Authentic Italian cooking is a celebration of local, seasonal, high quality ingredients above all. Cooking Italian food means sourcing the best and never compromising on flavour. Stefan Masuhr loves to cook Italian food at home, working with great quality ingredients to produce genuine Italian dishes that are built from basic but flavoursome components.
Olive oil is one of the main staples of Italian cooking – you can learn which type of olive oil to use by taking a look at the attached infographic. Get the fundamentals right and you’re already halfway to cooking great, authentic Italian cuisine right in your own home.
One of the first things to learn when cooking Italian food is how to properly season dishes. Salt defines savoury cooking and should therefore be used in the correct proportions. Experimentation is key when learning how to season food, as is taking things in stages – you can always add more salt, but you can’t take it out once it’s in. However, many Western cooks have a tendency to under-season, leaving diners to salt at the table. This does not work, as salt added while cooking alters the chemistry of the food, while salt added after cooking does not. Salt extracts flavour and draws out moisture when used properly – a well-seasoned dish will bring out the incumbent flavours of the ingredients without making the dish taste salty. That said, there are certain dishes in Italian cooking where salt is used as a flavour in its own right, but generally speaking salt should be used to draw flavours out without becoming overpowering.
Starches are used in many Italian dishes as vehicles for the other flavours. Risotto rice absorbs the flavours of the stock it is cooked in, while pasta can easily be combined with just two or three other great ingredients to make simple yet wholesome Italian food. Watch the attached short video to discover how to choose the right pasta for your chosen meal. Simple dishes with pasta, sauce and vegetables form the basis of many Italian meals.
A soffritto forms the foundation of many Italian dishes, used to enhance the flavours of the main ingredients. A basic soffritto is made by gently sautéing crushed garlic cloves, onions, carrots and celery in olive oil until the oil is just starting to colour. The flavours of the vegetables are lent to the fat, which then brings to life the flavour of the meat, fish or other vegetables used in the dish. Other ingredients can be added to a soffritto to bring even more intense layers of flavour, such as pancetta or herbs.
Cooking with Wine
There are plenty of Italian dishes that call for a splash of wine. However, unlike French cooking – where wine is often one of the main ingredients – Italians generally use wine to balance the sweetness of the soffritto with a slight acidity. A small splash of white wine can be added to a dish at the same time as the main ingredient, then cooked so it evaporates completely and loses all alcohol content. White wine is used the most, but in most cases the dish should not end up tasting of wine. Exceptions to this rule include saltimbocca, where wine is used to deglaze the pan in a technique similar to French cooking.
Simplicity is often the key to getting Italian dishes just right, focusing on two or three flavours and working with only the best quality ingredients.