How much water and salt to use? Drain the pasta well or leave it dripping? It depends on whether you’re making this double tomato sauce or this courgette-almond pesto
A few days after we bought our cooker, a book arrived in the post. The cooker was a secondhand Gasfire Cucina – identified by the man who came to service and fit it (a 40-minute job that cost twice the price of the cooker) as one of the last to be made entirely by hand before the factory was mechanised in the late 1960s. The book was In The Kitchen With Love, Sophia Loren’s first cookbook; a surprise gift from a woman called Cathy Whims, whom I’d met at a lunch.
A cooker and a cookbook: the two were already related. They were also both beautiful, singleminded, previously owned, smelled vaguely of well-done toast, and both special (one handmade, the other first-edition). Add to all that the proximity of their arrival and the fact that the book was first published the year I was born. Also, that Sophia, too, had a Gasfire cooker, larger than mine, with hub-cap-like vents and two ovens, and that features in three of the book’s eight colour plates so saturated with colour and flair, they seem to glow and throb. It is my habit to look for messages – in clouds, coincidences, song lyrics, the condensation on train windows – a habit that verges on superstition at times. But there was no doubting that there was significance in it all, and that Sophia, her chin resting in her hand, her elbow resting on a table heaped with vegetables and dry spaghetti threatening to slide off, was glowing and speaking directly to me.