Wednesday, December 10, 2008

10 Things I Learned About Italian Food

- slow-cooked meat sauce, but it is better known worldwide as bolognese. The Italians would never serve their ragú with spaghetti - in the north, in particular, it is traditionally served with tagliatelle.

- a large, finely textured pork sausage, with lengths of lard running through it. Some versions contain pistachio nuts and all should be eaten very fresh, either thinly sliced or in cubes. Traditionally made in Bologna, mortadella is also known as bologna or boloney in the USA.


- cured belly of pork, somewhat like streaky bacon. Available in flat pieces or rolled up (arrotolata), and both smoked and unsmoked. Generally used, either sliced or cut into cubes, as an ingredient in many dishes.

- meaning "to the tooth". Pasta and risotto rice are cooked until they are al dente - the outside is tender but the centre still has a little resistance or 'bite. Pasta cooked beyond this point becomes soggy.

- is the name of the dish - the raw ingredient is actually cornmeal. It is important to buy cornmeal that is meant for making polenta rather than corn bread or anything else. Cornmeal for polenta is called polenta on the package and generally comes from Italy. Stone-ground Italian polenta is the best you can get.

- are one of the world's most expensive ingredients and are surrounded by a certain mystique. They are difficult to cultivate commercially and still mainly only found in the wild. The harvest is not an exact science and the find is considered to be a prize. Both black and white truffles are found in Italy, the most famous being the white Alba truffle from Umbria. if fresh truffles are not available, preserved ones in jars can be used instead. Truffle paste and truffle oil are also available.

- meaning " before the meal" (pasto), and not "before the pasta", as sometimes translated; antipasto can consist entirely of assorted vegetables or meat, seafood and cheese

- this extraordinarily rich, sweet and fragrant vinegar is made from white Trebbiano di Spagna grapes in the city of Modena. The best balsamic vinegars, aceto balsamifico tradizionale di Modena, are made by blending very aged vinegars (up to 100 years old) with progressively younger ones (but no younger than 12 years old) from barrels of different woods. Each different wood adds flavor to the vinegar and old brandy barrels are often favored.

- a cream cheese originally from Lombardia. Made with cream rather than milk, it is very high in fat. Mascarpone is generally used in desserts such as tiramisu or instead of cream in sauces. Widely available, it is usually sold in tubs.

- Extra virgin olive oils are pressed without any heat or chemicals and are best used in simple uncooked dishes and for salads. Pure olive oil can be used for cooking or deep-frying. Different varieties of olives are grown all over Italy and the oil of each region has a distinct taste. Tuscan oil tends to be full-bodied and peppery; Ligurian oil is pale and subtle; Pugliese and Sicilian oils are fruity and sharp.

from Simply Italian by Sophie Braimbridge

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