Sadly, when most people think of Italian food, they conjure up images of a plate of pasta sauced with something red and tomato-like, then topped with grated “Parmesan” that comes from a green plastic tube.
But Italian food is so much more than that. Thanks to its location smack dab in the middle of the Mediterranean Ocean (and that whole “vast empire” thing), Italian cuisine is really an amalgamation of different cultural influences and flavors that stretch far beyond typical ‘Italian Restaurant’ menus.
Now while that may seem daunting to the home cook, don’t fret: while Italian cuisine is based on a variety of world dishes, those dishes anchoring its place in the culinary world are famous for their simplicity.
Below are some “fancy” Italian dishes you can prepare at home that will both impress your friends, and broaden your horizons.
Chicken cacciatore (or chicken “hunter-style”) is a braised chicken dish that’s not only fun to say, but fun to prepare. All you need to do is:
Brown some quartered chicken, sauté rough chopped vegetables, braise in a combination of stock and wine.
The trick to great cacciatore is really in the braising technique: be sure to keep the pot covered and at a low, steady simmer for the entire hour or two of cooking.
Too hot a boil or too harsh a temperature change, and your chicken (or rabbit, or roast) will come out tough and dry.
But if you keep everything within that 250 – 275 ºF range, the muscle’s collagen melts down, and you get this wonderfully tender meat and perfectly paired sauce that goes great over some pasta or polenta.
Again: a braised dish of luxurious consistency. Ossobuco is traditionally made with veal shanks (the cut between the shoulder and hoof), but with all the outcry over mistreatment of veal, adult beef is more commonly used.
Just like the cacciatore above, the trick is in maintaining the right braising temperature and pace, but what separates ossobuco from any other dish is the marrow’s presence in the finished sauce.
During braising, the bone marrow slowly leaches out from the shank, thickening and flavoring the sauce as it does so. After cooking, the marrow left in the bone is essentially meat butter; spread over some crusty bread it is truly remarkable.
(Quick tip: ossobuco can be rather rich. To help counter that richness, mince some lemon
zest with garlic and parsley, and you get this herby, aromatic gremolata that will bring those lemons sitting in your fridge into a whole new light.)
The moment you hear someone say “gelato is just like ice cream,” you know one of two things about that person: they’ve either never had it or they were sold ice cream that some crafty creamery labeled “gelato.”
Gelato is kind of a wonder: it contains less milk fat than ice cream, yet the way it feels on your tongue is far silkier and satisfying. Reasons for that range from gelato’s serving temperature to the amount of air trapped in the finished product, sure, but all that really matters is: you can make gelato at home.
There are a wide range of countertop gelato makers available, and they come with easy-to-follow instructions. Just add your ingredients, turn the machine on, and just wait for the magic to happen.
So it’s time for you, the home cook, to put on your Big Boy (or Girl) Britches and start taking on fancier Italian food offerings. They’re easy, exciting, and most of all: DEE-licious.