I loved coming out of my comfort zone and taking a cooking class in Italy. I was so worried about messing up all my meals – or being the (former) picky eater I am, that I wouldn’t eat them. I was so surprised that all of them turned out fine AND I loved every. single. one. Going from having the shortest list of foods probably anyone has ever liked to expanding my palette to a normal person’s was such a relief. Now every time I go out to eat I always try to eat different things besides the same meal every time I stop by.
Here are a few tips I picked up in the class along the way:
1) Cook pasta with salted water & cook “al dente” or partially cooked – salt adds flavor and al dente doesn’t let the bad starches get released from the pasta (therefore healthier). Also, do not put a lid on it – just put it on high and it’ll cook faster (plus the lid makes them soggy). Side note: do not EVER crack spaghetti in half before putting it in! It will release those starches if you do and its best for the flavor to just put it in as is and then stir it in to fit it once it’s cooked a little bit.
2) When making spreads for things like pesto and cannoli filling, use a sifter to make it smooth instead of clumpy and scrape the bottom to get it all out (also used for sauces so things used for flavor like Rosemary are not in the sauce while cooking but still have the flavor and can cook evenly.
3) Adding salt to veggies stops the chlorophyll from producing, which is why it’s important to do so.
4) Always taste your dish as you make it to make sure it cooks correctly & add more salt/pepper accordingly. You can’t tell what your food will taste like unless you taste it.
5) Put a wet paper towel under your cutting board so it doesn’t slip when you use it – could risk an injury otherwise.
6) Olive oil was mainly used to preserve things like basil in pesto and veggies in ribollita and bread in papà alla pomodoro. Olive oil doesn’t just need to be used for cooking purposes.
7) Besides adding more oil to something that is cooking quickly and needs to be slowed so it doesn’t burn (like sauce or garlic) – use salted pasta water/stock instead & then just add salt if the flavor is watered down. This is healthier and adds to the flavor of the dish too.
8) If a meal is served hot/cold – make sure the dish that it’s served in is of the same temperature too so the meal doesn’t get cold/melt faster. Example: when serving pasta, take a ladle full of the hot pasta water and put it in the bowl to heat it up, then get rid of it once the pasta is ready and serve. If serving Tiramisù, put the serving bowls into the fridge along with the mixture so they keep it cold longer when served
9) If using an ingredient that oxidizes (turns black or other colors when cut & exposed to air) quickly, like artichokes, rub it with a slice of lemon or have it soak in water with lemons inside if you want more lemon flavor to keep it from oxidizing.
10) New tools I learned about: slotted spoon – a big metal spoon with holes in it to serve pasta without using a drainer – I did not drain my pasta once and only used this in class. Another is an immersion blender – a hand held blender used to make sauces and is so light in weight yet so powerful. A pasta machine can prep pasta/cannoli shell dough with flour first and flatten, then can send it into the machine to roll out flat so you can cut and make the correct shapes.
11) To cook meats evenly (or anything really), cut them so they all resemble the same shape before cooking.
12) How to “clean” meat – cut off the fat (on red meat it’s the little white parts) of the meat to remove the chewy/bad tasting parts before cooking so that it tastes better.
I learned a lot over the course of four months so I thought I’d share the wealth.
Let me know of any other cooking tips you have found below!