Italian Food; Cooking For Beginners
What is Italian Food?
In Italy the culture of food, of eating and making Italian meals every day, twice a day has not changed in more or less seven hundred years. I learned when I came to live in a farmhouse in Tuscany many years ago how much Italians love the food that they grow, produce and conserve; that their grandparents used to make. And that the grandparents before them also used to make!
The fine culinary art-form that Italian cooking is renowned for is based entirely on handing down the simple 'how we do this dish' through the ages from Nonna to Nonna, family to family, region by region, season by season. And from neighbor to neighbor. I was fortunate to discover through my kind neighbor's teaching me their own kind of cooking for beginners, how to cook just like an Italian.
You can too - and you don't have to go to Italy to do it right! It's got to be fun to make and it's going to be really easy.
For everything you need to learn about how to cook simple, great Italian food please read this Hub.
- Start with a 'nice and simple' mind frame (and kitchen).
- Suitable pots, pans and dishes.
- Foods to stock in the pantry (or kitchen shelf)- that you cannot do without.
- Use fresh seasonal produce.
- How to make two pasta dishes, using basic Italian preparations.
Pots And Pans
What Pots And Pans You Need for an Italian Kitchen
A sparkling clean kitchen with a cleared cooking table top and a really clean sink will make preparing your meal much more Italian and enjoyable.
Think billowing white curtains over the sea of Capri in the morning sun!
And in order to avoid any last-minute glitches, it's a good idea to have the following basic items on hand for cooking and serving:
Timing is of the essence here (so searching for the colander after the pasta is cooked is a massive "no no" for example).
1 4-liter stainless steel pan - for water for the pasta 3/4 filled
1 small saucepan - for your sauce
1 frying pan - for meat, eggs or fish
1 colander - to strain pasta and boiled/braised greens
1 or 2 serving bowls - to serve pasta, or rice salads, vegetables
1 serving plate - for slices of meat or fish
1 cheese grater - to grate Parmesan cheese
a chopping board - for chopping onions or garlic etc
1 vegetable knife - for paring and chopping
1 big serving fork- to mix and serve the pasta or greens
1 wooden spoon - to mix sauce and general mixing of meats or eggs etc.
An unbelievably good cooking for beginners sauce with garlic and peperoncino/ chili pepper. (Spaghetti aglio, olio e pepperoncino)
Chop a couple of cloves of garlic fine, and finely chop the chilli pepper.
Chop a handful of parsley.
Heat 3/4 tablespoons olive oil in a small pan and add the garlic and the chili pepper and heat till cooked but NOT brown. (Best not to cook it quickly so you can control it doesn't burn).
Drain the pasta (keeping it moist) and quickly put it in the pasta bowl and immediately pour the very hot garlicky oil over it and mix.
Serve and eat straight away!
It's all in your speed and the organization of your sink, your plates and having your guests ready at the table with their forks in hand.
When I was new to making Italian pasta dishes I had an Italian film director to dinner. I made this dish and it knocked him out. He loved it. There was no need to make another course. It worked just as it was. True story.
Basic Italian Cooking Ingredients
Historically, since peasant Italians were out in the fields from dawn to dusk, they didn't have much time to prepare their meals, so they had a few basic ingredients ready in store to pull out and literally throw a meal together with at the very last minute. Usually a plate of pasta.
With the following dozen staple grocery items you will have everything you need when you decide to 'cook Italian'. They are the intrinsic secret to Italian cooking. These items can be stored in your pantry, on your shelves and in your refrigerator and they will last a long time.
- Pasta. Buy a few different types of short or long dry pasta for your pantry, or you may buy the egg noodle fettuccine variety too. It is all good. You might like to try the alternative flour pasta's too, spelt, organic, rice. There are no rules here, just preferences. You might like to try them all.
- Flour. Making fettuccine, or a noodles? Well, you can't make them without this.
- Rice. It's easy to make as a risotto, or a cold rice salad to to add to hearty soups
- Extra virgin olive oil. Look for a good priced one. They are all delicious and although some people swear by the French or the Californian or the Greek olive, it doesn't really matter - and you can make a decent purchase if you simply look for the good price. Buy a liter since it will prove more economic in the long run since it is used for everything - instead of butter, or lard or cooking oils, or salad dressings. It's used for sauces, for salad dressings and for pouring over crudites or greens.
- Parmesan cheese. Buy it in chunks (even small ones at a time) and if you can chose your chunk, buy the one which has less rind (the rind is heavier, costing you more). Please, never, ever buy the already grated Parmesan cheese because it goes rancid very quickly and will ruin the taste you are after. And Parmigiano Reggiano is the best tasting Parmesan cheese to buy, though more expensive.
- Canned tomatoes - For most sauces, especially the simplest ones, and for pizza topping.
- Rock salt. This you use in the water for the pasta, about two tablespoons in 3 liters of water. Which rock salt you chose is a budgetary consideration. It is all good for salting the water.
- Garlic. Buy a head of it because it keeps a month well. Feel it to make sure that it is nice and hard (which means it is fresher). When you use garlic, first chop in vertically in the center and remove the little shoot in there, if there is one (which makes the garlic less digestible).
