Friday, September 16, 2011

Real Italian Cooking

This week I was invited to a Casa Barilla event held in Central Park, where celebrated chefs shared their joy of Italian cooking.  I watched demonstrations and tasted succulent, mouthwatering Italian food.  It's a tough job, but someone has to do it.

Each of the chefs used simple, but quality ingredients like fresh tomatoes, garlic, parsley and extra virgin olive oil.  Quick and easy, all of the dishes were prepared on a stovetop using skillets and a big pot for boiling pasta.

There are 4 cardinal rules for boiling pasta: 1) Never break the noodles; cook them long; 2) Never put oil in the boiling water.  It doesn't keep pasta from sticking, and you are wasting good olive oil; 3) Cook the noodles al dente [firm].  Soft pasta is overcooked and unhealthy; 4) Never rinse the pasta; you don't want to remove the starch.  As a guide: Cook one pound of pasta in one gallon of water with one tablespoon salt.

At the Barilla event, professional Italian chefs walked us through the steps of making 10-12 seasonal, authentic Italian dishes with fresh ingredients available at farmer's markets and, increasingly, at supermarkets.

Chef Lorenzo Boni recommends cooking pasta one minute short of what the directions on the box say, then finish cooking it in the sauce to pick up flavors.  Other tips: Don't cook ... warm extra virgin olive oil to preserve flavor and its health benefits.  He uses only a small amount of extra virgin olive oil to tenderize vegetables, then dribbles more on to finish the dish right before serving. 

Here are the recipes for two seafood dishes I plan on making at home:

Linguine with Sundried Mullet Roe and Parsley
1 box linguine
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 piece sundried mullet roe, grated
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
Red pepper flakes to taste
1. Cook pasta according to box directions.
2. Meanwhile, in a skillet, warm the olive oil and add the garlic, frying until golden.
3. Add the pasta, and toss with grated mullet roe and chopped parsley. [Our chef grated the flesh of a fillet.]
4. Sprinkle on red pepper flakes and serve.

Vermicelli Mari e Monti
12 mussels
12 small clams
½  pound calamari
2 garlic cloves
¼  cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
10 medium shrimp
½  pound sea bass
1 cup porcini mushrooms, sliced
1 box Vermicelli or thick spaghetti
3 tablespoons parsley
Salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
1) Steam the mussels and clams in a covered skillet.  Discard the shells.
2) Cut the calamari into thin rings.
3) Chop the garlic into very thin slices.  Heat half the oil and garlic in a skillet.
4) Add the seafood and saute for 2 minutes.
5) In a separate skillet, saute the mushrooms until golden.  Add the fish sauce.
6) If needed, add some of the pasta cooking water and simmer two more minutes.
7) Meanwhile, cook pasta according to box directions, drain al dente and toss with the sauce and some cooking liquid.
8) Garnish with chopped parsley before serving.

Trust me, the cost of the seafood in each dish is well-worth the splurge.  Italians are famous for "celebrating the good things in life: food, culture, family and friends."  They "believe in the power of food."*  Let's all be Italian for a day. 
Mangiare bene e piacere!

*Quotes from Barilla event

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