The Basics Of Italian Cooking
I received a comment on one of my many Italian Culinary Hubs asking me to write a series of Hubs that were more keyed to allowing beginners to appreciate Italian cuisine. I do have to admit that many of my Hubs on the subject have been targeted to connoisseurs of Italian cuisine and it certainly could help the vast number of individuals in North America and Europe, to whom Italian cuisine only means macaroni and pizza, to get a decent grasp on the very basics of this great world cookery.
Warning, if you are an Italian food aficionado, you won't find too much here that will serve as a revelation, but it certainly couldn't hurt any of us to revisit the foundations of our knowledge of Italian cuisine!
So... here we go!
Italians love to eat and it shows in the meals that they whip up. However, they also want to come up with food that is easy to prepare and won't ruin their budget. The rational thing to do, and has always been, is to use ingredients that are easily found in their area. There is less hassle in getting them and it is often very cheap, sometimes free. In addition, getting ingredients readily available in their particular part of the country would mean that it is fully local and is, therefore, as fresh as it can be.
Freshness is one of the requirements in Italian cooking. Fresh ingredients easily translate to a delicious, healthy meal. Italians want nothing less than the crispest vegetables, the freshest eggs, and the juiciest tomatoes. Italian cooking is dependent on the interaction of the flavors of ingredients. One wrong taste and the whole dish could end up unsatisfactory.
Italian cooking is much like a well-orchestrated symphony. Every little detail is tended to. Let's examine the oil, for example. Italian food is mostly cooked in olive oil. Sometimes though, Italians use butter or pork fat. Butter is primarily used in the far north and pork fat in the far south. Each region has its own particular flavor profiles; however, there is also a great deal of variance between the olive oil of one region, or even just one area and the next. The oil in which sauces and other dishes are cooked would greatly affect the overall taste, thus the knowledgeable Italian chef is very careful to select the proper oil to match the dish.
Pasta is, of course, a staple in Italian cooking. Most Italians make their own pasta from a combination of flour, water and very often eggs. They decide how tasty they will make their noodles; or how long, or how thick. They are very strict in making their pasta "al dente", which means that the noodles are cooked with the right firmness. Flour is also a science in Italy and in most regions they will severely frown upon anyone using anything but the hardest durum semolina flour to make pasta.
In Italian cooking meat is considered a luxury. Italians don't rely on meat to infuse their dishes with flavor. They are usually prepared in thin slices, not in thick steaks. Seafood, on the other hand, is more common. Perhaps it is their proximity to the sea or the mild yet flavorful addition it brings to dishes.
Cheese is what sets Italian cooking apart from the others. The various types of cheeses, from parmesan to mozzarella to ricotta, add that special tang to Italian cooking without overpowering the taste of the other ingredients.
Although not part of the dishes, Italian bread and wine are also very important in Italian cooking. These two either accentuate or neutralize the flavors of the dishes.
These ingredients and complementary elements form to create a harmonious blend of rich flavors, vibrant colors, and mouth-watering aromas. They complete the symphony we know as Italian cooking.