Italian cooking ingredients are among the most used and abused ingredients in the world. Perfect for creating the iconic dishes of Italy, they often fall short when misused; their flavor potential wasted.
Here are 5 top things not to do with some of Italy’s most beloved ingredients at the risk of having an Italian Nonna chase you around the kitchen with a polenta stick.
- Never let garlic burn. Saute oil on a low to slow medium flame and cook gently until very soft. Don’t let the garlic burn or turn brown or it will taste acrid and bitter and impart that flavor to your whole dish.
- Never refrigerate a tomato, not even after the tomato is ripe. Refrigerating kills the flavor, the nutrients and the texture of Italy’s most beloved ingredient.
- Never forget to salt your water when making pasta. Salted water flavors pasta. Salt the water in the cooking pot just as it comes to a boil. As the salt dissolves into the water, the pasta absorbs the salt along with the water as it cooks. If you cook the pasta in plain water and wait to salt until afterwards, the pasta will taste bland no matter how delicious your sauce and . . . always follow the package instructions for proper cooking time.
- Never use “light” olive oil. Light olive oil is heavily refined undergoing several chemical processes to create a neutral oil with little if any of the flavor and healthy components of extra virgin olive oil. Some producers make olive oil extra light by adding a dash of virgin olive oil to other oils, such as vegetable or canola. If you’re worried about calories, skip the tiramisu. Light olive oil has the same fat content as regular oil, the word “light” is used in reference to the color and flavor.
- Don’t undercook mushrooms. Mushrooms have a savory flavor that is only enhanced by proper cooking. All it takes is some patience. Our Nonna cooked the best mushrooms. If porcini were not available she would use button mushrooms and they would still taste like the forests of Italy. In a large, shallow pan heat up some extra virgin olive oil, butter and finely chopped garlic. Add sliced mushrooms and cook long enough to release as much of the inherent moisture (water weight) of the mushrooms as possible, avoiding a soggy sauté. The volume of the mushrooms will decrease dramatically and becoming nicely brown . Once you’re at this stage you can add salt, pepper and Italian herb seasoning (oregano and marjoram) and if you choose deglaze the pan with some wine and cook some more. Your pan should have well-cooked mushrooms with a delicious glaze.