From common cooking misconceptions to flavor-enhancing shortcuts, cooking experts and chefs have shared their tips and tricks with us.
Previously, which one? shared expert tips for creating awesome Indian and Chinese dishes at home. Next comes Italian cuisine.
1. Don’t let anything go to waste
Cooking tutor, food writer and author Carmela Hayes recommends using parmigiano reggiano rind and green tomato vines to add flavor.
“Both can be slow-cooked in many Italian sauces to provide a delicious sauce full of intensity and richness,” she says. “They would work well in slow-cooked meat sauces, broths and soups.”
She also suggests saving the liquid from the bags of mozzarella for use in your cooking. “You can substitute it instead of using water, then make pasta, pizza or bread dough as you normally would.”
2. Use pasta cooking water to make creamy sauces
Chef, food consultant and 2011 MasterChef finalist Sara Danesin Medio told us that sauces can benefit from adding leftover water used to boil pasta.
“The boiling water used to cook pasta is full of starch which will add creaminess to your dish. The process is called ‘mantecatura’, which literally means emulsifying the starch in the pasta water with the oil or butter in the sauce.
Find out which wines go best with Italian cuisine in our food and wine pairing guide.
3. Choose your tomatoes carefully
John Swinton, tutor and head of events at the Edinburgh School of Food & Wine, says imported tomatoes are generally less ripe and less rich in flavor than those from Italy.
John says, “Always try to get the ripest seasonal vegetables possible. Buy them on the vine and keep them there until you use them, and leave them in the sun as much as possible.
“If you can grow your own tomatoes, you should have no problem getting that incredible depth of flavor that we associate with so many Italian dishes.”
“For a sauce, I always take a can of crushed tomatoes. They are canned when ripe and yield a richer and better flavor.
4. Do not add oil when boiling pasta
Despite what you may have heard, adding oil to your cooking water to prevent pasta from sticking is a common misconception, according to John.
“It only serves to waste oil and clog the pipes. To prevent it from sticking, the best thing to do is to drizzle the pasta with a little olive oil after draining it and toss it until the oil coats the pasta,” explains he.
“Pasta coated this way won’t stick, even as it cools, so it’s perfect if you’re making extra for a salad the next day.”
Sara told us that it is important to find the balance between the quantity of pasta and the water used to cook it: “The rule of thumb is one liter of water for 100g of pasta. This prevents the pasta from sticking to itself.
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5. Reduce sauces for concentrated flavor
John told us that it’s important to make sure your sauce is reduced enough or you could end up with a bland tasting dish.
He suggests simmering any excess liquid for a more concentrated sauce with greater depth of flavor.
6. Buy good quality extra virgin olive oil
According to Sara, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is the most important part of Italian cooking.
“The tendency is to believe that all EVOOs are the same. In Italy alone, there are more than 350 varieties of olive oil.
She recommends looking for the following when buying EVOO:
- Produced and packaged in Italy
- cold pressed
- Bottles protected by aluminum foil (because the light deteriorates the oil).
7. Avoid pre-grated parmesan
Although pre-grated parmesan can be handy, John advises avoiding it.
“The agents to prevent them from sticking and the added preservatives only serve to spoil the flavor and the texture of the cheese. I recommend using a peeler to take nice big shavings.
8. Be careful when cooking with extra virgin olive oil
If you cook at high temperatures, extra virgin olive oil may not be the best choice.
John says, “Extra virgin olive oil usually starts to burn around 160°C, which is too low a heat to achieve good caramelization of meat and vegetables without overcooking them.”
9. Use anchovy paste to enhance flavor
Anchovy paste is an amazing flavor enhancer, Sara told us, because it adds an extra layer of “umami”:
“I often use it in a paste form because it’s easier to store, has no fish bones, and can be measured in teaspoons.
“Used in the initial phase of making a sauce, especially with seafood, it adds a lot of saltiness, not fishiness. I also add it when I want to energize a salad condiment, in a tomato sauce or in beef and lamb dishes.
10. Make sure salt is dissolved in salad dressings
“Whether it’s vinegar or lemon, the salt should be completely dissolved in the liquid before you add the oil,” says Sara.
“Only then can you get an emulsion and thus avoid chewing undissolved salt.”
Four tips for a perfect Bolognese
Shardana Catering chef and owner Stefano Sanna shares his tips for making the ultimate bolognese sauce at home.
1. Use a mixture of pork and beef
‘Always choose a mixture of pork and beef. Pork fat is the protagonist of the final taste and is therefore indispensable.
‘Choose a large grain of meat. Some chefs prefer to chop the meat with a knife to have complete control over the thickness.
2. Cut the vegetables very finely
“The onion, celery and carrot will crumble completely, be incorporated into the tomato and be the quintessential bolognese sauce.”
3. Add milk to the sauce
‘Add milk to the sauce to remove the acidity of the tomato. You will obtain a softer and more enveloping result in the mouth.’
4. Let the sauce cook long enough
“Patience runs its course in cooking Bolognese sauce, which should cook slowly for at least three hours after adding the tomato.”
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