Italian Culinary 101
By Samantha Samonte
Don’t we all just love those scenes in Eat Pray Love, where Julia Roberts gets served up awesome Italian dishes one after another, after another? I must confess the eating scenes in that movie were the parts I truly paid the most attention to. Where I come from, at least from what I see in the movies, one can only gawk and daydream of eating as frequently and as splendidly as the Italians do.
Incidentally I came across this quote from the poet W.H. Auden– A daydream is a meal at which images are eaten. Some of us are gourmets, some gourmands, and a good many take their images precooked out of a can and swallow them down whole, absent-mindedly and with little relish.â€¨-Thus sensing myself shudder slightly at the latter, I thoughtthat on second thought! One should at least try and take in a few pointers from these Italians.
So to get started, I found out these Basic Rules.
§ Fresh ingredients always.
§ Shop and cook in season and source from your local Farmers Market.
§ Get to know your veggies, and like the first rule, get to know them fresh!
§ Cheesy is a good thing. Know more about the different varieties of palatable cheeses.
§ Master invention! When cooking, Italians don’t follow recipes to the detail. Instead they change quantities and strategies depending on their mood and the ingredients available.
§ Waste not, want not, be frugal. Simpler is better.
§ Build flavor by sautéing garlic and onions in olive oil. Many Italian recipes start this way.
§ Regardless of your culinary spills, errors and/or blunders, consider your cooking a success when it is enjoyed with good company and conversation.
Herbs are key ingredients in seasoning Italian dishes, and as the basic rule says, they must be FRESH. Most Italians prefer to grow their own in pots by the kitchen windows. I guess you can’t get any fresher than that. If you want to try your hand at growing your own at home, try these basic pointers.
In Italian cooking, the following herbs are the most often used.
§ Basil is the more popular herb. Used a lot in pesto and goes very well with tomatoes.
§ Oregano also used often with tomatoes especially with southern Italian dishes.
§ Marjoram a milder version of Oregano. It is a good herb to have with meats and seafood.
§ Mint another popular one. If you are out of Basil, this one’s a good substitute. Freshens and adds that much needed zest in any dish.
§ Parsley similar to mint and most often used together with onions and garlic, sautéed in olive oil as base flavor.
§ Bay Leaf usually used in soups, drop a few leaves to activate its gentle aroma.
§ Rosemary Has a strong pine aroma. Used sparingly and only in cooked meat dishes as its needles need time to soften.
§ Sage most popular in central and northern Italy. It is most used in butter sauces and meat dishes.
Italian dinners are enjoyed leisurely; a time for catch up and sharing of the life events and the essential banter and chitchat. Course servings are all about enticing the palate and are smaller than your typical American meal but then they do have 6 courses with names as appetizing as one can imagine.
1. Antipasto the initial appetizer, usually marinated olives or a piece of bread with olive oil and balsamic for dipping.
2. Primo the first course, usually a bowl of soup, a small serving of light pasta or rice dish.
3. Secondo the main entrée, a fairly simple serving of chicken, meat or seafood.
4. Contorno a platter of vegetables to complement the secondo.
5. Dolce the dessert, usually fresh fruit, a biscotti or a cookie. Sometime s a shot of dessert wine is served to cleanse the palate.
6. Caffe an espresso to end the meal.
So there you have it. Simply equate food with the pleasure of good company and make time for sourcing fresh ingredients rather than TV dinners & fast food. And you are well on your way to dining with buon appetito!
About he Author:
Samantha Samonte is a writer for Culinary One , a blog about culinary careers, cuisines and food in all its scrumptious glory.