Hello my Foodie Friends!
Today is my mother-in-law’s 89th birthday. We have been blessed to have her in our lives for so many years. This coming week would have also have been my mother’s birthday. Both my mother and mother-in-law come from the Depression era with their Italian heritage being Sicilian and Neapolitan. For both mothers, the meal and the preparation of the meal was the most important part of the day. Italians hold food and cooking and ingredients and mealtime in high regard. They value a good meal and even more when it is in good company. Over the years, the quest to learn the family recipes has resulted in a form of translation into recipes. Even to this day when my wife attempts to teach our daughter the family recipe for her sauce (gravy), it becomes difficult since it was really the taste that was handed down over the generations. The most common response when learning the family recipes from her mother and grandmother was “this is how you make…” There was nothing written down. Italian dishes are tweaked and improvised all the time. But it’s about learning the cuisine like you learn the grammar of a language - there are forms and structures you need to master. There are underlying frameworks of how ingredients are thought of and how they come together and also cooking techniques, styles of presentation and the order and structure of a meal which all combined form the Italian cuisine language. If you don’t know any of this, then of course you run the risk of making things that any Italian will find a little off. This doesn’t necessarily mean these creations are bad - it just means that they won’t seem Italian anymore, even if they’re not unpleasant or even are very good. People from within a certain food culture (or who know it like a native) can just “tell” when something tastes like it was made by someone who understands the palette of that cuisine.
Throughout the generations, having the right pots and tools are as important as putting together the meal. There are important essential tools you need for making the foods from our various cultures. What difference could a pan make to the final result? Well, a risotto made in a paella pan would never have the soft gluey quality of a good risotto. A saute’ pan or a good sauce pan is important. The saute’, because of its depth and curved sides, is better for braising meat or vegetables than a frying pan. The straight sides on a sauté pan do a better job of locking in moisture, making it ideal for braising chicken thighs or sausages until they are juicy and tender.
Pasta should be cooked in a cylindrical pot so the water returns to the boil more quickly once you have added the pasta, preventing the shapes from sticking together. Important essential tools to have include; having a Dutch oven the thick cast-iron walls also retain heat for a long time, making it the perfect serving vessel for bringing your food right to the table. Your soup or pasta will stay warm while people help themselves from the big pot. The “spider” is a small strainer basket that makes it easy to pluck pasta and gnocchi out of the pasta pot and dump it right into your simmering pan of sauce. Just the right amount of pasta water carries over, plus you don’t have to schlep a big pot of boiling water to the sink to drain. These are just a “few” of the cool tools you can use to help you with your work.
Stop by Compliments to the Chef, your Neighborhood Kitchen and Cutlery store, to get the tools you need to make your special meal. We have the pots and pans, and many other accouterments’ you need to make that meal. Every family has a favorite recipe. Ask family members to teach you the traditional recipes that have endured over the generations. Even with lost traditions, there is always something new to learn with food. Remember my Foodie Friends: “Life Happens in the Kitchen.”
John & Paula