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Cook as real Italians do :
a few secrets
Pisciotta - Traditional recipes!
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Italian cooking is very simple and usually very fast. It uses fewer ingredients for each dish than any other cuisine. The Italian food that you taste in restaurants in the U.S.A. is usually too full of ingredients because it is influenced by "American" cooking which is more complicated.

Italian-American recipes are often different from Italian recipes. They are Italian recipes adapted to the circumstances of immigrants who, at the time, had very little money for food and adapted their recipes to what is available in the U.S.A. This is what Italian cuisine is all about. The contributions of Italo-Americans to Italian cuisine are significant. They have greatly enriched Italian cooking and actually invented a whole new regional cuisine.

Italians are interested in tasting the real flavor of each vegetable, soup, risotto etc. So the first rule is that you need only a few herbs. There are some unwritten rules that non-Italian cooks could not know about and cookbooks rarely discuss... here are some of them

   
MEAT
  • Meat is flavored with red wine and fish with white wine during the cooking process.
  • Lemons are used extensively to flavor i.e. roast beef, Speck, Bresaola, grilled chicken; and strawberries are cut in half and marinated for a few hours in sugar and lemon juice. Lemon juice is used to keep fresh cut mushrooms from turning brown and in place of vinegar when they are served as a salad.
  • Meat is not served every day. This has nothing to do with economics and everything to do with reasons of health. Meat takes a very long time to digest and has lots of animal fat that most of us can do without. When it is served, meat like a roast is cooked for hours on the stove or (in America) in a crock pot - maybe even overnight with carrots, celery, whole garlic cloves, whole cloves and onions, which are discarded before serving, and red wine is used to flavor it - we'll soon have a recipe for brasato on line. 

FISH AND SHELLFISH

  • Fish and shellfish are not paired with any kind of cheese. Fish and shellfish are flavored with fresh lemon juice at the time they are served. Some people, however, enjoy adding Parmesan cheese to certain seafood dishes such as spaghetti in tomato sauce with tuna and peas and shrimp risotto.
  • Tuna dishes are flavored with capers. However, a pasta sauce with tuna in it would be a tomato sauce with tuna and peas but no capers.
PASTA

There is only one way to cook pasta. Fill a very large stove-top pan with cold water, add a handful of ROCK SALT (don't be afraid, it won't taste salty at all) and, if you live in an area with hard water, a dash of olive oil so the pasta won't stick together. Never put the pasta in before the water is boiling. When it is boiling, add the pasta and stir. The timing begins when the water begins to boil again. Most long pastas cook for about 7 minutes. Read the directions on the package and set a timer. Meanwhile, heat the deep dishes or pasta bowls in the oven. Pasta cools so quickly that you need to tell your family and/or guests to begin eating immediately and not wait until everyone is served.

One 16 oz package of pasta serves 5 Italians. The huge servings you receive in Italian restaurants in America are too much for Italians. Pasta is only one component of a meal; it is not a meal in itself just as potatoes are not a meal in themselves. This does not mean that you cannot sometimes serve a pasta-only meal. In this case, follow it with a fresh salad.

SALAD DRESSING AND OLIVE OIL

There is only ONE Italian salad dressing. It is comprised of one part of wine (white or red) vinegar, three parts of extra virgin olive oil, freshly grated pepper and salt. Do not waste your money on "Italian salad dressings" in the supermarket. They are American inventions.

Olive oil must always be extra virgin olive oil. "Light", or plain olive oil like Bertolli's "Classico" will have less flavor. In olive oil, the darker, the better: more flavorful olive oil is darker in color--but many bottles are tinted to make it look darker.

PARMESAN CHEESE

  • Parmesan cheese should be purchased in a small block and grated just before it is served.
  • Parmesan (or other cheese) is usually served with soup.
  • If you are making lasagna, you may wish to add Pecorino (Romano) cheese because it is stronger and lasts through the baking. Parmesan is quite sweet.
HERBS, SPICES & VEGETABLES

Anise, basil, crushed red pepper, fennel, garlic, oregano, rosemary, sage are used extensively but not necessarily together.

Grated nutmeg is always added to egg dishes and to some cheese dishes. You need to buy a whole nutmeg and a tiny grater for it. Fresh nutmeg is always much better. Be careful, don't add too much - just a "pinch".

Northern Italian tomato sauces are flavored with basil. In the summer, this is fresh basil and in the winter it is dried basil. There are some exceptions. The salad of fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and basil, called Caprese Salad originated in Campagna which is southern Italy but it uses basil. Southern Italian tomato dishes and sauces, including pizza sauces, are always flavored with Oregano.

Basil and Oregano are never mixed so you can give away your container of "Italian Herbs" because that is just a collection of Italian herbs and Italians would never use it. Or you can keep it and use it to flavor soups if you like. Pepper is always freshly grated onto the food.

Fresh ingredients are essential. Don't buy vegetables unless you plan to use them all in the next two days.

CREAM SAUCE  
  • Cream sauce is made from heavy cream and unsalted butter.
  • Only sweet butter (without salt ) is used in Italian cooking.
  • Butter is not spread on bread. The exception to this is buttered toast with smoked salmon served on top of it.
  • Americans have invented tomato cream sauce. This is not Italian. Either you make tomato sauce or you make cream sauce - do not combine them because it makes the dish too heavy and the resulting pink color is not attractive.
 

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