You’re going to disagree with some of these. That’s fine. The joy of cooking is that you do things differently to the way I’d do them, and the results will be equally delicious. I might think that the way you throw spaghetti at the wall to see if it’s done is a bit silly, but hey, if your spaghetti is al dente, then I won’t complain.
1. You realise that you only need three types of pasta.
If you’re Italian, then you’ve already started shouting at your screen. OK, yes, fine, there are a dizzying range of pastas out there, but they boil down to three particular types. Noodles, sheets and shapes. Pick one of your favourites from each, and you’re sorted. I prefer linguine to spaghetti, but I can see the attraction to a ragu with parpadelle. The world would be a sadder place without lasagne. I fell in love with the sauce-holding properties of rigatoni a long time ago, and see no reason to go back. OK, that’s four. I said these were signs, not commandments.
2. You drink while you’re cooking.
Tending to a bubbling pot with a glass of something in hand is a great pleasure for me. Often, the contents of the glass will end up in the food. With a bit of a buzz on, culinary inspiration can strike when you realise exactly what that sauce or stew needs, and if it happens to be a glass of that nice Chianti, then so be it. Bacchus has spoken. You should listen. As a side bar; don’t put booze in food that you wouldn’t drink. I’d like to think that the conceit of cooking sherry has gone the way of the dinosaur. The wine that goes into my food will be the wine that I have to hand – and that will be the wine that I’m drinking at the table. My advice if you don’t cook with at least one in the bag? Start.
3. You taste.
As in, you taste your food before it goes on a plate. This is simple common sense, but it’s astonishing how few people do it, just throwing in salt that a bacon dish doesn’t need, or an excess of lemon into a chicken stew. Taste as often as you can, and you’ll know if your tomatoes need a little sugar, or your chili needs a touch more go-juice. On the subject of additions…
4. You go easy on the Lea and Perrins.
I know it’s advertised as the universal cure-all for dull stews and casseroles, and I use it myself. But careful, please. The problem with adding Worcestershire Sauce is that your food will end up tasting of Worcestershire Sauce. One shake at a time, and taste afterwards.
5. You know that some gadgets are OK.
Cherry-stoners, garlic-crushers and avocado-portioners have got no place in my kitchen. You can get by perfectly well with three good pans, a casserole and a couple of decent, sharp knives. But there is some kitchen kit that, while not absolutely indispensable, do make your life a hell of a lot easier. The rice cooker TLC bought me for Christmas gets regular service, steaming veg and working as a slow cooker as well as cooking the occasional portion of rice. I’ve had a Magimix for years, and plan to use it for decades to come. Same with my Panasonic bread maker, that does perfect dough for those lazy days when I can’t be arsed to get my hands all floury. The common factor in all these? They’re pricy. They were an investment, bought with the full understanding that they would be part of the batterie for years to come. Cheap, single-use gimmicks aren’t worth a penny to me. They’ll break or lose themselves at the back of a drawer. Don’t even bother. Save your money for something you’re going to actually use.
6*. Sometimes, it’s OK to just have toast.
In what I like to call Slater’s Paradox or the Paul Young Theorem, there are those days when you get in, bonedeeptired, brain on strike, and all you can manage when you hit the kitchen is a couple of slices of toast. Maybe if you can dig into the reserves, you might get some cheese on top before it goes under the grill. And that’s absolutely fine. It’s all well and good being a ponce when it comes to kitchencraft, but ultimately it’s all about getting yourself and your beloved something to eat.
Take it away, boys…