NIGELLISSIMA: Monday 24th September, BBC2, 8.30pm
âThis is where my great love affair with Italy began,â? Nigella says, opening the shutters of her hotel room in Florence.
This, Nigella explains, is where she lived for a short period in her twenties, earning a meagre wage from her job as a chambermaid. But it wasnât all sunshine and Prosecco; after all, only so much fun can be had on a chambermaidâs salary (combined with the pittance your wealthy Tory MP father gives you). So to make the most of her time there, sheâd immerse herself in Italian cooking.
Back at her pad in London, Nigella feels inspired to recreate the dishes of her youth and evoke the spirit of Italy on her outrageously swanky doorstep. First, she treats us to some delicious-looking Tuscan fries, a marinated steak and then a chocolate hazelnut cheesecake, which she admits is a bit of a cheat.
âI do knowâI really doâthat cheesecake is not Italian,â? she says, emptying an entire canister of brown goo into a bowl. âBut you know what? I have a pot of Italy right here: chocolate hazelnut paste.â?
Next, she reveals to us the meatzza, a dish so grotesquely indulgent it could have quite plausibly been conceived by a catastrophically spliffed-up stoner in a bedsit somewhere. The idea behind the dish: itâs pizza, but with a congealed meat base.
Essentially, itâs the kind of dish youâd expect to find on the menu at a low-grade kebab takeaway next to âChicken Parmoâ? and âThe Big Dipperâ?. But it goes down surprisingly well with Nigellaâs friends at what appears to be some kind of elaborate eating ritual, where everything is consumed in artsy soft focus.
After the feast we get to watch Nigella awkwardly mingle with her guests and then she heads back into the kitchen to teach us how to rustle up some âlip-puckering pungentâ? pesto with almonds, anchovies and capers.
Nigella is one of those rare people who can make a phrase as unappetising as âlip-puckering pungentâ? sound vaguely appealing. The same words coming out of Antony Worrall Thompsonâs mouth would be enough to trigger a violent bout of projectile vomiting, but Nigella, like her or not, does make her food sound good.
The vibe of metropolitan sophistication that the producers have forced on the programme is admittedly a bit much, but Nigellaâs dishes are enticing, if not a bit on the expensive side. Itâs unlikely that youâll be recreating any of these dishes at home for yourself, but they might inspire you, like Italian cuisine has inspired Nigella to make the series, to try out few new things in your own cooking.