Take Away Ideas from Italy
Written By: Kathryn Sussman
This month we completed an Italian whirlwind eating vacation – visiting locations in Venice, Rome, Naples, Positano and the island of Capri. We discovered that while regional differences do exist, three crucial principles of cuisine and etiquette seem universal to the Italian dining experience:
#1 Keep it simple. Use only a few ingredients with the caveat that they are of the freshest quality
*Tip: Tomatoes: In the case of tomatoes for salads, make sure they are the perfect ripeness – not too hard, and definitely not too soft. In the case of tomato sauce, make sure to use San Marzano tomatoes which are much more flavourful and have fewer seeds. Brands available in supermarkets include Cento, Nina, La Bella, Solinia, Vantia, La Valle, Strianese or Monda and should have DOP written on the can.
*Tip: Pasta: If possible, buy pasta that comes from Gragnano and remember to serve al dente. There is nothing less authentic than overcooked pasta!
*Tip: Coffee: Avoid serving guests your everyday drip coffee and instead pick up a good old fashioned percolator and some Italian espresso beans. Grind your own beans just prior to percolating, and while you’re at it, why not invest in a twenty dollar milk frother for the most authentic lattes and cappuccinos.
If you are going to serve regular coffee, offer a separate pot of frothy steamed milk rather than cold milk.
#2 Add the olive oil after cooking. This detail, without a doubt the most surprising and unexpected tip we discovered throughout our travels, applies to most grilled, roasted, and baked foods as well as salads. Cooking foods plainly and later drizzling with good quality olive oil insures that you preserve the taste as well as health benefits of the oil.
*Tip: Greens: Next time you serve greens, skip the elaborate dressings and serve salads undressed with high quality balsamic vinegar and olive oil on the side, allowing guests to self-drizzle. Great salad ideas served this way include insalata di tonno: tuna on romaine lettuce with paper thin red onion, or the classic insalata caprese: thinly sliced perfectly ripe tomatoes and top quality buffalo mozzarella with a single sprig of basil. For a delicious antipasto, try grilling mixed bell peppers and fennel, then adding a handful of capers and a drizzle of olive oil.
#3 Go all out. Surprise your guests with an unexpected delight pre-dinner aperitif. Try a shot of Prosecco with sparkling water and a splash of mango juice or a simple yet elegant starter course to nibble on such as shavings of top quality smoked salmon. Then, go elaborate with your presentation: Serve single portions of fish alone, or with one accompaniment, on oversized, colourful, decorative platters. Provide new cutlery for each course and always use fresh table linen and fabric serviettes.
Tip: Bread: Why not bring back the bread stick? Breadsticks are a fun and surprising addition to the traditional bread basket and can now be found in many delicious gourmet flavours. Try sea salt and olive oil or rosemary for a new variety.
San Marzano Tomatoes: A famous plum tomato originating from the Campania region (Salerno, Naples and a part of Avellino) of Italy. San Marzano tomatoes are sought after for their firm pulp, low seed count and easily removable skin. They are regarded as the best tomatoes for cooking from those in the culinary world. San Marzano tomatoes received a DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) certification in the late 90s and are exported, in canned form, all over the world.
Recipes with San Marzano Tomatoes:
- Cafe Lynnylu: Easy but delicious pizza sauce
- Lemon Fire Brigade: Vine Ripe San Marzano Tomato, Basil and Valencia Orange Gazpacho
- Andreas Recipes: Slow Roasted Tomatoes
Gragnano Pasta: Gragnano is a small town located south of Naples (also in the Campania region) which is known as the birthplace of dried (artisanal) pasta. Gragnano pasta is made from mixing Italian durum wheat flour with pure local groundwater. It has a coarse appearance due to the use of a bronze die (part of the machine that creates the pasta shape) and has a porous surface good for soaking up sauce. As of 2010, Gragnano pasta received an IGP (Protected Geographic Indication) designation and is the only designated artisanal pasta in the world.