Methods

Cooking Pasta  The goal is to cook your pasta al dente which means that it should be slightly firm when you bite into it.  Buy Italian pasta, as most other brands don’t cook al dente very well.  Garofalo, Barilla and De Cecco are good options.

Bring a pot of water to boil.  Once the water is boiling, salt the water.  Under-salting the water is the most common error non-Italians make when cooking pasta.  Use a coarse salt, preferably sea salt, and add one heaping handful for a large pot of water and 500 gr. (just over 1 lb) of pasta.

After you’ve salted the water, add the pasta and cover until the water boils again. Follow the cooking time noted on the box, tasting it periodically to see it is al dente.  Drain immediately, return pasta to the pot, and immediately stir in your sauce.   Serve immediately.  You don’t want to let pasta sit too long, because it will continue to absorb the liquids of its sauce, becoming mushy after time.

Making Sauce  Contrary to what Hunts or Del Monte might lead you to believe, Italians dislike a chunky tomato sauce, preferring instead a smooth sauce free from pulp and seeds.  To accomplish this, you need a passa pomodoro, or food mill.  We use a food mill made by Oxo, which you can find on Amazon.com, at Williams-Sonoma and at Bed, Bath and Beyond.  http://www.oxo.com/p-476-food-mill.aspx

After sauteing your odori, or seasonings, in olive oil, place your food mill on top of your pot and spoon your tomatoes into it, rotating the handle in order to press the tomatoes through the food mill.  The seeds, skin and sinewy parts remain in the top of the food mill, leaving a smooth sauce to simmer in your pot.

Marinade for Meats  At our house, when one of us asks the other to preparare il condimento per la carne, there is no need to ask, “Which meat marinade should I prepare?” The one we fall back on time and time again is aglio, olio, vino, rosmarino, sale and sometimes peperoncino – garlic, olive oil, wine, rosemary, salt and sometimes crushed red pepper.  Italian cooking is all about using a few fresh, complementary ingredients, and whether it is chicken in the oven or steaks on the grill, you can’t go wrong with this perfect combination.

Measuring Ingredients  Italian measure liquids by volume with liter as the basic unit, and dry ingredients by weight, with gram as the basic unit.  Equip your kitchen with measuring cups that show volume in liters, and invest in an electronic scale that reports weight in ounces and grams.  Or, use a conversion table like the ones found here: http://www.dianasdesserts.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/tools.measures/Measures.cfm

The Italian Meal  A true Italian meal is made up of multiple courses.  Antipasto is your appetizer course, although like in the States it is reserved for special occasions.   The primo piatto is a carbohydrate-based course, usually either pasta or rice.  This is followed by the secondo piatto, which is typically a protein-based meat or fish dish.  Vegetables and salad accompany the secondo piatto.  Never give an Italian salad as an appetizer!  Finally the meal ends with a dolce (dessert) or often just frutta (fruit), and cafè.

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