Traditional Italian Cooking Methods

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Spaghetti Bolognese
Spaghetti Bolognese

Traditional Italian cooking methods largely remain constant throughout Italy, but ingredients vary greatly by region and locality. For example, tomato-based dishes and pizzas of southern Italy are difficult to find in Tuscany, where beef and white truffles are common. With a stocked pantry and a few pieces of equipment, you can make wholesome homemade Italian food in no time.

Staples

Before getting started with Italian cuisine, it is important to have the right equipment and a few necessary ingredients. If you plan to make pasta, a pasta machine will help expedite the process. Be sure to get a machine that has rollers and does not extrude shapes (ingredients go in one end, shapes come out the other); extruders are particularly unsuitable for delicate egg pastas. A pastry wheel will help cut shapes for pastas such as ravioli and pappardelle. Sharp knives, heavy pots and wooden utensils are also highly recommended.

Keeping stock of a few key ingredients will facilitate your Italian cooking experience. Olive oils, vinegars (such as balsamic or red wine), dried pastas, rice (such as Arborio or Carnaroli), canned beans (such as cannelloni, chickpea, and cranberry), oil-packed canned tuna, canned tomatoes and dried porcini mushrooms make up a short list of recommended pantry items. Those provide a base for many traditional Italian dishes, and when paired with common fresh items, can make an entire meal. Some fresh ingredients you should keep on hand include garlic, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, butter, eggs, capers, anchovies, olives and chicken broth.

Common Techniques

Sautéing a combination of carrots, celery and onions is the ideal start for many popular Italian dishes, because this flavor base enhances a marinara sauce. When sautéing, it is best not to wait until the fat, oil or butter gets hot, because the goal with this method is to intensify each ingredient's flavor by caramelization and cooking out of liquids.

Pot roasting and braising make up the primary way that Italian meats are prepared. This is achieved by slowly cooking a cut of meat in a mostly-closed pot in the presence of a liquid---typically wine, vinegar or tomatoes. By cooking the meat slowly, it tenderizes itself as it cooks and the liquids' flavors intensify as they reduce. If you notice that the liquid appears to be evaporating too quickly, add water to prevent the meat from burning.

Risotto, a pasta-like rice dish, is a rich, creamy Italian meal that is quickly gaining popularity. If you have patience for the stirring, sometimes 30 minutes or more, the silky result is clearly worth the effort. Arborio and Carnaroli are the most frequently recommended rice varieties because of their starchiness, which helps produce a creamy result. When preparing a risotto, be sure to heat the broth or water before stirring it into the rice.

Recommended Dishes

Regional differences and an abundance of styles is one of the greatest benefits of Italian cuisine. Start a meal or party with a few simple antipasti such as frittatas, bruschetta and pizzas. Consider forgoing bottled sauces and make some classics on your own---Genoese basil pesto, Bolognese meat sauce and marinara are a good place to start. Remember to retain up to one cup of pasta cooking water for most sauces. Leftover starch in the water helps thicken the sauce.

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