Great Italian Food Cooked In Different Italian Regions
By: Fisiwe Owen

The Tuscan Italian food is great. But one appeal of Tuscan Italian food is that it is generally healthy. This is due in large part to its use of olive oil. There are many different varieties of olives that are grown in the area and used extensively in the cooking. Beans are also widely used as are vegetables, seasonal fruits, and mushrooms. Of course the area also has the cheeses that are a signature of Italian food. In October and November the people are up for a real treat because this is when the famous white truffles of the area appear. Contrasting this lighter side of the Italian food is the extensive use of meat in Tuscany. High quality beef can be found in the region.

Tuscany has perhaps more unique Italian food dishes than any other region. Some popular dishes include fresh vegetables either raw or slightly cooked and served with olive oil that is seasoned for dipping. Tuscany is also known for a reheated vegetable soup dish. The meat dishes that are most unique to the area include Tuscan-style veal shank and T-bone steak. The Italian food that features pork in the area includes creamed bacon and a complicated dish of pig’s liver stuffed into a pig’s stomach and then slowly baked with stock and red wine.

The great food in Trentino-Alto Adige region
The cuisine here was influenced by the Republic of Venice and the Habsburg Empire. Other influences include that of the Slav, Austrian, and Hungarian cuisines. It’s hard to imagine now that Italian food was shaped by these cuisines that many people think of as distinctly different than Italian food. This region is known for its use of fresh water fish in contrast to much of the rest of the country that uses salt water fish in much of their cuisine. It’s also interesting to note that despite the foreign influences, it is this area that most popularizes the dishes that are traditionally thought of as Italian food such as pasta, tomatoes, and olive oil. However, in addition to these commonly thought of Italian food dishes is a host of other foods such as potatoes, dumplings, and sauerkraut made from scratch. Goulash is the most commonly served Sunday meal.

There are some specific dishes that are unique to this region. One is potato dumplings with ricotta. You might not think of dumplings when thinking of Italian food, but they are quite common to the area. They even have canederli, a specific dumpling unique to the area that is made with leftover bread. This region also boasts its own regional sauerkraut as well as a stuffed chicken dish.

The Friuli-Venezia Giulia Italian food
The most often used meat in this area is pork. In fact, if visiting this area it is essential to try one of their world famous San Daniele del Friuli hams. These hams are a staple of the local Italian food. The whole region is known for their bacon and sausages. In fact there is a local dish called jota that is unique to the region and is a stew dish made with beans and bacon. The pork in this area is spicy and this may come as a bit of a shock to foreigners not familiar with this brand of Italian food. The pork is often cooked over an open hearth and is seen in many dishes even if it is not the main entre.
Anytime is a good time for Italian food, but the holidays really make authentic Italian food shine as families get together to celebrate with traditional dishes. Try celebrating the holidays with Italian food and you’ll be introduced to a side of the cuisine that many don’t know exist.

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Make a Ricotta Fritata

October 9th, 2009

Pasta Cooking is Easy with a few Helpful Tips

Pasta cooking is not difficult. Once you learn a few basics your pasta should come out perfect everytime.

Cooking pasta is best done in a tall pot with large amounts of boiling, well-salted water. Use a minimum of 4 quarts water and 1-2 tablespoons of salt for every pound of pasta. Pasta should be cooked until al dente, literally “to the tooth” in Italian, or just slightly firm when bitten.

To test pastas for doneness, break apart a piece of the pasta and check for a tiny, white chalky dot in the center. The pasta should be chewy and firm. Fresh pasta should have an appealing, chewy texture that is not too soft and not too chewy. Pasta cooking times depend on whether the pasta is dried or fresh, as well as the size and shape, with fresh pasta often needing only 60-90 seconds to cook.

Tips for Pasta Cooking to Perfecttion:

There are different theories on cooking pasta, and even the chefs don’t all agree, but here is what I was taught and has worked best for me.

The best way to cook pasta is in a pasta pot specifically designed for pasta. These are designed to be tall and you can maintain a rapid boil without boil-overs on your stove all too common with other pots. Many also have a built in colander for easy draining.

