We love Italian food at my house!
My husband lived in Italy for 2 years and is very picky about how Italian food needs to be prepared.
Here's some secrets that I've learned to make yummy Italian food:
1. Use good quality ingredients. The only brand of pasta that we buy is Barilla. It's made in Italy and Nate swears that it is the "only" good pasta.
2. Use real cheese. I realized shortly after marrying Nate, that he is a cheese snob. There are no store-brand cheeses in our house. We always use fresh mozzarella and fresh Romano cheeses in our Italian dishes. You can find good cheeses at Costco. We like BelGioioso mozzarella. We use it for pasta, lasagna, pizza, tomato/basil/mozzarella salad, etc. Now that I've tried the real stuff, I can't go back. It makes a HUGE difference.
3. Don't over cook the pasta. There is nothing worse than mushy pasta. Err on the side of under-cooked as opposed to over cooked. Also, always salt the water. Nate uses a lot of salt in the water which allows the pasta to absorb some flavor.
4. Use either garlic OR onion. Nate lived in Sicily, and at least in southern Italy, you don't mix those two flavors. Choose one. We usually use garlic.
5. Use fresh herbs. We always use fresh herbs in our Italian food. Nate threw away anything that resembled "Italian Seasoning" when we got married. Since fresh herbs have a stronger flavor, we usually just pick one. Basil. It needs to be basil or oregano, and we like basil. We grow fresh basil every summer, and then just before the first freeze of the winter, we bring it in, wash it, and freeze it. Whenever we have a recipe that needs a little basil, we just scoop some out of the freezer bag. It gives us that "fresh herb" flavor all year long.
And finally, just have fun and don't be afraid to experiment.
Like Sunday, for example, we decided to experiment and make gnocchi.
It was a HUGE mess and harder than I envisioned it being.
While I was up to my elbows in potatoes and flour I swore I was never making this again...ever!
We also made our own sauce (which we always do).
Last year we canned the extra tomatoes from our garden so that all winter long we could make garden fresh sauce. I always throw some extra veggies into my tomato sauce, so this one has spinach in it.
This is what it looked like right after Nate boiled it:
And...the finished product!
It actually turned out really good, which made me revoke my earlier threat to never make it again :) Part of the problem was that every recipe I read called for "russet potatoes". Well, I only had red potatoes and decided to give it a try anyway. It ended up making it really sticky and hard to work with. But, since it tasted good in the end, I guess it was worth the risk. Next time I will get russet potatoes though.
So, here's the recipe from a really fun cookbook I have called "Ready, Steady, Spaghetti."
2 pounds russet potatoes
2 Tbsp. butter
2 eggs beaten
2 cups of flour
a sprinkle of salt
Easy, right? Just peel and boil the potatoes. Then mash them up and add the other ingredients until it forms a dough. Then take a handful of dough at a time and roll it out into a long sausage-like roll. Cut off about 1 inch sized pieces and boil them in salted water until they float (about 2 minutes). Warning...it can be really messy!
Fresh Tomato Basil Sauce:
1 jar of canned tomatoes (or 2 cans of diced tomatoes from the grocery store)
2 cloves of garlic
1 Tbsp. olive oil
any other veggies that sound good to you...
I always start by sauteing 2 cloves of garlic in 1 Tbsp. of olive oil. Sometimes I sprinkle a few red pepper flakes in with the garlic. Then I add a jar of canned tomatoes from my garden last year. I'm not a huge fan of tomatoes, so I don't like big chunks. I always take my mixer and mash them up a little bit, but that's just personal preference. Then sprinkle some salt and fresh basil and let it simmer. You should start to smell it really soon. Mmmm....
Once I have it going, I start tossing in some other fresh veggies. Spinach, squash, carrots, mushrooms, bell pepper, olives (my kids think everything needs olives), whatever sounds good to you. Carrots take a while to soften, so if I'm using carrots, I steam them for a little while first to give them a head start.
Sprinkle with freshly grated Romano cheese.
That's it. Don't be afraid to experiment! That's what makes it fun!