Of all the things you might expect to find yourself eating while sitting at Nigella Lawson's kitchen table, a humble Dime bar would be pretty far down the list. A spatchcock chicken I could understand, maybe some soba noodles. But no, this Monday morning it's a thin slab of burnt sugar covered in a skimpy excuse for a chocolate coat. What is the world coming to?

If truth be told, though, it's my own fault. Nigella - let's be honest, these days it's as much a brand name as a moniker - admits to an addiction to the bloody things in her new book, Forever Summer. So, I think, I'll garner favour by bringing her a couple. But when I tell her I've never tasted one she forces me to take a bite. It is, safe to say, probably the skankiest piece of confectionery I've ever had the misfortune to sample. But I suppose it would be a little too impolite to spit it out on the floor.

Sitting opposite, Nigella - it's impossible to call her Lawson really - is not partaking I notice. She's saving them for lunch, she says. I suppose I should believe her. Picture-perfect as you'd expect, given that she has spent half the morning with a stylist, she is dressed for summer. She is just back from a month in Italy and has poured herself into a polka dot dress that leaves her all hips and bosom. The dress is the only thing in the house that's ironed, she says.

There's a section on cocktails in her new book and I've been toying with the question of what kind of drink a ''Nigella'' might be - something cool, dry and a tad imperious I reckon, certainly far too elegant to include anything as declasse as a twirly umbrella.

Nigella - the person, not the imaginary

drink - is a peculiarly English phenomenon. Mother, working woman, provider, survivor and sex symbol rolled into one. Woman of means to boot. All topped off with a proper pukka accent. Such is the stuff of a surprisingly large number of men's dreams. She's the proper Posh Spice hotting up the world of television cookery

with salacious-sounding dishes like Slut-Red Raspberries in Chardonnay Jelly. No wonder she earned a top three placing in a poll of ''posh totty'' conducted by some hormonally addled boffins on an internet site recently. The Americans have labelled her particular brand of television cookery gastroporn - it's all that

finger-licking, I suspect - but she thinks the notion is a bit ridiculous. ''I'm not trying to make up to the camera. It is very difficult to make a series once one's gone out and people have seen it because you can't do anything innocently.''

But Slut-Red Raspberries, I say. Come on. ''It's difficult because I have a very, very

dangerous, and for the most part, involuntary addiction to irony,'' she replies deadpan.

There's a hint of that, she says, in the title of her latest project, Forever Summer. This, after all, is a woman who had to endure the very

public death of her husband, journalist John Diamond, from cancer 18 months ago, a death that followed the premature cancer-related deaths of her mother and sister. ''I used to say Forever Summer dot, dot, dot, but winter in my heart. That's what I used to call it while I was writing it,'' she says.

She is not feeling particularly wintry as we speak. She has a new book, a new television series and a new home - despite all the family pictures that still adorn the walls of this West London house, she and her two children moved out after Diamond's death and it's now used for filming the series. Most importantly, though, she has a new partner to talk about. ''Life,'' she says, ''feels positive.'' The man in question is Charles Saatchi, the advertising executive, modern art collector and multi-millionaire. Money is probably not much of a problem then. The couple have been an item for some time but Nigella still speaks of him with the blush of novelty. ''I thought I'd be alone forever. So I'm very happy I'm not and I have got a life that I want.''

Saatchi is not the cold, difficult man he's often portrayed as, she says. ''He's not at all like his public image. He's this warm, cosy, funny person.'' She can't remember when they met. ''I used to see him around at dinners and that sort of thing with other people and I liked him because he had tremendous energy.'' There is a 16-year age gap - he is 58, she is 42 - but she says she's not really aware of it. ''It might have been more significant when I was younger.''

Does he cook? ''He has made me an omelette.'' She obviously feels this is a little underwhelming because she quickly adds, ''but I haven't presented him with any work of art.''

Only a churl, or maybe Saatchi's embittered ex-wife Kay Hartenstein (who has suggested the millionaire began wooing Nigella before

Diamond's death), could begrudge Nigella her current happiness. It's not, she says, a new life to go with the new book and the new series. But the old life has improved.

''Yes, you move on and I'm happy but you don't go ... '' she claps her hands sharply, ''and that's it. That's the past over. Everything that has happened in my life is still to some extent

happening. But time makes a difference. It's

difficult to say these things without sounding really sick-making but to some extent it's a real waste of life not to try to be positive. If it came naturally to me I'd make less of a deal of it but it is important and sometimes I think not to try to do that is insulting in some way. This is all there is. I don't know that I feel like I've tied up one area and moved onto another. It's more of a

continuum. I've still got my friends, I'm the same person.''

Living in the past is not an option. ''I adored John, I loved John but it's also very important that I don't want it to be that my real life was located there, because that's not the case, that's not the case. Because this is my life. You can't force yourself to be happy but anyone who has seen three people they love a lot die, the cliche of survivor guilt is strong but it doesn't bring them back hanging around moping. So I feel sometimes I have to enjoy life for them as well.''

Asked if marriage is on the cards again, she says, ''I'm not anti-marriage but to tell you

the truth I'm not someone who needs to be

kind of validated by a marriage certificate. I'm economically independent so I regard myself

as completely committed and part of a couple, but whether I'm married or not is not the

big issue.

