Olive oil is a staple in my kitchen and I always cook with it. If there is one item no one could take from my hands, while I see about my cooking that would be olive oil. I use it for about everything, which is why I am so attached to it. You may have heard to heating olive oil makes it lose its benefits, but this is not how things are. I will debunk this myth right away, but I want to start with the beginning. So, why am I using so much olive oil in my home cooking?
Do I need say more? It has been all over the news during recent years, you cannot open a medicine website without finding that olive oil is good for your body and especially your heart, and so on. But, while risking to repeat the same thing that others, before me, have said plenty of times, this is the truth and nothing but the truth. Olive oil is great for one’s health, and that is why I cook with it. Heart diseases, diabetes, even strokes and some types of cancer are prevented by regular consumption of olive oil.
It has no odor, yet it has great flavor
There are other types of oil that are used in home cooking, but I am not crazy about them for a simple reason: this oil is odorless and I do not have to worry that it will compromise the smell of my dish. This is not something you can say about other oils used in cooking. And I do not use olive oil just for salads, although, I bet, that’s the first thing that came to your mind. Olive oil lends great flavor to any dish. I usually fry fish in olive oil, because it enhances the flavors of all the herbs I use in my dishes. Baking cakes with olive oils is indicated and highly recommended and I don’t even use any other kind of cooking oil for my desserts.
One debate I often hear about olive oil is that it should not be used in cooking, because heating it up would make it lose its benefits. Nothing could be further from the truth. Some say that heating up the olive oil will transform the healthy fats making them unhealthy, but this is nothing but a bag of lies. Of course, if your oil is heated up to the point of turning into smoke, it is not a good idea to use it. Keep this in mind: by heating, oil loses its water and esters, and never its benefits. Just use a cheaper one for frying, and keep the good one for salads and such.
What is the one dish that defines Italian cuisine? I know many of you will hurry and say “pizza”, but I hope you also love pasta. With so many kinds of pasta sold in stores, you are most probably thinking about getting some sauce from the shelves, too and put them all together. I solemnly ask of you to forget about all these ideas and stick with me for a small lesson on how to make your own pasta at home. It’s simple, it’s fun and you may find it even more delicious than those you can buy from the store. So, let’s get to work!
Maybe you are thinking that the most difficult part is to make the dough itself. But things are not as hard as they may seem at first glance. Here is my quick recipe that never fails. I mix 2 cups of flour with half a teaspoon of salt. Use an appropriately sized mixing bowl, so you do not end up spreading the flour around. Add 3 eggs, right in the middle and use a fork to mix all the ingredients. (I personally prefer to use my hands to mix the dough, but you can do just as you desire.)
At first, the mix will not be very firm, and it may not absorb all the flour. Do not worry; once the eggs are well incorporated, pour the mix over a clean counter and start flattening and folding it. Repeat this procedure until you feel the dough becoming firmer. This is when you start kneading for real. To know when it is ready, slice the dough in the middle with a knife. If you notice a lot of air bubbles, you still have work to do. The final result should be an elastic kind of dough, with as few air bubbles as possible.
Let the dough rest for at least 30 minutes in a bowl covered with a plate. After doing so, spread flour on your working area, and take the dough out. Split into four equal parts with a knife, and then use a rolling pin to flatten each part, until you achieve the thickness you want. You can fold the dough gently, and then cut noodles out of it, choosing the width you prefer. You can spread the noodles a bit.
Using the pasta
If you want to use your noodles right away, boil water in a pot with a bit of salt and throw the noodles in, when the water starts boiling. Let them boil for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, so they do not become stuck to one another. In case you want to use the pasta later on, you should dry it. For this, you need an area that is well aired and a rack for placing the noodles on it. You then let the pasta dry until it feels brittle. Put the dried noodles in an airtight container and use them whenever you need them.
This is all! You will have homemade delicious pasta anytime you are in the mood to cook something Italian!
I know that not everyone is a “meat eater” and even though I enjoy an occasional steak or juicy cheeseburger, I do have several great vegetarian recipes that I’ve been dying to share. One of my favorites is for a vegetarian pizza, but trust me when I say that you can put just about anything on a pie and it will simply taste great. Instead of putting the recipe in this blog, I thought I would just share some of my ideas for making a delicious and healthy vegetarian pizza.
Have you ever noticed that the veggies never seem to cook all of the way through when you make pizza at home, unless you all but burn the crust? An easy way to avoid this problem is to sautee the vegetables before you place them on the pizza. Not only does sauteeing give the veggies a different flavor, they will finally be cooked all the way through so you don’t have to burn the crust just to make sure that the toppings are done.
I know that there is vegan cheese and some varieties even taste pretty good, but they often don’t melt well on a pizza. Some simple congeal into an unsightly blob, while others separate into a runny mess. Have you ever considered just foregoing cheese? You can still have a delicious, authentic Italian style pizza without cheese. If you’re worried about missing out on flavor adding oregano, sea salt, basil and garlic powder will more than make up for the lack of cheese.
