How to Cook Like an Italian
Pasta Classes Florence is a great way to learn about Italian cooking and experience cooking in Tuscany. The Italian kitchen is one of the most famous and renowned in the entire world. When thinking of Tuscan cooking in particular, most people’s mouths start to salivate at the thought of the perfectly cooked pasta, the garlicky red sauces and the delectable wines.
Every Italian seems to work so effortlessly in the kitchen, especially in Florence. In fact, it doesn’t seem like work at all if you’ve ever seen a Florentine bustling around a kitchen preparing a meal. It seems like the locals were practically born in the kitchen!
And quite honestly, their meals practically define each day. Their lives revolve around breakfast, lunch and dinner. In fact, it's not uncommon for Italians to begin discussing and planning out their dinner as they sit around and enjoy their LUNCH!
Not everyone is born with those Italian sensibilities however; we are not all as comfortable as nonna in the kitchen. While Italians might not need to go to cooking school to know how to prepare delicious Italian dishes, the rest of us can use some practice.
Always Use the Freshest Ingredients
You can be well on your way to dominating the kitchen just like the Italian mamas in Florence with just a few tips and tricks. Here’s how you can learn to cook like an Italian:
Florentines are surprisingly unfussy about cooking and you will always find the dishes to be unpretentious and unstuffy. However, Florentines do not negotiate when it comes to the quality of their ingredients. And if you spend the day with us at Pasta Classes Florence you will see that everything starts with fresh local ingredients.
When cooking, it is important to always use the freshest and highest quality ingredients that are available to you. Purchase your produce from a farmer’s market, don’t just grab whatever is at the grocery store that came from who-knows-where.
When possible, seek out a local farmer to purchase your meat or poultry. Knowing where your food comes from, and that it was treated well is the first step to making a delicious meal and it is important not to underestimate this aspect of the cooking process! Italians always have their “poultry guy” or their “tomato guy” that they can count on for quality food.
It isn’t always quite so easy in other countries where the food might be shipped in from other places but try to do some research and start to really care about where your food is coming from and what you’re putting into your body!
This will also make your job as the cook much easier — if you are starting with the absolute freshest, high-quality ingredients, it is hard to screw up the end result!
This brings us to our next pro tip…
Finding the freshest and highest quality ingredients also means learning about when produce is considered “in-season”.
Just because those tomatoes are out on the shelves at the grocery store doesn’t mean they are actually any good. A cherry tomato in January and a cherry tomato in July are not created equal.
Learn about what is in season locally and try to create dishes and menus around those specific ingredients. When partaking in one of our Pasta Classes in Florence we will always follow seasonal recipes to ensure the best ingredients available.
Use this as a fun challenge to get familiar with fruits and vegetables you may not be so familiar with. Never cooked with Leeks before? Try them in a quiche or a soup and see how you can make a winter dish a little more interesting!
The 10 Commandments of Pasta —Actually, just 3
If Florentines take one thing seriously in life, its pasta. For most Italians, pasta brings a sense of home. It's the dish their mom’s make for them when they come for a visit, it's what they make when they need to whip up a quick meal at home, its what they also painstakingly roll out, cup up and dry for hours when they want to make it from scratch. And they eat it A LOT. On average and Italian consumes 51 pounds of pasta per year. Don’t ever get between an Italian and his pasta.
Because they eat pasta so often, they have pretty much perfected the art form. And while Italians can be pretty loose when it comes to following most rules, they do not mess around with the rules when it comes to pasta.
Cooking Your Pasta Properly
First, and most importantly, you must cook pasta “al dente” style. Always. The literal translation of “al dente” means “to the tooth”. The idea being that the pasta is cooked to a point where it's tender and soft on the outside but still a little bit tougher on the inside. This gives the pasta a little bite.
Cooking pasta this way is harder than it looks! You need to time the cooking of the pasta juuuust right to ensure that it doesn’t come out rock-solid and undercooked and that it doesn’t come out totally soggy and overcooked either.
The second commandment is getting the perfect ratio of pasta to sauce. Outside of Italy, people have a tendency to smother their pasta in sauce but in reality, locals use much less sauce than what you would expect.
You don’t want your pasta swimming in sauce; you want just enough to coat the noodles. And you don’t want to dump a big ol' ladle of sauce on top of your cooked pasta, you should toss the pasta in the hot sauce and then plate it all together. During our Pasta Cooking Class, you will see we use just the right combination of sauce-to-pasta ratio for the perfect pasta every time.