''It is a very nice relationship with a lot of hanging around. My idea of hell is going out every night. I love seeing people but I've only ever been interested in seeing my friends.'' Saatchi, Nigella and her children Cosima, eight, and Bruno, five, are now ''a nice family unit''. It doesn't take much to make her happy, she says. ''Watching a film I enjoy with a packet of salt and vinegar crisps gives me exquisite pleasure,'' she says. That reminds me it's said that the British recipe for a perfect evening is sitting in with a video and a curry. ''I don't think it's my perfect night, but there's room for it as well.'' She's not one for the premiere circuit. ''I'm not so insecure that I need to see my picture in the paper wearing fancy dress and seeing the new James Bond film. I'm aware that I exist without having documentary evidence.''

To be fair, insecurity hardly seems a likely development for Nigella. If it's not enough that she's a conspicuous success in the celebrity cookery circuit (appalled as she may be at the label), it should be remembered that she was born with a silver spoon in her mouth, no doubt stirred in the finest honey just beforehand. A Jewish princess, one of four children, her father was Nigel Lawson, one-time Chancellor in the Thatcher era, her mother, socialite Vanessa Salmon, the Lyons Corner House heiress. Nigella has always admitted she was something of a problem child.

''I think there is such a thing as a family script and in my family script I'm the introverted, over-sensitive frail one,'' though that she says is no longer the case. Problem children though sometimes have problem parents. Or in Nigella's case a problem mother. In the past she has described her mother as ''a depressive with an irritatingly over-developed aesthetic sense''. These days she says she is not quite so pejorative. ''I see her as someone who had her own problems and maybe wasn't ready yet to have children. She was very young, wasn't happy. I am embarrassed when I think of how judgemental my earlier self was.''

Then again she also described her mother as ''very hysterical'' and ''bad-tempered'' so there is still some element of judging going on. Nigella was 25 when her mother died from secondary tumours in the liver. She says she's close to her father. He even suggested a recipe for the book. ''It's not like when you see American sitcoms and everyone's saying, 'Gee Dad, I love you' all the time. It's not that kind of relationship at all. We're all a bit spiky and I think when you have children yourself you begin to understand

how difficult it is to be a parent. Of course, when you're a teenager you have nothing but

contempt for your parents.''

Nigella deliberately failed her 11 plus, refusing to sit a maths exam but she was never destined to end up at the local comprehensive. She finished her schooling at Godolphin and Latymer girls' school in Hammersmith before decamping to Oxford which led into publishing and journalism. She met John Diamond while working at the Sunday Times. They married in 1992. A year later her sister Thomasina died from breast cancer aged 32. Four years later Diamond was found to have a malignant lump in his neck (her mother had died in 1985).

As far as her upbringing goes, she says she never felt very Jewish as a child. ''But I suppose John was Jewish and Charles is Jewish,'' she says, scratching at something she can't quite put her finger on. She tends to find a certain type of snappy Jewish wit is to her taste and many of her friends are Jewish, but none of them go to the synagogue. ''I think I only feel that sense of kinship with people who are as irreligious as me.'' She lacks the ability for faith, she says, but then she comes from a family of atheists.

The domestic goddess tag is so neat that it's maybe easy to forget now that before her domestication there was more to her than just food. She has in the past been a literary editor, a guest on TV's Question Time, a fully paid-up member of the mediarati. Her politics were always said to be left-of-centre, there was even talk of a career in politics. But not from her. ''Listen, I can imagine a career in many areas but not

politics. I'm not that political.''

She was a restaurant critic before the children were born, so the shift to writing about cooking was hardly difficult. She is keen to emphasise, though, that she never wanted to be seen as just a recipe writer. ''I'm interested in food because I'm interested in writing about food. Otherwise I'd be a caterer.''

She has an Olympian disdain for the notion that she's some kind of superwoman. That is not what she's about, she tells me. ''The thing I don't like is if people misunderstand me and think I'm putting this burden of perfection on women. What I'm about is not being like that, you can't be perfect and this is how you get through.'' Does she let her kids go to McDonald's then? ''I won't take them to McDonald's ... I prefer Burger King.''

She tells me she is a greedy person. This is, it seems, a good thing. ''I think how people are about food pretty well tells you how they are about the rest of life, I have to say.'' She has an appetite for life then, I suggest. ''Yeah, and I like people like that too. It's better to be greedy than somehow lacking curiosity or appetite.''

Out in the garden, a cadre of PRs and assistants is stirring. There's a drive to Birmingham scheduled and Nigella has to leave soon. We've covered a lot, she says. I suppose we have. She still looks perfect, make-up unsmudged. Nothing about her seems smudged, nothing at all.

Then, completely unprompted, she tells me: ''I am not someone who is fearful of intimacy.'' This seems important to her. ''When I think about certain people I know often they fail to be happy in their relationships because they think they want closeness but actually they run from it. Whatever psychological problems I have,

that doesn't seem to be one of them. I like that and I need that and I'm finding that now. Some people think the more they fight that somehow the more meaningful everything is. I am so not like that. I want to be loved and to love someone. I don't need that much besides.''

Forever Summer is on Channel Four at 8.30pm. The book of the series is published by Chatto & Windus at (pounds) 20.