THE MOST COMMON INGREDIENTS IN ITALIA CUISINE
It has been a long time since, at the end of the nineteenth century, the great Pellegrino Artusi introduced the Italians to the different regional traditions, albeit with a Tuscan-Emilian emphasis. Or since Auguste Escoffier invented modern cuisine with his book "Guide to the great kitchen", through which he reinterpreted, inevitably betraying them, the dishes of the French tradition but also of other countries in the light of his needs as a cook and a great kitchen organizer . Today, fans from the North to the South of the Peninsula, if they want, have at their disposal all the ingredients, techniques and procedures of all the regional traditions and also of other countries: an immeasurable wealth. Our dishes, interacting, have inevitably changed more and more to adapt to new lifestyles and food consumption. And, more or less, they have lost their original regional connotation, becoming everyone's dishes, therefore national. Some, many, have now become shared heritage. Many others have been wiped out and are no longer offered, and even if we love the new, this is not good - because in any case the fewer dishes there are, the less rich we are - but they have disappeared because there was no one who changed them. and betrayed to adapt them to the new. But have you ever wondered which have always been the most common ingredients in Italian cuisine? Let's find out together.
1. Anchovies, garlic, basil, capers and onion
Our ancestors always had the great desire to give thickness to the dishes. To enrich them, they used anchovies a lot, certainly not the fresh ones, but those preserved in salt. And therefore it is right to continue to use them, even if in most preparations they are never essential. To desalt them, they must be deprived of the bone and the tail, the salt must be eliminated with a small knife and a cloth, working with patient attention: they must not be soaked in water, they become too wet. An operation that requires some time, but certainly not a particular expertise. Keep in mind that however the preparation in which they will be used will go up. In place of desalted anchovies, you can (almost) always use that great ingredient which is anchovy paste.
Garlic has always been a great sanitizer, omnipresent in Italian cuisine. Now that the problem of sanitizing food is no longer so urgent, it makes sense to add 1 clove of garlic, no more, just to perfume a fat that is heating up, except for the usual exceptions. Then remove the clove of garlic from the tunic (the peel) that covers it and lightly crush the clove (the real clove) with a meat mallet or a flat blade of a heavy knife to allow the garlic to flavor the fat in the best possible way. At the end of cooking it can be removed, being whole it is easy, or not, it depends on taste, in recipes we never remove it but everyone does as he wants. But it rarely makes sense to chop it and add it to a preparation.
Basil is one of the greatest Italian perfumes there is. It can be added at the end but sometimes also at the beginning of the preparation. The leaves fear water and the knife, which oxidizes them: they must then be cleaned by passing a damp cloth over the leaves, one by one, and then roughly broken with your hands. What about winter, when there is no fresh basil? Dried basil is either omitted or added, but only at the beginning of preparation. Capers
are one of the many emblems of Italian cuisine, omnipresent. In general, salted ones are used, after desalination, 25 g is enough for 4 people, with some exceptions. To desalt them, you have to rinse them well and then put them in a basin full of water. Leave them to soak for about twenty minutes, if you can change the water a couple of times, then drain, rinse them again and squeeze them. Pickled capers should only be quickly rinsed, but have a more limited use.
Cuisine is omnipresent in Italian cuisine, but not only. Because cooking, over the millennia, has always been about transforming ingredients by cooking to make them edible and good, but also, one could say, above all sanitizing the ingredients themselves, i.e. eliminating the most dangerous bacteria that have always infested our foods. And what were the ingredients that favored this sanitation? We all instinctively think of pepper and spices in general, because that has always been said. Instead, the main and most ruthless enemies of bacteria have always been ... onion and garlic, two to four times more effective than pepper. This is the historical reason, combined with the low price, which explains their extraordinary success. Today, the need to sanitize has vanished, but the flavor of the onion is in our DNA, we cannot do without it. The onion, but it is better to say the sautéed onions, is used to give flavor and above all to bind and give thickness to the dishes where it is used. There is only one problem: the onion, peeled and chopped (among other things, if you chop it with a steel knife it risks oxidizing, so it is better to chop it with a ceramic knife, which does not oxidize it), must be cooked at a very low temperature, below 100 °, the highest one burns it and makes it bitter. So it is better not to put it in a fat that inevitably cooks at a temperature above 100 ° but stew it without fat in a non-stick saucepan, adding a little water or vegetable broth at the beginning. So it is better to make, once a week, the onion sauté or another sauté, store it in the refrigerator (or freezer) and then add it in spoons, when the temperature of the saucepan or pan is below 100 °, that is when it is water, broth or a simmering liquid has been added - but precisely if there is a simmering liquid, the temperature of the saucepan is below 100 °. Finally, keep in mind that during cooking the water of the onions evaporates but you have to add it both to cook and to blend, so 200 g of peeled onions at the end become 200 g of onion cream or sauté if you prefer, which is equivalent to 6/7 tbsp.