To oil or not to oil the water – It never made sense to me to add oil to the pasta water as it seems to float on the top anyway and doesn’t do a great job of preventing sticking. I did hear a chef say that the oil does not prevent sticking but does prevent water boil-overs. I tested this theory and it sure didn’t prevent my pasta water from boiling over. Most Italian chefs I know do not use oil because it is not necessary and if oil coats the noodles, this would prevent the sauce from sticking to the noodles which is the goal for most pasta dishes. The best way to prevent sticking while cooking pasta is to stir it. I generally stir after the first minute or two as the pasta starts to stick. Make sure the pasta is fully separated and it generally will not stick much after that – just stir occasionally until done. The one exception would be lasagna. It has a way of sticking and is hard to stir. You can try some oil for this one.

I do, however, add salt because it imparts some flavor but it really is a myth that the salt will make the water boil faster. You don’t add near enough salt to affect the boiling time, however, the pasta will absorb the salt. I like to use natural sea salt for its superior flavor, but remember your dish may not need much salt if you add it to the pasta water. The salt is not necessary if you are on a salt-restricted diet.

Cooking pasta times vary. For dried pasta – stick with the directions on the box. Freshly made and store-bought fresh pasta cooks very quickly. It will take a little practice and experimentation but here is a general guide:

Cooking Tips:

Add pasta to the water once it reaches a rapid boil in an uncovered pot so that the pasta can move freely and won’t stick.

Use 1 quart water for every 4 ounces of pasta. For dried pasta, follow the directions on the package. Your own freshly made pasta will cook much faster.

Cook until al dente (on tooth) which is how the Italians cook their pasta. Many Americans cook pasta until it is quite mushy. Pasta should have a slight firmness to it which has the added health benefit of making it lower in the glycemic index for those needing to watch their blood sugar.

For pasta that will be baked in a sauce, reduce the cooking time as it will continue to cook and soften while baking.

Never rinse your pasta after cooking. This will cool your pasta which will then need to be reheated, and the pasta needs a little starch on the surface for your sauce to cling to the pasta. You can, however, rinse pasta for pasta salads if you prefer.

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How to make fresh pasta

October 9th, 2009

Making fresh pasta by hand:

A small batch of dough can be made quickly by hand and then rolled and cut in your pasta machine. Here is a basic dough recipe to get you started. I blend a little semolina flour with unbleached flour to get a firm dough but one that is still easy to work with. After you get some experience, you can add more semolina if you would like a firmer pasta.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups of unbleached flour
  • 1/4 cup semolina flour
  • 1 tsp salt in a bowl.
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 2 eggs
  • Preparing your pasta dough:

    1. You can make a well in the center and prepare the dough in the bowl, or dump it out on a floured cutting board and prepare your dough there.
    2. Add 1 tsp olive oil and one whole egg into the well. Holding a fork at an angle parallel to the table, stir the egg mixture quickly and let the flour fall into it from the sides. Keep stirring this way until you have formed a sticky dough ball. You will probably have leftover flour, so only use what you need.
    3. Dump the dough ball onto a floured surface and knead, incorporating more flour into the dough as needed, until the dough is smooth, elastic, even in color and no longer sticky.
    4. To knead the dough, push down on the ball with the heel of your hand, then give the dough a quarter turn, fold it over onto itself and push away from you again with the heel of your hand. Keep turning and pushing until you achieve the desired consistency – this usually takes approximately 10 minutes.
    5. Once you have finished kneading, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for 30-60 minutes.

    Italian Food for Beginners
    By: Charlie Reese

    The signatures of authentic Italian food, a culinary delight indeed

    Here in the United States, Italian food is a beloved favorite of millions. It should be noted that, over the years, many Italian restaurants have adapted many of their recipes to appeal to American tastes. Pizza and spaghetti are but two classic examples. Here, we’re used to massive amounts of meats, veggies, cheese and sauce on the standard pizza. American style spaghetti is also loaded with meat and sauce. While still delicious, this can’t truly be called authentic Italian food. Here we attempt to describe the basic signatures of authentic Italian food.

