In Italian cooking, there are several staples used in many recipes that are nice to keep in your kitchen. Some of these ingredients include cheeses like gorgonzola, mascarpone, mozzarella, parmesan, and ricotta. Some common meats and fish used in Italian cooking are pancetta, parma ham, salami, anchovies, clams and tuna. Also, a lot of pastas, rice, beans and herbs are used in this type of cuisine.
Traditional Italian cooking consists of several courses including the antipasti, the first course, the second course and you can add dessert to finish off your meal. Let’s take a look at each part of the meal and some recipes you can try right at home.
When you are planning your meal, it would be fun to serve it as it would be served in an Italian home or restaurant. Start with the antipasti, or appetizer. Antipasti means “before the meal” and has been a major part of Italian cuisine and culture for many of centuries. Any dish, whether hot or cold, that is served before the first course is the antipasti and can be a salad, soup or small dish. Here is a simple antipasti recipe to start off your Italian meal.
Bread and Tomato Soup: Serves 6
1 lb two-day old crusty Italian bread
2 lb ripe plum tomatoes
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2 ½ cups boiling water
1 bunch fresh basil
salt and pepper
extra virgin olive oil, to serve
1. Cut the bread into cubes and let it dry out for 30 minutes. Peel the tomatoes and cut into chunks.
2. In a large pan, heat the olive oil and then add garlic and cook over medium heat for 1 minute without browning. Add tomatoes and cook on low for 20-30 minutes until mixture is thick.
3. Add bread and stir until liquid is absorbed. Next, stir in boiling water until mixture is thick and soupy. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Remove basil leaves from stems and tear into little pieces. Mix basil into soup.
5. Serve the soup warm and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.
In Italian, the first course is called primo piatto. Usually, the primo piatto is made up of a dish made up of grain such as pasta, risotto gnocchi or polenta. Some popular pasta dishes are Spaghetti Bolognese, Spinach Cannelloni and Lasagna al Forno. Gnocchi are light dumplings made with mashed potatoes and flour or just flour. Usually, these dumplings are flavored with some type of cheese or spinach. Risotto is usually made with short-grain rice. This dish can be made with fish or seafood as well. Polenta is created with cornmeal and water. You can enjoy polenta as a fried, broiled or baked cake that can be mixed with cheese. Here is a delicious first course recipe that can follow your antipasti.
Chicken Risotto with Saffron: Serves 6-8
5 ½ cups chicken stock
½ cup butter
2 lb skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 large onion, chopped
2 ¼ cups risotto rice
2/3 cup white wine
1 teaspoon crumbled saffron threads
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
1. Boil chicken stock in a pan and then reduce heat and continue to simmer.
2. While chicken stock is simmering heat 4 tablespoons of butter in deep pan. Add chicken and onion and cook for 8 minutes stirring frequently.
3. Add the rice and mix to coat the butter and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add wine and cook for 1 minute stirring continuously.
4. Take out 4 tablespoons of the hot stock and mix with the saffron. Add the stock-saffron mixture into the rice and cook until absorbed.
5. Add the remaining hot stock slowly a little bit at a time until the rice absorbs each addition. Cook for 20 minutes until all of the stock has been absorbed into the rice. Season with salt and pepper.
6. Remove from heat and add remaining butter and most of the Parmesan cheese until melted into mixture. Serve immediately and sprinkle the remaining Parmesan cheese on top of the dish.
The second course, or secondo piatto, is the part of the meal that usually consists of meat and fish. The course might include steak, roasts, braises, lamb and chicken. Chicken is a very common ingredient used in the secondo piatto and generally, every part of the chicken can be used in creating the meal. From Chicken alla Cacciatora to Tuna Fillets with Porcini, the second course has the potential to be an amazing creation. Try this second course recipe following your first course.
Beef Braised in Red Wine: Serves 6
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 lb braised beef, cut into thick strips
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 ¼ cups red wine
2 fresh sprigs of sage
1 cup beef or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, to garnish
1. Preheat oven to 300° degrees F. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet, then add the onions and garlic and cook over medium heat for 6-8 minutes stirring constantly. With a slotted spoon, remove and transfer to a casserole dish.
2. Heat the remaining oil in a skillet. Add beef and cook over high heat for 3-4 minutes until browned. Sprinkle in flour and stir to prevent any lumps from forming. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat and stir in wine. Bring to a boil and stir frequently.
3. Move the contents into the casserole dish and then add sage, stock and tomato paste. Cover and cook in the center of the oven for 2 1/2 -3 hours.
4. Remove from oven and discard the sage. Add salt and pepper if needed and sprinkle with parsley.
Italian dessert is usually very simple like a fresh bowl of fruit. Often enough, more intricate desserts are made following a tasty meal including Zuccotto and Sicilian Cassata. Zuccotto is a molded dessert that is in the shape of a dome and it is created with ladyfingers soaked in liquor and filled with almonds, whipped cream and chocolate. Italian families while celebrating, or even on a Sunday afternoon enjoy all sorts of cakes and pastries occasionally. After a delicious antipasti, first and second course, the dessert can really finish of the meal. Try this quick Tiramisu recipe.
1 cup mascarpone cheese or soft cheese
1 egg, separated
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
2 tablespoons superfine sugar
2 tablespoons dark rum
2 tablespoons cold strong black coffee
2 tablespoons grated semisweet chocolate
1. Beat together mascarpone cheese, egg yolk, and yogurt in a large bowl.
2. Whip the egg white in a separate bowl until stiff and then beat in the sugar. Next, fold egg white mixture into the cheese mixture. Divide half of this mixture into four sundae glasses.
3. Mix together coffee and rum and then dip ladyfingers in to the rum mixture. Break the ladyfingers in half or smaller pieces in needed and divide into the glasses.
4. Stir any remaining coffee mixture into the remaining cheese mixture and divide into the glasses.
5. Sprinkle with grated chocolate and serve or cover and chill in refrigerator.
Now you have an entire Italian meal with all the appropriate courses. You can easily substitute any of these recipes with other meals found in that particular course. Remember, before you start any meal, research any preparation times as well as cooking times. In the case of this meal, the braised beef takes almost 3 hours. Therefore, this dish should be prepared first while the rest of the meal is being prepared. With that being said, you can enjoy authentic Italian cuisine the way it should be enjoyed. Buon Appetito!