Italian cuisine is simple—but that does not mean it is easy. Fresh, high-quality ingredients meet seasonally adaptable recipes to create the Italian favorites so many of us love. Add in a few cooking techniques unique to Italy and we’re on our way to truly Great Italian Food, even if our home cooking is unlikely to match our favorite Italian restaurant any time soon.
Season like an Italian
Learning to season Italian food can be an intimidating task, but it doesn’t have to be. In the US we frequently add salt and/or pepper after a dish is cooked, but the first task in seasoning like Italians is shifting that process so that seasoning is added while the dish cooks. Salt is particularly important to master, along with the other primary flavor of seasoning in Italian food, sweetness. Remember, seasoning is used to enhance and highlight Italian dishes; it should never be overpowering.
Chop, chop, chop
It’s often overlooked as a cooking technique in the US, but in Italian cuisine, it’s particularly important to learn how to handle your knife. Many home cooks don’t realize how much your knife technique can affect the flavor of your dish, and learning proper knife technique will also save you a lot of time in the long run. The way you chop your ingredients will affect both their texture and their taste. Meats, vegetables, and other primary ingredients need to be cut into uniform sizes to ensure they’ll cook at the same speed and maintain a consistent flavor and texture. Fresh herbs and other supporting ingredients need to be chopped properly to bring out maximum flavor of your dish.
Use the freshest ingredients you can find
Fresh ingredients are important in any cuisine, but with the simplicity of Italian food it makes an even bigger difference. Italy’s climate lends itself to growing a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, and the hospitable environment helps create some of the highest quality produce in the world. For cooking in Italian in the US, however, buying produce shipped in from Italy may not be your best bet. In fact, you’re more likely to approach the rich flavors of Italian produce by buying organic produce from your local farmer’s market. This product will be as fresh as you can get so you can recreate that rich Italian flavor.
Since you’ve already perfected your knife technique, you may also want to consider buying whole fruits and vegetables. Keeping the leaves, stems, and end pieces on until you’re ready to cook helps preserve the flavor of your produce and can also provide useful indicators of whether anything has started to go bad.
Simple techniques create the best Italian
Learning to cook Italian food properly can be intimidating, but in truth it boils down to a few simple things: season it well, perfect your knife technique, and hunt down the freshest ingredients you can find. Great cuisine doesn’t always have to be complicated or difficult to make, as Italians discovered long ago.
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