Cheesy dog food and Nutella pie: is Nigella having a laugh?


NIGELLA – SO FAMOUS she doesn’t need a surname – is back with a new cookery series. Nigellissima (BBC Two, Monday) is about Italian food “the express way”, as she purrs at random intervals. It’s shot in her kitchen, or maybe not: in a previous series we thought it was her home, but it turned out to be a set. That made the scenes of her in her jammies rummaging in the fridge for a midnight feast all the more weird. But this kitchen is very nice and has no cupboard doors; instead there are great big shelves for her crockery, which means greasy plates and bowls now that she’s taken to deep-frying.

In the first episode she cooked steak and chips – she called it Tuscan something or other – followed by a revolting invention called “meatzza” that involved replacing a pizza-dough base with flattened mince. It looked like cheesy dog food. Dessert was an artery-clogging cheesecake made with a jar of Nutella.

She kept saying her dishes weren’t authentic and that a real Italian wouldn’t dream of eating them. Quite peculiar for an Italian food programme, but then I think she’s having a laugh, satirising the food-show genre. And if you look at it that way, it’s genius. She stands at the hob working her Ava Gardner look in a little black dress, high heels, bouffy hair and dramatic eyeliner – not an apron, oven glove or flushed face in sight – and she drops the odd Italian word into the instructions, which is funny after a while. (Sale is salt. Who knew?)

Her research for a classic Sicilian dish involved putting on her glasses and thumbing through a stack of cookbooks. Two silent teenagers appeared and disappeared just as quickly, the family scene being a staple of food programmes.

And she smiled in a Stepford-wife way as she stirred and gave some fanciful instructions. “You don’t have to add fresh oregano, but if you have it, it would be madness not to.” And she has to be having a laugh with “One taste and it’s kapow”. A satirist couldn’t write a better script.

HOW HAS NOBODY been killed on Hill 16 in Croke Park? Without getting all health and safety on it, the archive footage from the 1970s in the thoroughly entertaining Cnoc 16 (TG4, Sunday) was frightening: thousands of excitable people jammed on to the famous terrace with vicious barbed wire keeping them in.

The documentary traced the history of the Hill back to when it was built and called Hill 60 after the battle at Gallipoli in which many Dubliners fought.

It jarred with the GAA that a stand was named after a British military encounter in Turkey, and so in the 1930s it was renamed Hill 16. A story then took hold, according to the historian Tim Carey, that it was built on the rubble from the GPO in 1916, so when the stadium was redeveloped archaeologists were on hand to find bullets and bits of the building. A good yarn spoiled by the fact the Hill was built in 1915.

Shane Tobin’s perfectly paced and colourful documentary captured the unique tribalism of the GAA – where opposing county followers can be side by side in the stadium – and the deep attachment Dublin fans have for the Hill. “It’s like a 16th man,” said one of the Dublin football team.

INVESTMENT IN A vintage bonnet company is my number-one share tip, based on the never-ending stream of ye olde dramas on the telly. The not-much-watched Parade’s End (BBC Two, Friday) finished last week. Admittedly it was a bit hard to follow, and the dialogue was sometimes hard to hear, but it was clever and the ending was a heartbreaker.

IT WAS FOLLOWED by The Paradise (BBC One, Tuesday). Based on a novel by Émile Zola but given the gentle, rose-tinted Lark Rise to Candleford treatment by Bill Gallagher, The Paradise is set in a Victorian department store in a northern England town.

I’m taking the BBC’s word that it’s from a Zola novel, because it seems more Catherine Cookson with a dash of Are You Being Served? Sarah Lancashire, as the head of womenswear, channels Mrs Slocombe, without her famous pussy and purple hair but with gurning and shrieks of “Go on, girl. Haberdashery. Haberdashery.” It’s a simple plot: a pretty country girl, played by Joanna Vanderham, gets a job in a department store owned by an unmarried handsome man (Emun Elliott) . . . Well, you can guess where this is might be heading.

A Tuesday evening slot for a major series is unusual but maybe the BBC wanted to get it established before ITV launches its own blockbuster department-store period drama, Mr Selfridge.

And although the costumes in The Paradise are predictably gorgeous, the sets look like one of those streetscapes in a theme park; it’s odd in what is obviously a very expensive production. Not that it matters in this forgettable fare.

JK ROWLING ISN’T doing many interviews to promote her new novel, The Casual Vacancy, but because she so rarely gives any interviews at all, and this is her first novel for grown-ups, she has garnered masses of publicity.

The Culture Show (BBC Two, Wednesday) bagged a TV interview with Rowling, and it was very insightful. “Your new novel is full of sex, violence, drug addiction and poverty,” said the interviewer, James Runcie, by way of introduction, and Rowling, who came across as a thoroughly likable and engaging communicator, agreed that she “is attracted to places where people are desperate”.

“How you do you know about that?” asked Runcie, a reasonable question to a woman worth more than the queen.

“I have had a peculiar experience when it comes to social mobility,” she said. “I’ve been as poor as it’s possible to go without being homeless, and now, as we all know, I’ve become very rich.”

Runcie was one of the few people who had read the book in advance of publication and bravely went where few interviewers would, by suggesting that the reviews might not be great.

“I think you may be in for a very bumpy ride,” he said. “If people hate it then I will suck that up, as my teenage daughter would say,” replied Rowling, without a hint of defensiveness and coming across as the least egotistical writer you’re likely to see on TV. “I’m a very fortunate woman. If I’m in for a very bumpy ride, that’s not the worst thing.”

Get stuck into

Homeland, the tense, intelligent Emmy-winning drama starring Claire Danes and Damian Lewis is back for a new series (Tuesday, RTÉ Two).

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