I am not Italian, none of my family are Italian and as far as I know nor where any of my immediate ancestors, but many people who see my food and read my recipes think I am, which I consider one of the finest compliments anyone could ever pay me. Capturing the essence of Italian cooking, can seem rather daunting if you didn't grow up in Italy or have your very own mamma to teach you, but I think its not hard to think like an Italian if you follow a few simple cooking rules.
- Start with fresh, high-quality ingredients. Everything is so much easier when the ingredients taste good. This can be as simple as using a fresh tomato sauce, rather than a shop bought tinned one to making your own pasta, stocks, bread etc.
- Less is more. Many Italian dishes only contain a maybe four or five ingredients. Italians believe you should be able to taste all the ingredients you put in a dish, if you can't there is too many.
- Cook with the calendar. Locally, or better still home-grown, in-season produce usually tastes best. Shop at good stores or farmers markets that support local farmers.
- Get to know your vegetables. You can't cook real Italian food without spending some time selecting your ingredients. With a few exceptions, Italians rely on fresh, not frozen, vegetables.
- Learn how not to follow a recipe. Most Italian cooks prepare dishes from memory or by instinct, changing quantities and procedures ever so slightly each time depending on there mood. But don't substitute ingredient quality, if Italians are missing one ingredient for a dish they just don't make it, they never compromise on flavour.
- Taste as you cook. No one but you knows how salty or spicy you like your food. If cooking for others by all means tone down spicing a little, but if your guests don't like spicy food make them a bolognese not an arrabiata. Season throughout your cooking and make any final adjustments in the seasoning right before serving.
- Work at building flavor. Many Italian recipes begin by sautéing onions and other vegetables in olive oil. Don't rush this step. It builds flavor.
- Be frugal. Remember most classic Italian dishes where born from the countries history of poverty and making the best of what you have hand. You don' always need expensive ingredients to make a fantastic dish.
- Enjoy yourself. If the meal allows you to enjoy the company and conversation of others, consider your cooking very Italian.