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9 Sep 2020

Ten expert cooking tips to create authentic Italian cuisine at home

person making pasta in kitchen

From common cooking misconceptions to flavour-boosting shortcuts, cookery experts and chefs have been sharing their tips and tricks with us.

Previously, Which? shared expert advice for creating impressive Indian and Chinese dishes at home. Next up is Italian cuisine.

1. Don't let anything go to waste

Parmesan rind

Cookery tutor, food writer and author Carmela Hayes recommends using the rind of parmigiano reggiano and green tomato vines to add flavour.

'Both can be slow cooked in many Italian sauces to provide a delicious sauce full of intensity and richness,' she says. 'They would work well in slow-cooked meat sauces, stocks and soups.'

She also suggests reserving the liquid from mozzarella bags to use in your cooking. 'You can substitute it instead of using water, then make pasta, pizza or bread dough as you normally would.'

2. Use pasta cooking water to make creamy sauces

pasta coated in creamy sauce in pan

Chef, food consultant and MasterChef 2011 finalist Sara Danesin Medio told us that sauces can benefit from adding leftover water used to boil pasta.

'The boiling water used to cook the pasta is full of starch that will add creaminess to your dish. The process is called u201cmantecaturau201d, which literally means to emulsify the starch from the pasta water with the oil or butter contained in the sauce.'

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3. Choose your tomatoes carefully

fresh tomatoes

John Swinton, tutor and events chef at Edinburgh School of Food & Wine, explains that imported tomatoes are typically less ripe and flavour-rich compared with those from Italy.

John says: 'Always try to get the ripest seasonal vegetables possible. Buy them on the vine and keep them there until you use them, and leave them in the sun as much as possible.

'If you can grow your own tomatoes, then you shouldn't have any problems getting that amazing depth of flavour we associate with so many Italian dishes.

'For a sauce, I always reach for a tin of chopped tomatoes. They are canned while ripe and give a richer and better flavour.'

4. Don't add oil when boiling pasta

Boiling spaghetti pasta in a pan

Despite what you may have heard, adding oil to your cooking water to stop pasta sticking is a common misconception, according to John.

'This only serves to waste oil and clog drains. To stop it sticking, the best thing to do is drizzle the pasta with a little olive oil after draining and toss till the oil coats the pasta,' he explains.

'Pasta coated this way won't stick, even as it cools, so is perfect if you are making extra for a salad the day after.'

Sara told us it's important to find the balance between the quantity of pasta and water used to cook it: 'The rule of thumb is one litre of water per 100 g of pasta. This prevents the pasta from sticking to itself.'

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5. Reduce sauces for a concentrated flavour

reducing pasta sauce

John told us it's important to ensure your sauce is reduced enough, otherwise you could end up with a bland-tasting dish.

He suggests simmering off any excess liquid to give a more concentrated sauce with greater depth of flavour.

6. Buy good-quality extra virgin olive oil

Bottle of cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil from

According to Sara, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is the most important part of Italian food.

'The tendency is to believe that all EVOO are the same. In Italy alone there are more than 350 varieties of olive oil.'

She recommends looking for the following when buying EVOO:

  • Produced and packed in Italy
  • Cold pressed
  • Bottles protected by foil (as light deteriorates the oil).

7. Avoid pre-grated parmesan

Block of parmesan cheese

While pre-grated parmesan might be convenient, John advises steering clear of it.

'The agents to stop them from sticking and the preservatives added just serve to ruin the flavour and texture of the cheese. I recommend using a peeler to take nice big shavings.'

8. Be careful when cooking with extra virgin olive oil

Adding olive oil to saucepan

If you're cooking at high temperatures, extra virgin olive oil may not be the best choice.

John says: 'Extra virgin olive oil typically starts burning around the 160°C mark, which is too low a heat to get good caramelisation on meat and vegetables without overcooking them.'

9. Use anchovy paste to boost flavour

anchovy paste

Anchovy paste is an amazing flavour enhancer, Sara told us, as it adds an extra layer of 'umami':

'I often use it as a paste as it's easier to keep fresh, it contains no fishbones and can be measured in teaspoons.

'Used in the initial phase of making a sauce, especially one with seafood, it adds a great saltiness, not fishiness. I also add it when I want to oomph up a salad condiment, in a tomato sauce or even in beef and lamb dishes.'

10. Ensure salt is dissolved in salad dressings

bowls of balsamic vinegar, salt and olive oil for

'Regardless of whether it's vinegar or lemon-based, the salt needs to be fully dissolved in the liquid before adding the oil', says Sara.

'Only then, can you achieve an emulsion and thereby avoid chewing undissolved salt.'

Four tips for the perfect bolognese

Chef and owner of Shardana Catering, Stefano Sanna, shares his advice for making the ultimate bolognese sauce at home.

1. Use a mix of pork and beef

frying minced beef and minced pork

'Always choose a mix of pork and beef. Pork fat is the protagonist in the final taste and is therefore indispensable.'

'Choose a thick grain of meat. Some chefs prefer to chop meat with a knife to have full thickness control.'

2. Cut vegetables very finely

chopped celery onion and carrot on wooden chopping

'The onion, celery and carrot will flake completely, be incorporated into the tomato and will be the bolognese sauce par excellence.'

3. Add milk to the sauce

Pouring milk into bolognese sauce

'Add milk to the sauce to remove the acidity of the tomato. You will get a softer and more enveloping result in the mouth.'

4. Let the sauce cook for long enough

Bolognese sauce simmering in pan

'Patience takes its course in cooking bolognese sauce, which must slow cook for at least three hours after adding the tomato.'

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