Italian cuisine is amazingly versatile, as dishes can seemingly be prepared in any number of ways. Most Italian dishes have some similarities in terms of ingredients or the actual steps involved with the preparation. However, there’s also some core things to understand about how Italian dishes should be prepared. Following these 10 Tips will help take your Italian meals to a level of authenticity you can usually only find in the country itself.
1. Fresh Produce is Best
The best Italian dishes are made with fresh ingredients, always. So it’s common in Italy for people to routinely visit their local markets to pick up fresh, seasonal produce. If you want to create truly authentic Italian flavors you’ll need to visit your local farmers market or supermarket as well. Do your best to avoid produce that’s been processed or sitting around on the shelf too long.
2. Choose the Right Olive Oil
There’s a lot of different olive oils out there, but they’re not always interchangeable. Some are aromatic and fruity, and others are more subtle. Extra virgin olive oil is generally the best for salads. Virgin olive oil works best for sautéing and baking. Always choose light olive oil for general everyday cooking, and either pomace oil or pure olive oil for heavy duty cooking.
3. Know Your Onions
When preparing Italian dishes, remember that more subtly flavored onions, like yellow and white onions are used for cooking. Bolder tasting red onions are used for salads, and sweet onions are very versatile but are the best for caramelizing.
4. Fresh Herbs are Best
We already touched on the importance of using fresh ingredients, but don’t forget to use fresh herbs as well. Italian dishes often call for certain herbs and spices to help bring out specific flavors, but the fresher the herbs are the more flavor you’re going to get from them. Be careful not to overdo it with the herbs and spices though as you don’t want to overpower the dish.
5. Learn to Make authentic Soffritto
Soffritto is the flavor base of many Italian dishes. Diced onions, celery and carrots are gently sautéed in olive oil, or sometimes butter. Soffritto is often referred to as the secret to Italian cooking. More commonly though it’s known as “the holy trinity”, as the the three primary ingredients act as a foundation for many Italian recipes.
6. Cook Your Pasta Perfectly
All you need is a large pot, salt, and water. You probably know that salting the water is an essential step when cooking pasta, but do you know how much you should really be adding? The correct salt to water ratio for pasta is one tablespoon per one quart (four cups) of water. Yes, it’s a lot of salt, but it’s crucial to flavoring the pasta itself and don’t worry—you won’t wind up consuming all of it. Wait until the water is at a rapid boil before adding your pasta, and stir it immediately after the pasta is in the pot. Perfect pasta is cooked “al dente” so it should have a slight firmness. You never want to overcook it into mushiness or so it breaks up when serving.
7. Never Rinse Pasta
Wait! Don’t rinse that Pasta! Ideally, you don’t want the sauce to slide right off and pool in the bottom of the dish. If you want your sauce to stick to your pasta, don’t rinse the noodles when you strain them.
8. Grate or Shed Your Own Cheese
We understand the convenience of pre-grated or pre-shredded cheeses, but they often contain fillers or use preservatives meant to prevent spoilage. That can in-turn alter the flavor. Instead, purchase a wedge of Parmigiano or a ball of mozzarella to grate at home. You’ll notice a difference in the taste of freshly grated cheese on your pasta.
9. Cookware Can Make or Break a Dish
Italian food prepared in non-stick cookware never tastes quite right and doesn’t produce that tasty caramelization in the bottom of the pan. You should opt for stainless steel, copper, or ceramic-lined stainless pots and pans to produce the best results. Use your non-stick cookware for reheating.
10. Wine Isn’t Just for Drinking
It’s commonly understood that wine pairs beautifully with Italian food, but it’s also an important ingredient in a lot of Italian cuisine. Like many ingredients, the trick to incorporating wine into the dish is to use the appropriate amount. Practice incorporating wine into your favorite Italian dishes, just make sure to incorporate it early in the cooking process as to allow the alcohol to burn off properly.