Rachel Roddy’s recipe for fish poached in tomato and wine | A kitchen in Rome

Some recipes aren’t an exact science – such as pesce all’acqua pazza, or fish in crazy water – where whole bream is poached in a glistening sauce of extra virgin olive oil, garlic, chilli, and tomatoes and wine

“It is not a recipe, but a way.” It must be 10 years since Vera said this to me. We were making pasta and chickpeas in her small, organised kitchen, which was on the other side of the wall from my not-so-organised small kitchen. We were just about done and drinking coffee, the soup at a simmer. I was writing things down and asking questions, to which she was responding more with handfuls and tastes, rather than grams and minutes. Then she said it: “This is not a recipe, but a way.” It wasn’t a new or revelatory idea, we all know that most of the time cooking is not guided by exact recipes or precise measurements, but her words summed it up well, and the expression stuck.

Her way stuck too, a template for the thick bean soup with pasta variations of which I have written about many times: fry aromatic vegetables in olive oil for a soffritto, add a herb and cooked beans, then liquid, simmer, add pasta and cook until ready. Of course, when we make something, we may look to a specific recipe from specific places or people, to give something an authentic name. But most of the time we are cooking by “way” rather than recipe, following sketched rather than detailed maps; letting experience, taste and smell lead us. Baking is a different matter, which is possibly why it is not my strength.

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