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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Cooking hints from Italy

I love to cook, although not in a particular fancy way. I like flavorful, complex foods, but find no need to go far afield into organ meats and other exotic foods (at least for Americans). Getting to know my wife's (and now, my) Sicilian relatives has turned a desire for Italian food into a true love. I now know what a true Ragu Bolognese is supposed to look and taste like, as well as how much better fresh foods can taste. Just as I am at our friends vegetarian restaurant, I eat much more adventurously in Sicily than I ever eat at home. Perhaps it is the concept of traveling that opens up your mind and your palate.

Of course, you learn something new every day. This morning, as I was working my way through a stack of Bon Appetit and Gourmet magazines given to me by a friend, I came across this shocking (at least to me) information from a story on cooking classes held in a Tuscan villa.

"Pasta", Giuliano told us, "doesn't like cold. So never make it on a marble or stainless-steel surface."

-- Gourmet, August 2005, Page 33

Ooops! This is exactly what I do. Hmmm....I don't seem to have trouble making pasta this way, but maybe I will bring out the wooden cutting board and use it next time.

It is in the small hints like this that I find the most joy. Once learned, I incorporate them into other recipes that don't call for them specifically, but where it seems they will fit. Several years ago, I learned that whenever you use tomato paste (conserva, in Italian) in a recipe, try lightly browning it in the pan before you add the other ingredients. This subtle caramelization adds another layer of depth to any dish. Try a recipe once without it and then again with. I guarantee you will notice a difference. It isn't and "in your face" difference, but something much more subtle. You will notice it in the fore-taste, in the aroma and in the aftertaste, but most of your guests will only notice that the dish seems more flavorful, deeper, more intense. Even something as simple as chili con carne benefits, becoming something more than chili powder, cumin and meat.

So, take what you learn from magazines, television and books and put them to the test. Try it and see. You may find that one simple step or technique can open up an entirely new world of flavor to your cooking. I know it has for mine.

Related: Previous mentions of cooking on welchwrite.com
Related: Previously mentioned cookbooks
Books: Top cookbooks from Amazon.com

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