TORONTO -- Nigella Lawson calls her latest cookbook a love letter to Italy.
Nigellissima: Easy Italian-inspired Recipes (Knopf Canada), which hit bookshelves in February, is the TV personality's spin on her idea of authentic Italian food.
Lawson went to Italy to study after high school.
"I fell in love with Italy even before I went there. I just kind of decided I needed to be Italian," said Lawson, who was in Toronto to promote the book.
Landing in that country and needing a job, she vowed she would do anything except clean lavatories. She got a position as a chambermaid in a pensione in Florence where -- you guessed it -- she cleaned toilets.
But she learned to speak Italian fluently and frequently visited the guest house's kitchen to chat and watch the "lovely granny" cook for the family.
"I suppose that's why food shows work so well on television because you learn by seeing," she said.
"Italian food has informed everything I do in the kitchen because obviously I went there at such a formative age.
"And so I thought, why don't I talk about the way in which it's inspired me and the way which it affects and informs the recipes I cook that are intrinsically Italian? So that interested me an awful lot. It's kind of a love letter to Italian food."
Going to Italy and speaking Italian "unlocked something in me. It opened up a different side of my character, more voluble, less timid, more comfortable.... I suppose I became a person.
"So for me Italy is about the food, but it also means a lot to me personally."
Lawson, 53, has three teenagers -- 19-year-old daughter Cosima (Mimi), 18-year-old stepdaughter Phoebe and son Bruno, 16 -- and, like many mothers, she's had to deal with picky eating.
"The difficulty with three is that the number of ingredients that all three will eat is restricted," she said. One dislikes tomatoes, while another loves tomatoes.
One go-to recipe is minestrone, which she included in Nigellissima. They like pasta as well and an easy meatball dish included in the book. She simply squeezes the meat out of Italian sausages, in which the ingredients are already mixed, and rolls it into balls.
"I cook the same way my readers do. In other words, I've got family, I've got a job, I'm not trained. I don't know how to chop a carrot with virtuoso speed, so my context is very similar," Lawson said.
Lawson is also seen on television's The Taste with New York chef Anthony Bourdain, which launched last month on CTV and ABC.
It was "so everything I would never have thought I would do," Lawson said. But she liked the premise that the judges taste blind.
"You don't know whose food you're tasting, which means that you're never making personal attacks on people because I can't stand that contemporary TV of cruelty. It makes me very uncomfortable and I didn't want any part of that."
-- The Canadian Press