Il Presepe Napoletano
La stella di Natale
Festa della Befana ad Urbania
Le calze della Befana
Nuttata 'e Natale
Ninno a Bettalemme)
(Presepio in costruzione)
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
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 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
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
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 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
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 is made from heavy cream and unsalted
- Only sweet butter (without salt ) is used in Italian
- 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.