I think we can all agree – no established chef can beat our grandma’s cooking. Whether it’s her baked goods or her very own spaghetti recipe, grandma’s cooking is just rich, hearty, and full of love. And if you’re a fan of Italian food and you’re looking for the most authentic recipes and pieces of cooking advice, there’s one resource you should trust: an Italian grandma.
Want to cook like a true Italian nonna? Here are 9 secrets to cooking delicious Italian food at home.
1. Start with quality produce
Let the ingredients speak for themselves. The techniques used in Italian cooking tend to be simple and straightforward– which means, if your ingredients are less than stellar, your dish won’t be as good.
Nonnas know how to source well. If not from their gardens, they typically gather ingredients for their meals from the local farmers’ market.
Support local and sustainable produce. Establish a good relationship with vendors who put real effort into its produce selection. Take the time to separate the good stuff from the bad. Be wary of the season as well to guarantee the freshness of your produce. These small steps will make a huge difference in the quality of taste and density of nutrients available from each produce.
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2. Waste not
Several Italian dishes rely on making the most out of very little – from leftover pastries to whatever you have in your fridge and pantry. Cucina Povera, translated as “peasant cooking”, is the specific term for it.
If you roast a chicken, you can use the discards to make a stock for risotto and use the leftover chicken pieces for the dish itself. If you have stale bread from yesterday, you can use it to thicken your soup.
3. Learn how to make soup from whatever you have
The quickest and simplest route to Italian-style peasant cooking is by making a warm and hearty bowl of soup. Minestrone and Ribollita are two dishes you may try.
A basic minestrone can be cooked using whatever seasonal produce you can find. It’s more about the practice, not about the recipe. Simply saute some vegetables in olive oil, add water, and add other veggies to simmer. You may add herbs, beans, pasta, cheese, and whatever you want to make it more filling.
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When you have a leftover Minestrone from yesterday, toss in some stale bread to make it thicker and richer – and there, you have a Ribollita, a Tuscan bread soup.
4. Explore tomato sauce
Tomato sauce is a key ingredient in Italian cooking, and there are infinite ways to make it. You can use fresh or canned tomatoes, toss some vegetables or none at all, and experiment with various herbs and spices. Some tomato sauces are spicy, others are sweet; Some are quick-cooked tomato sauces, others are long-simmered ones with robust flavors.
Explore the different methods and settle on one or two approaches which will define your cooking – whether it’s for your pasta sauce or a tomato-based stew.
5. Master Ragù
Ragù is an Italian kitchen staple. It’s made from minced or ground meat and it’s often reddened with tomato sauce.
According to Daniel Gritzer, Serious Eats’ Culinary Director,
“Learning to make a good one involves balancing two factors: the deep and intense browning of both the meat and the vegetables, which leads to richer, more profound flavor, and leaving some portion of the meat un-browned to maintain tenderness and a sweetness of flavor.”
6. Nail your pasta
Whether you’re an amateur home cook or a chef at a fine Dublin restaurant serving authentic Italian dishes, you should know by now what good pasta tastes like. No matter how delicious your sauce is, your efforts will be wasted if your pasta cooking skills suck.
The pasta needs to be cooked just right – neither too soft nor too firm. Its water should be seasoned perfectly. When draining your pasta, never rinse it off. All that good starchy pasta water, which is crucial to the union of pasta and sauce, will go down the drain.
7. Get the hang of oil-based pasta dishes
Want to nail your pasta? Start mastering Aglio e Olio (garlic and oil). This beloved classic teaches several critical pasta-saucing skills – since it’s very basic, you can’t hide a bad technique.
The starchy pasta water should be used to help emulsify the olive oil coating into a creamy sauce that’s not greasy but rich. This classic dish is a great jumping-off point for other pasta dishes.
8. Cook it your way
Now that you know the basic techniques and the Italian staples, it’s time to make dishes your own. Forget the recipes – if you’d ask 10 grandmas in Italy to cook one dish, they would all have an opinion about how it should taste. Cook by feel and season it based on your liking.
9. Cook with love
This may sound cheesy but cooking with love is one of the most impactful techniques you can bring into your cooking.
Think of something dear to you while you cook. If you have a family or a pet, think about them. Think about how passionate you are when painting or making music. As you cook, bring that care and respect into your cooking. Have fun while you’re making them.
The joy of making a meal special will make a huge impact on your finished output.
Author Bio: Carmina Natividad is a lifestyle writer for L’Enoteca Di Napoli, an Italian restaurant, showcasing the best of Italian food and wines in the heart of Dublin city centre. Next to eating pizza and sipping wine, this self-proclaimed foodie enjoys discovering hidden gems and writing engaging articles about food, travel, and lifestyle.