How to cook and eat like an Italian
Everyone loves “Italian food” and it’s many authentic and inauthentic variations, but many people (including chefs at top restaurants) get Italian food wrong. In turn, here are ten ways to cook like an Italian at home:
- You hear it all the time, but ingredients are key. Buy fresh and local whenever possible (it’s ok to spend money on food; you shouldn’t let a coupon drive what you eat at the dinner table). Organic is good, but don’t go out of your way to purchase organic items over locally grown and fresh items. Also, learn to love food shopping and find the best shops in your area (selecting and finding ingredients is part of the cooking process).
- Use Extra Virgin olive oil. I use a good olive oil for sauteing, pan frying, sauces, etc. and extra virgin olive oil for dressing tomatoes, finishing selected dishes, and with plain bread. Good olive oil (whether the fancy stuff or your ordinary super market brand) can elevate any food. Don’t use extra virgin olive oil to deep fry because it’s unnecessary, a waste of a fine ingredient, and not the correct way to deep fry.
- Find good bread and buy it every other day (for the rest of your life). Italians consume bread like it’s water. And most Italians begin their day with an espresso at the local bar and thereafter visit the local baker for a loaf of bread. I buy bread every other day and on the second day I re-heat it to bring back the texture and crunch.
- Buy good fruit and keep it on your kitchen table for dessert after every meal. You don’t need ice cream or cake on an everyday basis and a ripe peach or plum will out dance even the densest chocolate cake (and it’s better for you)!
- Find Time to cook and eat. Cooking takes time and eating the food you prepare shouldn’t be a sprint. I don’t buy the argument that families are too busy to cook these days and can’t find the time to sit and enjoy a homemade meal. If mom or dad can find the time to shuttle little Timmy to soccer, violin, and karate practice (as well as stop by Starbucks for an overpriced coffee-like drink and check their blackberries 20 times an hour) then parents can spend an hour at the dinner table together enjoying food, catching up, and relaxing (with a glass of wine).
- Incorporate wine into your diet. Yes, I’m recommending wine as part of any balanced, healthy, diet! Wine, of course, is made to be consumed with food and it also has the ability to calm nerves and put people in better moods (and isn’t life about finding happiness). Buy wine or make it yourself .
- You don’t need William Sonoma. Skip the fancy stove, marble countertops, $150 chef’s knife, and pizza stone. Good equipment is NOT a prerequisite for preparing good food (15,000 BTUs doesn’t boil water faster than your run of the mill GE stove). I can’t tell you how many Nonnas I know that prepare out of this world food over a 4 burner, propane fueled, stove – cutting fresh ingredients with a plastic handled serrated knife. Nonna Rosa would have laughed at the FOOD TV Network. Click here for what you need.
- Eat lots of the right fish, skip the beef, and fall in love with pork and chicken. OK, there are some areas in Northern Italy where beef is king, but for the most part fresh fish, pork, and chicken rule in Italy. Fish can be prepared in a simple manner with olive oil, kosher salt, and lemon. Chicken can be roasted, stewed, pan fried, etc. Pork requires a little more skill to prepare, but when done correctly is probably the tastiest flesh on the planet.
- Keep some basic food staples in your pantry at all times (see here). And see Mark Bittman’s article on What To Keep In Your Pantry.
- Don’t become a foodie, just let food become part of your lifestyle and be generous (as Bon Appetit suggests in their list). That is to say, keep it simple, resist the urge to complicate a dish, and simply enjoy the food you prepare and share it with your family and friends (without turning it into a career or obsession).