    Simplicity is just one of the hallmarks of authentic Italian food. Contrasting pizza in America with that served in Italy reveals almost two entirely different dishes. In Italy, you won’t find a five-pound pizza such as we love to buy for a Friday night family feast. The American version of pizza is usually offered in thin, thick, deep-dish and double stuffed versions. Even the thin crust pizza cannot compare in delicacy and flavor to the authentic Italian pizza.

    Perhaps because there is so much piled on top of the American style pizza, you may not even notice the flavor of the crust. The Italian pizza has very little tomato sauce, thick and freshly made, spread thinly on the crust and only a few toppings in far more frugal amounts than we are used to seeing on our pizza. This simplicity and apparent sparsity allows the flavors of each ingredient to come out, making for an absolutely heavenly treat for your palate. With fewer and less of the toppings, fresh seasonings are perfectly matched to the other ingredients.

    Another key to authentic Italian food is that Italians are fanatical about using only ingredients which are in season, so much so that Italian cook books are generally organized by season, rather than by categories such as salads, entrees and desserts. Italian cooks tend to shop daily for the produce and meats that will be served that day. Most people have herb gardens, no matter how small, to supply all of the seasonings. Seasonal and as fresh as possible is essential in the making of authentic Italian food.

    Another characteristic of authentic Italian food is that the presentation must be artistic. You’ll never see a plate loaded up with an entree, pasta and side dish all on the same platter. Food is served in courses, each with its own plate, to be eaten separately. Thus, cold dishes stay cold and hot dishes are properly hot, eaten in sequence instead of languishing on a single plate until you get to each dish in turn.

    Wine is usually served with both lunch and dinner. There are dozens of locally produced wines, each with its own special character. Italian cooks are expert in pairing wine and food, thus enhancing the intensity and flavor of both.

    The last signature of authentic Italian food is also found in every Italian restaurant, around the world. That would be the hospitality with which it’s served!

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    How to make pizza dough

    September 28th, 2009

    Forming Pizza Crust

    Everyone loves pizza! It’s as delicious to eat as it is fun to make.

    Although making pizza is simple, there are few tricks that will help ease the process along.

    1. We used the recipe for Jay’s Signature Pizza Crust. Once the dough has been formed and allowed to rise, uncover the dough and punch it down.

    2. This particular recipe makes a two pizza crusts or one very large crust, so there is quite a bit of dough to work with. If you would rather make individual pizza pies than one large pizza, portion the dough into as many round balls as you want pies. Some people prefer a more rustic look to their pizzas which does not require perfectly round dough balls. Once the portions have been formed, cover and let the dough sit for 5 to 10 minutes to allow the gluten to relax before rolling the dough out.
    3. Flour the surface of your work area to keep the dough from sticking. While you don’t need to use a rolling pin to roll the dough out, it will help maintain a consistent thickness. Another approach is to pound the dough down with your fist or palm of your hand–this is just a preliminary shaping, to form the dough ball into a disc.
    4. Dust your hands with flour to keep the dough from sticking. Gently stretch the dough using the back of your floured hand, letting the weight of the dough pull the dough thinner. Use the backs of your fingers to push the dough out wider. Start in the middle of the dough with both hands close together, and slowly pull your hands apart, allowing the dough to glide above your hands. Turn the dough about 15 degrees on your hands and repeat this step until the dough is thinner, wider, and consistent throughout the entire circumference of the crust.
    5. Try spinning the dough in the air. This is certainly not required, but it’s a lot of fun! It also helps to make the dough more round, as the centrifugal force causes equal amounts of pressure to be thrown out in all directions, helping the crust to form into a perfectly round shape.
    6. Cover a bread peel (a heavy square of cardboard will work well, or a rimless baking sheet) with either flour or corn meal. This flour layer is vital because it keeps the dough from sticking to the peel, which will allow you, with a quick motion, to push the pizza off of the peel, into the hot oven, and onto a baking or pizza stone. Place the dough on the peel. Complete any final forming of the shape.
    7. Arrange whatever toppings desired onto the newly formed homemade crust.

    See “Topping and Baking Pizza” for ideas, or these other related articles: