Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Secret of How to cook Italian

A visit to Italy convinces most people that Italians eat really well. Everything, even the simplest steak on the grill, seems to taste better. The secret is simplicity, passion and balance. Italian cooking, as the lifestyle, is simple. First fresh ingredients are extremely important. Fresh bread is produced three times a day. Sunday, the bakeries are closed so Saturday a different type of bread is purchased, usually a Tuscan round loaf. It is not acceptable to put day old bread on the table. At least once a week most neighborhoods have open-air markets where fresh fruits, vegetables, farm goods and cheeses are available just outside your door.

Italian is very different than French cuisine. Italians believe, “If it has to have a sauce the basic ingredient is not very good.“ The French believe, “The sauce makes the food edible.” The table is sacred for both the French and the Italians. Inviting friends to dinner is a great compliment. It is opening the home and the heart to others.

Last night a couple purchased a cheese platter where Raffaella works. The young trophy something bounced into the store grabbed a linen cloth and returned to her vehicle. A few moments later she returned to the store, linen covered with mashed potatoes in hand, and paid for her tray. She explained that before picking up the tray she had purchased dinner across the street for close friends she was entertaining at home. I know you are thinking, “What is strange about that?”

While there are exceptions, most Italians would never do this. They would gladly go to the restaurant together but a dinner at home is a dinner at home. A dinner at home is much more valuable than a dinner at a restaurant because it requires thought, time and effort. By preparing a meal for your friends you are saying that they are important enough for you to dedicate your thoughts and time to prepare something special.

So what does this have to do with how to cook Italian?

Cooking Italian is conceptual. Here are some secrets to a successful dinner:

  1. Use only fresh ingredients, not pre chopped, diced cleaned or semi-homemade.

  2. Northern Italians use more butter, Southern Italians use more Olive Oil; margarine, spreadable hydrogenated something or other is a no no.

  3. Dedicate enough time to do the job right, marinate meats and fish with a bit of Olive Oil and some light herbs, garlic should be used sparingly and most often left whole to be removed before serving. Think about the ingredients you are putting together. If you see someone through a bunch of garlic in a dish, they are covering for the fact that the food tastes terrible.

  4. Do not worry about elaborate sauces. If the food is good a bit of lemon, or the residual juices from a slow cook will accentuate the natural flavors.

  5. Always choose your wine based on the food being served.

  6. Take your time. This is the gift you are giving your friends or family. This is what is of great value and makes the food so good. As I child I would always want my mother to make my school lunch peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Somehow it just tasted better. If you do not have time, go to the restaurant, the food will be hot and you can then retire to your home.


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