Pasta Above All Else
The last rule is maybe the most important and if you don’t follow it there is not a Florentine alive that won’t comment on your faux pas. Never, eat past with other things on the plate. You always eat the pasta on its own plate, as its own “primo” or first dish. Then if you are having salad, meat, etc. you eat that after separately once you have finished your pasta. Although at Pasta Classes Florence we will never judge how you eat your food, it’s so delicious we understand that you want to eat it all up!
No Cheese on Your Seafood Pasta
One other very important rule that applies to some pasta dishes - never, never ask for grated cheese if you are being served pasta or risotto that contains any type of seafood. The idea is that the flavor of the cheese will take away from the delicate taste of the fish.
Try asking for it once, just for fun. The locals will treat you like you just asked to put maple syrup on your pasta!
K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple Stupid! Less is More
When it comes to Tuscan and Florentine cooking, the simpler the better. As we said before, the key to delicious Italian dishes is to cook with fresh, seasonal high-quality ingredients. With that as your base, you don’t really need to do all that much to the food to make it delicious.
Surprisingly, Tuscan cooking usually isn’t that complicated, it’s really just all about bringing out the delicate flavors of each ingredient.
At the end of the day, the simple recipes (read: easy!) are actually the most delicious! We won’t tell if you won’t!
When in Doubt, Add Some Olive Oil, and Make Sure its EXTRA VIRGIN
For Florentines, there is nothing that a little olive oil can’t fix. They treat olive oil like its liquid gold - and rightfully so as it has tons of wonderful health benefits.
It is extremely important that the olive oil is “extra virgin” this means that the oil comes from olives that have only been pressed one time and that it has an extremely low level of acidity.
Italians use olive oil in every aspect of their diets: for cooking, for baking, as a dressing or even as a dip (as is the case with pinzimonio).
An extra spoonful of olive oil can usually take a dish from delicious to WOW!
Pasta Classes Florence will take you to a winery in the countryside that produces both wine and olive oil so we will always cook with the best local oil.
Don’t Be Afraid to Taste as You Go
When cooking it is important to taste and season as you go. Many Tuscan dishes are cooked directly on a grill or on the stove so it is easy to taste and adjust the seasoning as you go.
Every nonna can taste a spoonful from the pot and know just how much more wine or salt or herbs has to be added to take the dish or the sauce to the next level.
A great cook should constantly be tasting and modifying the ingredients in the recipe. This takes time, patience and a little love but once you start to really focus on fine-tuning the flavors your dishes will come out better and better each time.
Make Time. Not Just to Cook, but to EAT!
As we said, the best Tuscan recipes are usually the simplest. So it shouldn’t be too difficult to carve out some time to whip up a plate of pasta with fresh tomato sauce. The next, and arguably most important step is to make time to actually eat and enjoy the labors of your love.
For Italians, cooking literally is an expression of love. That means cooking should be shared and enjoyed with loved ones.
Every meal should be an event and in Florence they know how to make every meal special. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to spend hours lingering over your meal. Although, we could all take notes on how long Italians can make a family dinner last). It can be something as simple as having a nice glass of wine to compliment the dish or turning on a little music while you dine or lighting a candle.
Once you’ve set the scene make sure you are truly focused on your food and the company. Whether you only have 20 minutes or 2 hours to eat, really truly shut off and enjoy the meal.
With Pasta Classes Florence you will be in good company, with good wine at a beautiful Tuscan farmhouse. The perfect setting for a delicious meal that you can actually take the time to appreciate!
Don’t Be Afraid of a Little Wine in the Kitchen
Cooking should be fun and enjoyable. The more enjoyment you get out of cooking, the more it will shine through in your dishes.
You should be relaxed and comfortable in the kitchen. It will take some time to breeze through the kitchen with the level of comfort and know-how that most Italians have. But try to make it your domain!
And if you aren’t so comfortable just yet, it’s nothing that a glass of delicious Italian Chianti can’t help! During our cooking classes in Florence you will never have to be without a glass of wine in hand! A splash for the pot and a splash (or 2) for you!
No Cappuccino After Lunch or Dinner
Just like the rule about seafood pasta, locals will look at you like a total amateur if you have a cappuccino anytime after about noon. And to be honest, anytime after breakfast is really pushing it. Especially if you have one after dinner, you will get your fair share of looks.
Italians are very concerned with digestion and dairy is thought to not be very good for the digestive system. Plus they think dairy is very heavy, especially after you’ve had a big meal.
Avoid milk in your coffee after dinner and stick with a regular espresso. Or better yet, impress the locals by ordering an amaro to settle your stomach and aid in digestion.
For more cooking lessons, join us for a day of Tuscan food, wine and fun on our Pasta Class Florence!