Three culinary experts dish out their secrets to fine Italian cuisine – quality ingredients, essential kitchen tools and traditional recipes, including classic tomato sauce and authentic pasta dishes.
The beauty of Italian food is in its simplicity. But a dish with a few simple ingredients isn't always easy to make. These three culinary instructors who specialize in Italian cuisine explain the secrets to making a great Italian dish every time, the ingredients to stock in your pantry (hint: authentic Italian products of designated origin are key) and the kitchen tools needed to ensure your pasta comes out perfect.
SECRETS OF DELICIOUS ITALIAN HOME COOKING
"Hands down the true secret – and I share this with my students all the time – is good, quality ingredients," says Natalina Bombino Campagnolo, founder of La Cucina di Natalina, an Italian cooking school based in Guelph, Ont. In her classes, Bombino Campagnolo specializes in classic and Southern Italian dishes. "Authentic Italian food is simple and the simpler a dish is, the better-quality the ingredients must be because there is nothing to hide them in." A classic Margherita pizza, for example, has a simple thin crust, Pomodoro S. Marzano dell'Agro Sarnese-Nocerino PDO, fresh Mozzarella di Bufala Campana PDO, fresh, tender basil leaves and a drizzle of the finest Italian extra-virgin olive oil. "Simple but delicious!" says Bombino Campagnolo.
"The home cook should try to make the real, time-honoured traditional recipe. You have to understand and memorize the taste and feelings of the original dish before you can decide whether you want to add something of your own," says chef Paola Martinenghi, who has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants in Modena and Como and from home base in Milan. She leads on-line Italian cooking courses at thechefandthedish.com. versions of our recipes – the ones that our grandmothers taught us. Remember, if a recipe has been passed down, it means that a good number of people, not just a top chef, decided that the recipe was so good it should be mastered at home."
"When cooking any great cuisine, you want to cook with what's fresh and the most full of flavour. Some of the amazing Italian ingredients that help to accentuate and take our cuisine to the next level are Parmigiano Reggiano PDO and Grana Padano PDO," says Vancouver-based 'PastaBoy' Peter Ciuffa who teaches hands-on private Italian cooking classes through Pasta Famiglia. "They have long traditions and can be eaten on their own, used to dress pasta or add depth of flavour to salads, soups and braises. Try cooking down the cheese rinds into soup or sauces for extra flavour. Don't forget to fish them out!"
Pomodoro S. Marzano dell'Agro Sarnese-Nocerino PDO is "definitely the best," says Martinenghi. "The tomatoes come from a very special region of Italy and are highly protected. The soil is special and just can't be replicated anywhere other than in Italy."
MUST-HAVE KITCHEN TOOLS
"Simple – a pasta strainer, rolling pin, cheese grater, pizza baking sheet, pestle and mortar, a pasta machine, Italian coffee machine and wineglasses," says Martinenghi. "With these tools, you can do anything!"
Says Ciuffa: "A wooden spoon for smacking away snack-stealing hands and stirring sauces, a deep large-mouthed stockpot for boiling pasta, and a sharp chef's knife."
Adds Bombino Campagnolo: "A large, heavy-bottomed pot for even heat distribution when making sauces, a manual pasta machine made in Italy, and a ricer to make light gnocchi."
THE ITALIAN DISH TO MASTER
"A simple, classic Italian tomato sauce is the foundation for so many Italian dishes that it is important to know how to make a good one and which ingredients will give you the best results," says Bombino Campagnolo.
"I go by PastaBoy, so this one is a no-brainer," says Ciuffa. "Take the time to learn to make excellent pasta. It is the quintessential dish that every person, Italian or not, should learn how to make. Plus, when you ask guests over they will always be blown away."
This content was produced by The Globe and Mail's Globe Edge Content Studio, in consultation with an advertiser. The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation.