We’ve all been there. You’re binge-watching your favorite TV show and suddenly you get an intense craving for the taste of some Italian food. Nowadays, you can find plenty of excellent restaurants like Lex Restaurant where you can enjoy amazing Italian-American cuisine featuring your favorite dishes. Nonetheless, if you want to tinker about in the kitchen, you can recreate the exquisite flavors of il bel paese, or the beautiful country, with these eight handy tips and tricks.
1. Start From Scratch
There’s nothing more rewarding than gaining the ability to cook from the most basic form of ingredients like how an Italian restaurant does it. This cuisine relies on making so much out of very little resources. To achieve the authentic Italian taste, you need to understand how empowering it is to cook from scratch. You get to decide what flavors to let out and which ones can serve as delicate, barely-there accents. It has a lot of benefits such as:
- It’s better for your health – You know what you’re eating.
- It’s better for your family – You can use cooking as a way to create good memories with your family.
- It’s better for your wallet – You save more by buying in bulk and storing extra ingredients in your pantry for future use.
- It’s better for the environment – You create much less waste.
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2. Use the Freshest Ingredients Always
It’s no secret that fresh ingredients always provide great flavor for any dish. It’s a standard practice in Italy to go to the local market daily to take your pick from the fresh produce in season. Be resourceful and learn to work with what’s available for this time of the year. It’s what makes cooking the Italian way challenging yet satisfying. Some tips on choosing the freshest ingredients include:
- When buying vegetables, check its appearance. A damaged or pale appearance indicates a lack of freshness and may lead to an upset stomach when consumed.
- When buying meat, the ideal color you should look for is a matte, pinkish red finish. A glossy, brown or bright red color on meat is a sign that it has been there for quite some time.
- When buying fish, it should not be smelly. It will have a distinct odor but it should just be subtle. Moreover, the fish’s eyes should be clear.
- When buying eggs, look out for the stamped dates on the box. Typically, there are two dates: one to indicate until when it can be sold and another to let customers know until when it can be kept in the fridge.
3. Make Use of Herbs
You can bring the Italian fever up a notch and plant your own herbs in your garden. Herbs that have been newly harvested are ideal for seasoning your dishes. Using fresh herbs leads to an improved taste which means that you don’t have to put in lots of fat, salt, or sugar. Also, remember never to overdo mixing in the herbs and spices. They should complement each other and bring out the flavor that you want to emphasize, not overpower it. Some of the most common herbs to use for an authentic italian flavour include:
- Oregano – More flavorful when dried form, it’s used for pizza and pasta sauces.
- Thyme – Italian dishes like spigola and triglie al forno use thyme.
- Basil – Ideally paired with lemon, cheeses, tomatoes, and garlic.
- Rosemary – Often utilized in roasted vegetable or meat dishes.
- Sage – Used in pasta dishes such as gnocchi and risotto.
- Parsley – Commonly used in seafood and vegetable sauces for pasta dishes.
- Bay Leaves – Added to soup and sauces to achieve a holistic flavor.
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4. Know Your Aromatics
Aromatics are food items that bring out the flavor or aroma of a dish. Onions are one of them. For Italian food, take note that subtle-flavored white onions are used for cooking. Red onions, which have a bolder taste, are mixed in with salads. Another tip is about garlic, you have to mince it using a microplane. With this, you get to avoid having smelly hands and create a more cohesive sauce with a dominant garlicky flavor.
5. Opt For the Right Type of Olive Oil
Put away your regular cooking oil for now and reach for some high-quality olive oil. However, keep in mind that olive oil is not a one-size-fits-all ingredient. It has plenty of variations and if you want your Italian food to turn out well, you should be familiar with what type to use for a particular dish. Here are your options:
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil – With an acidity level of 1%, this antioxidant-rich oil is perfect for mixing in with salads.
- Virgin Olive Oil – It’s generally used for cooking. Virgin olive oil is your best bet for sautéing and baking. It can still be used for salads, too.
- Refined Olive Oil – Because of the way it’s processed, refined olive oil has a diminished acidity level but is considered of lower quality than the other olive oil varieties. It’s suitable for cooking purposes only.
- Pure Olive Oil – Pure olive oil is a blend of the refined type and extra virgin olive oil. This oil is best for heavy-duty cooking but not for salads because it lacks taste and aroma.
- Olive Pomace Oil – If you find that the other varieties of olive oil burn easily, choose olive pomace oil which can handle high heat in cooking.
- Light Olive Oil – This is only used for baking where the flavor of the fruit would be subtle enough.
6. There’s Never Too Many Tomatoes
Using canned tomatoes or tomato paste is fine. If you’re a lover of Italian food, it’s a superb idea to keep this ingredient stocked in your pantry. That way, you will always have a base for easy dishes such as pasta or pizza. For tomato paste, you can keep it in the freezer for future use.
7. Cook the Perfect Pasta
Pasta is perhaps the most famous Italian dish in the world. The first step to perfecting this dish is to choose the right kind for the sauce that you prefer. Because of its varied shapes, it’s vital to ensure that the sauce sticks to the pasta. Next, use a large pot for boiling water and be generous with the salt you put in. Afterward, be sure that you don’t overcook your pasta. It should be soft but not mushy
8. Taste the Food along the Way
Most food in Italy is typically cooked directly on top of the heat, not in the oven as demonstrated by several recipes available online. One crucial technique by the Italians is that they taste what they’re cooking every /time. The beauty of cooking is that it’s a lot less strict and more precise than baking. It’s more flexible to fit your preferences. Adjust the flavors as you go along until you finally achieve your desired taste.
Aside from the fact that cooking is an essential skill in life, it’s always a good idea to try out different hobbies and interests for continuous growth. Learning how to cook Italian food is a gratifying feat in itself. Speaking to Real Simple, Lidia Bastianich, chef and owner of Felidia, Becco, Esca, Del Posto, and Eataly, recommends to keep on practicing your favorite dish “until you can do it with your heart and hands only” similar to how the Italians do it.