2. Tomato paste, dried mushrooms, fats and olives
Tomato concentrate Tomato paste is a dehydrated tomato sauce. Although it can also be made at home, it is better to buy it already made, in a tube. It can be simple, double and triple, with increasing dehydration rates - of course, triple it is best. It is used after having diluted it in a liquid. It serves to give thickness to the preparations and to bind their flavors and it is truly versatile and of universal use: only mustard and grated chocolate are (almost) equally versatile binders, but they do not belong to the Italian tradition.
Dried mushrooms Dried
mushrooms are another ubiquitous ingredient in Italian cuisine, and that's good. They are mainly porcini mushrooms, sold whole (preferable) or chopped. To use them, you have to make them revive, that is, soak them in lukewarm water. 20 minutes is enough, 1 hour is better. At the end they are drained, squeezed and julienned or minced. Do not throw away the soaking water: just filter it in a fine mesh strainer and it can be used to partially replace the water or vegetable broth in the preparation where the soaked mushrooms are added. The indicative doses, with the usual exceptions, are 25 g of dried mushrooms for 4 people.
The ancestors used a lot, too much fat. Both to give thickness to the dishes and for a technical reason: to prevent the ingredients from sticking to the casseroles that were then used and, apart from the crockery, all the ingredients would stick together and only the abundance of fats reduced this risk. But today? Today there are Teflon-coated casseroles, which allow you to use very little fat. Today we are all struggling with weight, and if we reduce the fat it is good. Today we are paying attention to cholesterol, and if we cook with little or no fats (and some we eliminate them completely) it is good. The optimal solution is to cook completely without adding fat, which is easier than it seems, and then perfume the dish with 1 tablespoon of raw oil. Of course, it can't be done for all dishes, but for many, yes. And in doing so, if once we want to take away the whim of a mixed fried food, we can do it without fear. For the rest, if there is particular attention to extra virgin olive oil, an ingredient that is almost the symbol of Italian cuisine, butter is certainly not demonized. Just don't overdo it (almost) never.
They are another great cornerstone of our kitchen. They can be green, that is, immature crops, or black, that is, harvested when ripe. The green ones can be "sweet", stored in slightly salted water, in this case just rinse them, or in brine, and they must be rinsed very well. The black ones are almost always in brine and variously flavored. In any case, it is better to buy them with the stone and then pit them instead of buying the pitted ones. Olive paste can also be used for many cooking uses. It should be diluted in a liquid and then added at the last moment - and add salt to the preparation after adding it, as it is salty.
3. Oregano, bacon, breadcrumbs, cream and pepper
Another staple of our kitchen, among other things, is a great sanitizer. Better to use it fresh, of course, but dry it is also tasty. If fresh, add it at the last moment, if dry a few minutes earlier.
Always to give thickness to the dishes, the ancestors used a lot of bacon, but also ham, bacon, rind and other preserved products based on the ubiquitous pork. Now that the purpose of cooking is no longer to give strength to the dishes, but to respect the ingredients used and to mix them as best as possible, pancetta - with many exceptions - is no longer needed, or rather it is used less and not in all dishes where it was once used.
Cream was once ubiquitous, today it has almost disappeared, aside from sweets. All too far gone, and if adding a few spoonfuls of cream is considered unacceptable by most, there are many preparations, even many vegetables, where the cream is just fine. It is always preferable not to use fat but when the cream is needed, it should be added without hesitation. Obviously only the fresh whipping cream, and not the other cream.
Next to salt, the most omnipresent ingredient there is. Obviously, it must be bought in grains - and of good quality, which in any case is cheap - and then ground. The dried black pepper must be added at the last moment, even after the salt - with the usual exceptions. White pepper, which is pepper deprived of the external peel, is more delicate and suitable for adding to a broth in grains, without grinding.
4. Chilli, pine nuts, tomato and parsley
A gift from the Americas to the world that has become a cornerstone of our cuisine, especially in the South. Chilli pepper means a type of sweet pepper very rich in capsaicin, the active ingredient that gives it spiciness, which is dried. It should always be added at the last moment, as cooking degrades, after being crumbled between your fingers (but then wash your hands immediately) or pounded in a small mortar. The doses depend on your taste and how spicy it is. Generally, if you add the chili pepper, you omit the pepper. Cayenne pepper is not a pepper but a chilli powder.