- Onion. A few of these will never go amiss, for sauces. Keep in a cool place.
- Lemons. Keep them in the refrigerator
- Peperoncino. It is chili pepper, good in seed or grated fine. Again it is taste and habit and what you end up preferring. How much to use is also up to you. Some like it hot!
- Dried beans, lentils, garbanzo beans (the pulses). You need to soak them eight hours before cooking and the cooking is usually about 45 minutes, but essential for health and because they are economic and make easy meals.
There's a 13th item that can have a place of its own for people who eat meat or pork.
- Pancetta. It is a type of bacon. Bacon will do if you can't find pancetta. It keeps very well in the refrigerator for months because it has been cured.
Below the photo of the ingredients is the best way to make a pasta dish if you want to try Italian cooking for beginners from the very beginning.
I've also included links to pasta recipes you might like to try after you get the hang of it, which use just these ingredients!
Spaghetti With Anchovies
An unbelievably good, cooking for beginners pasta sauce
1. With melted butter, grated cheese and fresh sage leaves. (Pasta al Burro e Parmigiano)
Put your serving bowl over the pan of heating pasta water, put 200 grams of butter in it,
finely chop the sage leaves, add to the butter and
let them melt and amalgamate.
Remove from the over-the-pan when the butter has melted. Keep warm
Grate a couple of handfuls of Parmesan and keep to one side.
Pour the drained pasta into the melted butter and sage mixture and mix, adding the Parmesan
The meal is perfectly balanced and healthy: carbohydrates in the pasta, protein in the butter and in the Parmesan (which contains more protein per ounce than red meat), vitamins and minerals in the salad and minerals.
What's the Best Way to Cooking Pasta?
The best way to make sense of the talk of 'how to' cook like an Italian is to make a dish yourselves. A pasta dish?
Making it taste really good involves more than just the quality of the twelve Italian ingredients that have been so haloed already.
It is also to do with the
- timing - of bringing it all together (quickly) so that the pasta is aldente (just 'so' between your teeth)*.
The sauce needs to be hot but not burned, certainly tasty to just the right degree.
- to strain the pasta at the exact moment it is cooked (not a moment before or after) whilst
- almost simultaneously mixing it with the sauce,
- in the pasta bowl (which is placed by the colander)
takes nerves of steel to pull off.
You might just make it work the first time, but certainly the second time. To co ordinate it successfully, so that when you eat it, the pasta is oozing with a tasty sauce which is just right, here are a few essential tips.
A deft hand is the great cook.
An organized kitchen is beautiful.
Keeping it simple is IT. Really.
Salt (rock salt) the water in your 4 liter pan (about two/three tablespoons) which you have filled 3/4 to the top.
When the water boils put in the pasta, in one go. A whole packet of dried pasta will serve 4 adults.
Mix the pasta in the water till it's mixed around and, from when it all comes back to the boil, let it boil for the time it says on the packet, exactly. So, if it says 8 minutes, boil it 8 FULL minutes from when the water returns to the boil and no longer. It has to be aldente to be good.
Immediately drain it into the colander which is sitting in your nice clean sink.
While the pasta is still a little bit sloppy (not completely dry):
pour it into your pasta bowl*
pour your sauce over the top and quickly quickly
mix very well and
*"The sauce needs to be hot but not burned, certainly tasty to just the right degree. To strain the pasta at the exact moment it is cooked (not a moment before or after) whilst almost simultaneously mixing it with the sauce, in the pasta bowl (which is placed by the colander) takes nerves of steel to pull off. You might just make it work the first time, but certainly the second time...."
Pasta With Garbanzo Beans
A Few Easy Healthy Italian Recipes
My family, three grown men, sit back after a bowl of pasta and are truly happy. They don't usually want anymore to eat, (except perhaps a nice green salad) though traditionally, the meal can go on with cuts of meat or fish, or eggs with assorted vegetables and delicious desserts. Life is worth living again and their world is once more a decent place to be. Years ago I learned there is no need killing myself in the kitchen to make them happy; they are happy after a meal of their absolutely favorite food - a simple plate of pasta. (un piatto di pasta).
A tossed green salad - to cleanse the palate.
A note about the Italian's way of thinking. They don't (and won't) eat their salad with their pasta. (Or any other vegetable or main course meat, fish or egg). Each food is served separately. In this 'at home on an ordinary day of the week' case, the green salad would be served like a second course and enjoyed in a lovely clean bowl, usually with a slice of bread - which they wipe the bowl with ('la scarpetta') when the salad is finished, relishing it, as they did when they were children. As they will do when they will no longer have teeth.
And, now that they have sorted out their digestive systems, they feel free to leave the table.
How to make a green salad: Just before eating the it, toss the fresh green leaves (washed and thoroughly dried a few hours previously, cold and crispy from the refrigerator) in your salad bowl with a few tablespoons of olive oil, a teaspoon of lemon and a sprinkling of salt.
© 2012 Penelope Hart