Friday, 24 July 2015

Italian Cooking, then and now!

With thick, rich, creamy textures and crisp, light, bold flavors, Italian cuisine is undoubtedly one of the world’s favorite cuisines. A cuisine inspired by different parts of the world and a standing testament to artful cooking. It is but magic on a platter every time you taste it.

So let’s deep dive into what makes this cuisine so lovable and how the birth of this cuisine revolutionized culinary cultures across the world.
The nascent history of Italian cooking began about 13,000 years ago and strongly established itself when the Greeks and Romans moved into the Italian peninsula around 1000 BCE. Cooking became an integral part, post the movement.
Italian cuisine originally revolved around barley & wheat, cooked into a porridge that was enhanced with wild greens, root vegetables & fruits. An extremely fertile and rich valley surrounds the River Po, the biggest river in Italy. Vegetation thrives in this rich soil abundantly. Italy being surrounded by water on three sided benefits from a variety of seafood and coastal vegetation too. Quite a lot of experimentation was done using the native ingredients until the introduction of potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers and maize, which is now central to the cuisine. As time progressed a wide variety of spices found its way into Italian cooking. Spices like cumin, sesame, coriander, oregano & saffron slowly became central elements that added essence and flavor to the simple porridge like food.

Bread and meat more than once a day, became a part of everyday Italian food. As experimentation grew over the period, Italians brought us salads dressed with oil and vinegar; also teaching us that the course should always be escorted by good crusty artisan bread dipped in fruity virgin olive oil. Italian cooking began to rapidly change over time and was inspired by elements across Europe.

Technique, later became a game changer in Italian cooking. Combining classical & traditional methods gave birth to the modern Italian food, far away from the bland and mild tasting porridge. Practiced methods told us that vegetables should be simply oiled or broiled and often reheated with a little garlic, vinegar, hot peppers, salt & a liberal splash of ubiquitous virgin olive oil.
Here’s a quick look at some of the core modern cooking styles and methods used in Italian cooking:

·         Alla Bolognese:  This style emulates the cooks of the Bologna region where meat sauces are often cooked with vegetables and tomato bases.

·         Alla Caprese:  This term refers to cooking a dish in the style of Campania region where dishes typically include tomato, basil, olive oil and fresh mozzarella.

·         Al Dente: This describes the cooking of pasta, to have just a bit of firmness when you bite into it. Al dente translates into “to the bite.”

·         Battuto:  This is a mix of ingredients, very finely chopped. These include salt fat, bacon or pancetta, onion and garlic.

·         Crudo:  The addition of finely chopped raw herbs and vegetable to cooked foods.

·         Grilling: This technique involves cooking meats, vegetables and sometimes even pizza on a grate over hot coals or burning wood in an outdoor grill.

All the above clearly establishes that
whether eating at home or in a restaurant, Italians take food seriously. Rich in history and flavor, an Italian dish leaves you longing for more the moment you taste it. Stay tuned for our upcoming edition on Italian eating culture, additional ingredients used, and much more.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

The Essential Pantry Staples for Italian Cooking

The world over Italian food is instantly recognized and beloved for being redolent with simple yet bold flavors. The taste and fragrances of Italian ingredients are distinct and unmistakeable; the aroma of garlic sautéing in hot olive oil, the colour and texture of freshly pounded pesto, the simple beauty in a plate of freshly cooked al dente spaghetti aglio olio pepperoncino.  It only takes a few ingredients, carefully treated to put together a hearty, satisfying lunch when the craving for an authentic Italian meal strikes. Which is why it can be joyous to open the kitchen cabinets and find just the ingredients required. Keep these few pantry staples on hand and savor home-style Italian food anytime.

At the heart of Italian cooking is olive oil. If you want to maintain an Italian kitchen, you simply cannot do without olive oil. Typically it is best to have three kinds of olive oils on hand: a reasonably priced ‘bulk’ extra virgin olive oil for every day cooking, a fine quality olive oil for use in salads and drizzling on finished dishes, and a large container of ‘light’ olive oil for deep and shallow frying.
For the Italians, where there is olio, there must be aglio, garlic. A fundamental flavor in Italian cooking, especially southern Italian cooking, it interacts very well with basic Italian ingredients like tomatoes and basil. It is usually used by slightly crushing a clove or two to release its juices and then gently sautéing it in olive oil to flavor it. 

Into a cooking pot of hot olive oil, go the aromatics to make a soffritto, the essential base for most Italian savory dishes. The most typical soffritto is a mixture of finely chopped onion, carrot and celery—the ‘Holy Trinity’ of Italian cooking—to which are sometimes added parsley, garlic and/or pancetta. The use of soffritto is one of the hallmarks of Italian cooking, and one of the little ‘secrets’ that make it so delicious. Parsley is a common ingredient in the ubiquitous soffritto, as noted above, and is used to top off dishes, especially garlic and oil based pasta dishes. Besides parsley, the classic Italian fresh herbs include rosemary -used in roasts—which adds a strong but pleasant ‘piney’ flavor, and sage, which lends a more subtle savor to many dishes, especially ones with sauces. All herbs should be used with discretion choosing fresh herbs whenever possible. They make a world of difference. The one exception is oregano, whose flavor is improved by drying. Store herbs in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Puncture some air holes in the back and keep the leaves away from the interior surface of the bag. Wrap the stems in a moist paper towel. As an alternative to storing herbs in a plastic bag, try placing the herbs like cilantro and parsley in a glass of water in the refrigerator.

Crucial to any Italian pantry is vinegar. Italians principally use both red and white wine vinegars. Red wine vinegar has a most assertive flavor than white wine vinegar. Balsamic vinegar is tangy and sweetish vinegar and is reserved for special occasions, but it adds terrific aroma to fresh summer salads. It is also reduced into a sauce to drizzle over meat dishes. 

Italian food is often rich in umami; a haunting savory flavor that comes from the use of porcini mushrooms, hard cheese like Parmesan, cold cuts like prosciutto or condiments like olives or capers to name a few. These ingredients keep well for longer periods of time making them a wise culinary investment. Moreover, when assembled on a wooden board with crusty bread or fruit like figs or grapes, they work together as a rustic yet tasteful antipasti platter.

This entire month, Godrej Natures Basket celebrates this ancient yet ever popular cuisine with many cool offers, discounts, tips, recipes and cooking demonstrations. Be sure to join in this Italian fiesta spread out at every outlet across the country. Buon Appetitio!

Buy cold cuts online from Natures Basket store at best prices !!