar

3 eggs

Heat oven to 160 C (325 F). Grease a 23-cm (9-inch) springform pan with a little oil and line base with baking parchment.

Measure and sift cocoa powder into a bowl or pitcher and whisk in boiling water until you have a smooth, chocolatey, still runny (but only just) paste. Whisk in vanilla, then set aside to cool a little.

In another smallish bowl, combine almond meal with baking soda and salt.

Put sugar, olive oil and eggs into bowl of a freestanding mixer with the paddle attachment (or other bowl and whisk arrangement of your choice) and beat together vigorously for about 3 minutes until you have a pale-primrose, aerated and thickened cream.

Turn speed down a little and pour in cocoa mixture, beating as you go, and when all is scraped in, you can slowly tip in almond meal mixture.

Scrape down, and stir a little with a spatula, then pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until sides are set and the very centre, on top, still looks slightly damp. A cake tester should come up mainly clean but with a few sticky chocolate crumbs clinging to it.

Let cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack, still in its pan, and then ease sides of the cake with a small metal spatula and spring it out of the pan. Leave to cool completely or eat while still warm.

Makes 8 to 12 slices.

Source: "Nigellissima: Easy Italian-Inspired Recipes" by Nigella Lawson (Knopf Canada, 2013).