Helpful, Easy Tips for
the Home Italian Cook
Experience the joy of authentic Italian cooking… faster and easier.
- Don't chop basil with a knife. Use your fingers to tear the basil and you will avoid turning the leaves to mush.
- Fresh basil can be stored by layering in a jar with olive oil.
- To remove the odor of garlic (or onion) from a wooden cutting board or spoon, rub the surface with lemon juice.
- A jar of salted anchovies will keep almost indefinitely as long as they are covered by liquid and are always taken out with a clean spoon or fork. Canned anchovies last a long time if covered in oil.
- Nutmeg is a pungent spice that should be used with discretion, grated straight onto the dish in which it is required. It can be used in both sweet and savory dishes, especially in ravioli and tortellini fillings and often flavors hot punches and other warming drinks.
- When storing Parmesan cheese, wrap it in cheesecloth that has been moistened with water. Wrap foil around the cloth and refrigerate the cheese overnight. The next day, remove the foil, discard the cheesecloth, pat the moist surface of the cheese dry with a clean towel, rewrap it in foil and return the cheese to the refrigerator.
- If you own a hand-operated pasta machine, you can buy a little motor that replaces the crank, converting your machine into an electrically driven one.
- When purchasing a food mill, consider buying the medium or large size, and, although stainless steel is more expensive, it is worth having, as it will never warp.
- To achieve the best results, wash a new rolling pin with soap and water, dry it well, give it a light coat of olive oil, wipe it down with a kitchen towel to absorb excess oil, and rub a little all-purpose flour over the pin. Do this several times before using.
- When cooking pasta, add salt to the water instead of oil. Adding oil to the water will make the pasta slippery, which means sauce will not cling to it as it is intended to. Adding a generous amount of salt to the water will season the pasta properly while cooking it.
- Buy pre-washed salads in a bag to save time while cooking.
- Pre-chop vegetables for the week and keep prepared salad in a vacuum-sealed plastic container for storage.
- Use a food processor to chop vegetables.
- Keep frozen vegetables in your freezer – they are already prepared and easy to cook with.
- Purchase boneless cuts of meat and thinly sliced meats – they cook much quicker.
- Buy cooked rotisserie chicken, and use it to make soups and stocks.
Soups and Sauces
- Cook and freeze sauces and stocks for quick use later. Most soups freeze very well. To save yourself time later, make several different types of soups and freeze them in small containers for quick lunches or dinners.
- Marinara, bolognaise and puttanesca sauces also freeze very well. Make ahead of time and keep them in the freezer for quick weeknight pasta dinners.
- Make your own stocks for soups and sauces and store in the freezer. Pour your homemade stock into ice cube trays and freeze. Use the stock cubes to make quick pan sauces when sautéing meat.
- Keep your pantry stocked with essentials for tossing together a quick pasta dinner (see La Cucina section).
- Make enough pasta dishes or casseroles for two dishes and freeze one for a quick dinner later in the week.
Authentic Italian Meal Structure
Here is a handy guide to help you serve an authentic Italian meal to your guests. Meals in Italy usually contain more than three courses. One notable aspect of an Italian meal is that the primo, or first course, is usually the more filling dish and will consist of either risotto or pasta. Modern Italian cuisine also includes single courses (all-in-one courses).
- Aperitivo - Apéritif usually enjoyed as an appetizer before a large meal (Campari, Cinzano, Prosecco, Aperol, Spritz and Vermouth)
- Antipasto - Literally "before meal”; hot or cold appetizers
- Primo - "First course"; usually consists of a hot dish like pasta, risotto, gnocchi, polenta or soup
- Secondo - "Second course"; the main dish, usually fish or meat
- Contorno - "Side dish"; may consist of a salad or cooked vegetables. A traditional menu features salad along with the main course.
- Formaggio e frutta - "Cheese and fruits"; the first dessert. Local cheeses may also be part of the Antipasto or Contorno as well.
- Dolce - "Dessert"; traditionally cakes and cookies.
- Caffè - “Coffee”
- Digestivo - "Digestives"; liquors/liqueurs (grappa, amaro, limoncello, sambuca, nocino)
- Use a small dish for the Antipasto, a pasta bowl for the Primo Piatto, and a dinner plate for the Secondo Piatto, and you may serve the side vegetables or the salad in the same plate, next to the meat or fish.
- Make your table and food look Italian using color: use a white tablecloth, add red or green china, alternate the colors for napkins, etc. Play some Italian music during the dinner.
- Don’t bring all of the food to the table at once. Tell your guests they will be served several courses and dishes, so they can appreciate the small portions and enjoy each part of the meal. Change type of wine as needed with each course, according to the main ingredient used.