Pine nuts are very popular in Italian cuisine, and that's okay. One caveat: to allow them to develop their scent it is good to lightly toast them. So it is good to equip yourself with a flat Teflon pan of about 12 cm in diameter and put it on the heat at minimum, if you have an electric plate, put it on 1. Then add the pine nuts and let them "toast" (the term is in quotation marks because it is not etymologically correct since the cooking temperature is so low ...) for about 6-10 minutes, mixing them with a small wooden spoon. They must turn brown but absolutely must not darken too much. Then they are added, at the last moment. The standard dose, with some exceptions, is 20 g of pine nuts for 4 people.
One wonders what Italian cuisine was like before the arrival of the tomato, which really became present in our dishes only in the second half of the nineteenth century. But since then, how far! Today it is omnipresent. And then endless recipes start like this: take 2 or more tomatoes, blanch them for 2 minutes, drain, peel them, remove the seeds, ribs and water, chop them and, sometimes, but not always, drain them in a colander. for 20 or 30 minutes, it is used to make them completely lose the vegetation water, which is acidic. This is the correct procedure. But at this point it is better to make the tomato sauce - and also the puree, of course - and add it when needed, in spoons. Remember that between a tomato sauce made at the height of the tomato season, therefore in principle between June and September, and stored in jars after sterilization, and a sauce made with greenhouse tomatoes that can be found in shops in the other months of year - not to mention the canned ones… - the sterilized one is much better.
Parsley is omnipresent… like parsley, a particularly apt saying. How to do it, given that we have to add it so often? The best solution is to soak a lot of parsley for about 5 minutes, drain it and then dry it very well first in the centrifuge and then dabbing it in a clean cloth. The leaves are then separated from the stems (which must be kept, they are used for the aromatic bunch even if unfortunately they do not last long in the refrigerator) and then chop the leaves, either with a heavy knife, with the crescent or with a small blender. And then store it in a container in the freezer, where it lasts a long time. When needed, take the container, scratch it with the tines of a fork to remove the necessary quantity, close the container and put it back in the freezer. The indicative dose, for 4 people, is 20 g.
5. Rosemary, salt, spices, raisins and wine Rosemary
is also ubiquitous, especially if you are roasting an ingredient. You can add a sprig of rosemary, which you will then remove at the end, or remove the needles from the sprig and add them, perhaps chopped, and in this case they remain in the preparation.
Consider the salt as a spice, since we always put too much of it making the dishes too "savory", which is not a positive judgment. So never put it while cooking, because by adding an additional salty ingredient of its own you risk making the dish too salty. Put it, as for spices, at the end of cooking, except for the usual exceptions that always exist.
Spices are not very present in Italian cuisine, apart from chilli. If they are used, only one warning: do not add them at the beginning of cooking, as too many recipes write, because in this way, due to overcooking, they lose strength and degrade. Instead, add them at the end of cooking so that they cook for a few seconds, keeping all their aroma. The most common are cinnamon and nutmeg. The cinnamon buy it not in powder but in sticks and then crush them in a small mortar when you need to use it. The same goes for nutmeg, which is grated with a small grater - but there is also a nutmeg grinder which is extremely useful.
Raisins, usually in the company of pine nuts, are very present in our kitchen, and this is good. To be used it must be rehydrated. Put it in a bowl of warm water, add the raisins and leave it to soak for about twenty minutes. Drain, squeeze and add it, perhaps chopping it if it is too large. The indicative dose, for 4 people, is 40 g. There is also other dried fruit, which must always be rehydrated.
Adding a little wine in cooking, perhaps making it evaporate, is typical of Italian cuisine. When using it, one thing must be taken into account: that the alcoholic part of the wine, in cooking, gives a completely unpleasant acid and bitter aftertaste. For this reason it is customary to add 1 tip of sugar in the preparations where the wine appears, it serves to dampen this acidity. But the problem remains and becomes even more significant for preparations where wine abounds, such as a fillet in red wine or a chicken in wine. The optimal solution is simple: separate the alcoholic part from the aqueous and aromatic part. Like? Bring the wine to the boil in a saucepan and simmer for 3 minutes. The alcohol, which is more volatile, evaporates immediately, you feel good putting your face on the saucepan where it boils. The wine deprived of the alcoholic part lasts a long time without problems, keeping it in a bottle in the refrigerator.