As a former wine merchant, often as a guest on lengthy wine tours skipping from one European winery to another via sauna-hot coaches filled with assorted media personal, a morbidly topical alternative to I-Spy became a frequent distraction amongst wine writers. It goes like this – imagine that you are on death row, all appeals for clemency denied, and the gallows awaits your attendance beyond the cell door. What wines would you pick to provide succour during your final hours on this earth? Country, vintage, volume, rarity or cost need not be a consideration. Your wish becomes the hangman’s command.

Fast forward to my kitchen and whilst staring idly at an expanding collection of recipe books, I wondered as to whether one might construct a similar challenge for cookery writers. What indispensable but gimmick-free dishes might they choose before the final curtain, and exactly how many? We could set a limit perhaps. If one  includes all the usual suspects – soup, egg, fish, meat, vegetable and dessert dishes, we might call it a hundred and fifty, two hundred – tops. Time being of the essence they would likely need to be notated rather than consumed and all whilst following the strict proviso that beyond the set limit, any others they have ever used, abused, published, plagiarised or invented, are to be jettisoned accordingly.

With recourse to realms of optimism, many chefs appear to believe that they have an inexhaustible number of recipe books in them. But opinion is divided on the subject – mainly between them and I. This follows my personal hypothesis that most only have a couple of significantly useful cookbooks in them at best. But in an effort to substantially reduce their time in a kitchen (heaven forbid) and spend more time on the television (publicising their new tie-in books) a lot of chefs elect to undertake extended periods on promotional book tours (publicising their new tie-in television shows). This merry-go-round shows no signs of slowing and their time it seems has not been in vain. Last year the UK spent over £90 million on cookbooks, and a lot of jubilant publishers are predicting that this figure is set to rise. In order to feed such a lucrative schedule, simple mathematics dictates that ever more books will require ever more recipes – be they outstanding, or more commonly, turning up as a disenchanted surfeit. Gastronomic padding, producing interminable variations on a theme, peppered with predictable visual accompaniments in order to mimic the intrusively personal. It’s a living, I guess.

A relentless requirement for words in an ever decreasing environment shares something of Scrabble’s irritating characteristics. The game’s principal aim is to relieve yourself of as many letters as possible by making ever more convoluted, point-scoring words (many seemingly bordering on Wi-Fi codes, lost Cyrillic alphabets or entirely fabricated texts, rather than a workaday language) and all undertaken with the sole aim of snaffling a further bagful of letters to continue the process and reward yourself with even more points.  Although definition and meaning are frequently disputed, extent and quantity are really the name of the game. Less is clearly not more. Perhaps recipe writers might be encouraged to play a more reductive game of Jenga during their tea breaks instead.

Subsequently, there are some cookbooks I own but no longer reach out to. Books, I admit, that felt like a good idea at the time now only serve to illustrate that some chefs have less of a place in my corner than they used to.  In direct contrast, other publications have risen in stature. The common, although not infallible thread, is that the majority I turn to are written by food writers and cooks not by professional chefs – it’s the erudite, home-cooks I now welcome in my corner when mealtime adventures summon.

As a result it is clear that when faced with such a dichotomy, discipline needs to be imposed upon the bookcase (a concept my tolerant family fully endorse). But beware, sometimes books that no longer appear to offer service – but are yet to take that long, lonely walk to the charity shop – entice like the beckoning celestial songs of the Sirens. Personally I choose to lay blame firmly at the feet of our intrusive advertising media, whose persistent siren-calls not only encourage additional purchase, they occasionally coax my return to volumes previously deemed surplus to requirements. But in the immortal words of Mandy Rice-Davis “he would say that, wouldn’t he?”

Having not rehearsed this recipe for years, let alone cast an eye over this otherwise relinquished book, I was surprised to find that it continues to offer a delicious, simply constructed and predictably glamorous dessert.

So speaking of sirens…

Lemon Pavlova from Simply Nigella (2015) Nigella Lawson

6 egg whites

375 gms caster sugar

2½ tsp cornflour

2 un-waxed lemons

50 gms flaked almonds

300 millilitres double cream

325 gms jar lemon curd (I make my own for this dish)

Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/350°F/gas mark 4 and line a baking tray with baking parchment.

Beat the egg whites until satiny peaks form, then beat in the sugar a spoonful at a time until the meringue is stiff and shiny.

Sprinkle the cornflour over the meringue, then grate in the zest – a fine microplane is best for this – of 1 lemon and add 2 teaspoons of lemon juice.

Gently fold until everything is thoroughly mixed in.

Mound onto the lined baking tray in a fat circle approximately 23cm in diameter, smoothing the sides and the top with a knife or spatula.

Place in the oven, then immediately turn the temperature down to 150°C/130°C fan/300°F/gas mark 2, and cook for 1 hour.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool, but don’t leave it anywhere cold as this will make it crack too quickly. If you think your kitchen is too cool, then leave the Pavlova inside the oven with the door completely open.

When you’re ready to eat, turn the pavlova onto a large flat plate or board with the underside uppermost – I do this before I sit down to the meal in question and let it stand till pudding time.

Toast the flaked almonds, by frying them in a dry pan over a medium to high heat until they have started to colour. This doesn’t take more than a minute or so, when they’re done, remove to a cold plate so that they don’t carry on cooking.

Whip the cream until thick and airy but still with a soft voluptuousness about it, and set it aside for a moment.

Put the lemon curd into a bowl and beat it with a wooden spoon or spatula to loosen it a little. Taste the lemon curd (if it’s shop-bought) and add some lemon zest and a spritz of juice if it’s too sweet.

With a spatula, spread the lemon curd on top of the meringue base.

Now top with the whipped cream, peaking it rather as if it were a meringue topping.

Sprinkle with the zest of the remaining lemon – you can grate this finely or coarsely as you wish – followed by the flaked almonds, and serve.

Wine thoughts

As with all things eggy, whose differing and myriad combinations of textures and deeply rich flavours remain a challenge to wine partnerships, options are limited. Although our dish has some citric tang from the lemon, this is almost overshadowed by the sweetness in the egg-white meringue. My perfect marriage is with an uncommon little sparkler from the Rhône valley – Clairette de Die (die on this occasion, pronounced dee). A soft sheen on the palate, combining a mildly sweet hit with a background of refreshing acidity, all enhanced by the gentlest of bubbles. This is an endlessly adaptable wine (when you can get your hands on it that is) which will sit well with many lazy afternoon, Ritz Hotel-inspired, tea-time ‘fancies’. If unavailable locally, go for a better than average Moscato d’Asti.