Pizzas don’t have to only come with meats and veggies, but all types of fruit can be used as well. Some of my favorites are dates and figs, especially when the pizza has a little balsamic vinegar drizzled on top. If you do decide to use vinegar, you want it to be balsamic and you really do only want to dabble on a very little. Pineapple on pizza is a popular favorite, and it doesn’t have to come with ham or bacon. There are some great tofu bacon varieties out there that you can use to create your own version of a Hawaiian pizza. I’ve also found that apples are delicious on a pizza, especially if your forego the red sauce.
These are only a few of my ideas for a vegetarian pizza and I look forward to reading your comments and suggestions.
Italian food is highly appreciated all over the world, and I could bet there is hardly anyone in the Western World who has never eaten pizza or spaghetti. While these are well known dishes, the Italian cuisine is much, much richer, and that is why it is praised by the most pretentious food critics on the planet. I am here to convert you to eating Italian food, if you have never gone beyond the usual slice of pizza, and I want to do that by showing you a few of the most important health benefits of Italian cuisine.
The Italian diet keeps you slim
Is there such a thing as eating tasty food and staying slim at the same time? If you are talking about Italian dishes, yes, such a thing is possible. Besides the dishes you may know so well, there are many ingredients used in the Italian cuisine that are low in calories, such as tomatoes, spinach, lettuce, broccoli, garlic, spices, and lean meat. Basically, you can eat a very filling, very tasty meal and still maintain the total number of calories within a decent range. For weight management purposes, trying a few lean Italian dishes is highly recommended. You will not go around feeling hungry and you will not have to settle for tasteless foods just because you are on a diet.
These dishes are packed with antioxidants
The Mediterranean diet, as eating the Italian way also goes by, is known to be a diet rich in antioxidants that is recommended for people who want to live long and have a healthy heart. Your biggest enemies when you are trying to live healthier and longer are free radicals. Italian cuisine is rich in the arch-enemies of these free radicals, which are called antioxidants. For instance, tomatoes that can be found in a wide range of Italian dishes, are rich in a particular antioxidant called licopene, known to be very powerful in cleaning your body of free radicals. Italians are also known to eat a lot of whole grains and nuts, along with many veggies, that are equally powerful in driving away free radicals. Add on top of everything that they also enjoy a bit of wine with their meals, and you have the clear picture why Italians live longer, happier and healthier lives.
The importance of olive oil
Another ingredient that defines Italian cuisine at its best is olive oil. The regular consumption of olive oil is a proven agent in fighting coronary diseases. Olive oil, just like seafood, is rich in healthy fats, the kind that boosts your good cholesterol, and lowers the bad one. Eliminating fat of any kind from your diet is very dangerous and it is highly advised against. Just replace the bad fats with good ones like olive oil and fish and you will have a much healthier heart. Olive oil is at the core of Italian cuisine and it is believed to be one of the most important promoters of the health benefits that are associated with its dishes.
Pizza is now too popular to even try separating what has been added to this old recipe in the past decades and what was there from the beginning. I am an American chef with Italian roots and I have spent a lot of time studying what you can approve as being an original pizza ingredient and what is not. Tomatoes are intimately related to pizza, though they got in Italy in the 16th century, they were used as decorative plants, because they were believed to be poisonous. It was the lower class that started eating them and created a meal that would become extremely popular among both nobility and lower classes in the 19th century, when the first shops where you could order pizza were opened.
However, the word pizza goes a long way back until Roman times and even earlier than that, but this is a long story on which I won’t linger now. The purpose of this blog is studying the roots of Italian cuisine right here, in US, see how it has changed in time and try rediscovering their first original recipe.
For example, everybody knows how pizza Margherita came to be. In 1889, Queen Margherita visited Naples and the Pizzeria Brandi, one of its famous locals, cooked, in her honor, a special pizza made by Rafaele Esposito, who was working as a cook that day. So he made a flatbread with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil, that symbolized the three colors of the Italian flag. The queen was absolutely mad about it, and this dish gained extreme popularity in the area and spread in all Italy after that. Now, you can eat it all over the world. The ingredients haven’t changed much and, since 2010, this pizza has gained the title of guaranteed traditional specialty (STG) from the EU and, so, the ingredients, the way it is baked and cut when eaten, must be done in the traditional way so that the Pizza Verace Napoletana keeps its quality of STG.
As I said, pizza Margherita still preserves its original ingredients: tomatoes (from Italy if possible), mozzarella and basil. For the dough, you must find Type 00 Italian flour and dry active yeast, salt and water. Quantities are approximated depending on how much pizza you want to make. The best pizza is the one baked in a wood oven, but, as that may prove to be difficult now, I recommend you use a pizza oven for the best results, as the normal oven won’t bake the dough evenly which will not confer it that delicious flavor.