Whether it’s an idea, a thought or a sentence, cooking chat can be both satisfying and inspiring
• See Rachel’s recipes for Tuscan-style chicken and torta all figassa
Years ago, somebody gave me their recipe for batter, in two ways. One as a long, chatty ramble as she stood making it, then later jotted down on a square of paper – whisk 200g flour, 300ml water, two tablespoons of olive oil and salt until smooth, chill, then fold in two beaten egg whites. The recipe was familiar; almost exactly the proportions I already used – not that familiarity ever dents the satisfaction of being given other people’s recipes. On this occasion, it was two things she said while using a balloon whisk the size of her forearm to combine the flour, water, oil and salt: “Even when measured, ingredients can be mischievous”, and “The consistency should be between single and double cream.”
There they were! The sentences I would remember for ever, vivid and annoying in equal measure because they condemned me to be suspicious of my possibly naughty ingredients, and to examine my batter: to watch it roll off the spoon while imagining a place between single and double cream – what the food writer Thom Eagle describes as the silent chat between the cook and the cooked. Or, in my case, the worried discussion (a familiar state for me, so no bad thing), and an essential part of my cooking. Most of the time, ingredients don’t misbehave and the outcome is a batter that clings but doesn’t suffocate. And I have been reminded of the second-most important advice in cooking (and life): just look, really look.