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The Most Underrated Ingredients in American-Italian Cooking

Here are some easy changes you can make to your Italian cooking that will elevate the final dish.

Americans have successfully ruined many iconic Italian dishes. Mostly because they are not using the correct ingredients.

Often times, the Americanized dishes are more costly and complicated thanks to the addition or replacement of traditional ingredients.

Here are some easy changes you can make to your Italian cooking that will elevate the final dish.

1. Fresh Garlic

Stop using pre-minced shit in a jar. That’s what you put in olive oil and balsamic to dip your bread in; because the flavor is more acidic and muted.

If you are skeptical that there is a difference, eat a spoonful of jarred garlic then pop a fresh clove in your mouth.

You do not have to mince it by hand (though once you start, you’ll never go back), but please use fresh garlic. And not the multi pack garlic from China. Buy individual bulbs.

Crushed cloves of garlic are also exceedingly underutilized. Not every clove needs to be minced. Set the broad side of your knife atop a clove, give it a good smack with the base of your palm, and pop it in your sauce for the garlic flavor without having a ton of small specks of it throughout.

2. Pasta Water

In most cases, if it is a traditional Italian dish, where you would use cream you can use pasta water. Let me rephrase: you should use pasta water.

Carbonara has no cream in it. Neither does cacio e pepe. These are lies Americans have sold to you. Pasta🤌🏼water🤌🏼

Right before you pull the pasta, reserve some pasta water. The starch will have the same textural effect as cream, but it will taste much better.

3. Blood Oranges

If you can find fresh blood oranges, use them. I do not care what Google says, plain ole oranges are not going to give you the same flavor profile nor depth of flavor as a blood orange.

Entirely different.

Same goes for blood orange juice. Proper blood orange juice is near impossible to find in the states, but there are solid ones out there. They are a bit pricier, but it is worth it if a recipe calls for it.

I promise you the extra buck and extra mile is worth it. Oranges have their place, but so do blood oranges.

A regular orange is a downgrade, to be honest.

4. Capers

Whatever a recipe says, add a solid tablespoon more—if we are talking the perils.

If we are talking about legitimate caper berries, buy the damn thing. Yes, those big ass caper berries. Don’t be scared of them. Not only are they absolute fire, they are so underrated. I love to halve them and add them to sauces, plates as a garnish, and marinades. Wholes ones make a phenomenal addition to any charcuterie board.

Proper capers are not that expensive. And are a definite must. Again (as long as you drain the vinegar from them) add more than what is called for.

Capers have such a unique and beautiful flavor that should be accentuated on the dish. If I see capers listed in the dish description on the menu, I expect to taste them. I am always wildly disappointed and have to ask for extra.

5. Pecorino

Say it with me: pecorino Romano is pecorino, but not all pecorino is pecorino Romano.

A lil’ cheese lesson for y’all: pecorino is any cheese that is mainly comprised of sheep’s milk. Pecorino Romano, an excellent cheese, is the Roman variant of a semi hard sheep’s milk cheese. Sicilian pepato is another pecorino cheese that is made entirely different and contains peppercorns.

Pepato is hands down my favorite cheese. It is not something you cook with often, but as an arancini filling, charcuterie board addition, salad garnish, or sandwich topper; you cannot do better. It is ridiculously good pecorino.

I digress: if a recipe calls for pecorino, Parmesan is not the same. Use pecorino.

Honestly, I prefer pecorino—or at the very least a blend—when it comes to risotto and carbonara. Cacio e pepe, a Roman cheese sauce pasta dish, uses a Parmesan-heavy blend of the two. Highly recommend this for risottos. But I honestly prefer good, authentic pecorino in carbonara over Parmesan.

And in any case, pecorino is far, far better than cheap Parmesan. Parmesan Reggiano or do not even bother.

6. Seasoned Bread Crumbs

#NeverPanko

You do not have to season them yourself (but you can😏). Buy Italian-style seasoned breadcrumbs. Easy, done.

I use seasoned breadcrumbs and, depending on the brand and what I am using them for, add seasoning to tailor the flavor to what I would like.

Italian-style breadcrumbs are a solid base to any dish. Panko belongs in the dumpster.

While I am giving breadcrumb tips, mix in at least 1/4 cup of pecorino and/or Parmesan Reggiano to your breadcrumbs IF you are using them to fry something (example: arancini). It makes the coating lighter and crispier, and it does not sponge up as much oil so it sits lighter in your stomach.

You’re welcome.

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