Italian Cooking Tips & Tricks

Welcome to Mise en Place, a column which takes its cue from the French tradition that literally translates to “everything in it’s place.” More than just the culinary process of prepping and assembling ingredients beforehand, Mise en Place is a state of mind. A philosophy of cooking, that will equip you will all the tips, tricks and hacks you need to embrace and elevate your inner chef.

With this edition, Aabhas Mehrotra – Head Chef of Sorrentina by Foodhall – shares his expertise to help you master the art of cooking deliciously-authentic Italian food at home.

Stir, Stir, Stir

Always salt the water while boiling pasta — lots of it. You can never over-salt the pasta, but you can under-salt it.

Take the pasta out of the boiling pot a minute before al dente and put them straight into the frying pan. Stir it together with the sauce, much as you would stir a risotto. The starch from the pasta will thicken the sauce and make it creamy. If you whip it up properly, it will look like you have added cream to your pasta. It’s an amazing trick!

If you are making a tomato based sauce always go for the best quality tomatoes. Good tomatoes will generally cost only 5 percent more than the average ones, but make all the difference to your Italian dish.

Keep It Simple

The beauty of Italian cuisine is that we can put together a dish with just two ingredients. The goal is to bring out the natural flavours of ingredients rather than pile a lot on top of each other.

The less you do to a dish, the better it is. In Italy, traditionally fridges are empty. A trip to the market is made every day, It’s all about freshness.

Fresh Herbs Only

This is one of the most important tips for making good pasta. Always use fresh herbs like parsley, sage, basil, or tarragon and add them towards the end. If you add herbs in the cooking process, they will lose their natural colour and flavour.

Flavor Your Oils

Just warm up some olive oil (don’t make it too hot) and throw in spices and herbs. You can use rosemary, oregano, thyme, garlic, bay leaves or basil. Just be careful not to heat the oil too much if you are using fresh herbs; however, the oil can be warmer if you are using dried herbs, as this will bring out the natural oils from the herbs.

Let the infused oil cool overnight before bottling it up. Use this oil to flavour your pasta, dips, bread and to drizzle over fish.

Forget Pizza Try Focaccia

Don’t try making a pizza at home; it will never taste like one from a top Italian restaurant. That’s because conventional ovens are not built to reach high temperatures of 300 degrees which is the least you need to make a good pizza. Instead try making a focaccia (Americans call it a Deep Pan Pizza). It’s like a pizza with a thick crust made in a pan.

Make the dough with store-bought yeast and leave it for a couple of hours; it will double in size. Work it again with your hands trying to blow out all the trapped air. Then lay it out in a baking dish and top it with dried herbs, lots of olive oil and some salt. Let it rest again for another half an hour before you bake it at 180-200 degrees for 20 minutes.

{ Recipe for the easiest and most delicious focaccia, here }

Up Your Risotto Game

To make a good risotto always toast the rice first. Just heat some oil and toast the rice till it becomes shiny. Then throw in the onions and quickly add the white wine (go for a dry white wine, not a sweet one). If you don’t evaporate all the wine, it will result in a risotto that is too acidic and indigestible as well. So make sure that the wine evaporates completely before you cover the rice with stock and cook it slowly. Take it off the fire when it’s still a bit al dente; cover it with a cling wrap and leave it for five minutes. Now comes the secret—drop some chilled butter and stir it all up. This will make your risotto creamy.

Straight From the Oven

This is the easiest way to show off your cooking prowess.

Take a baking pan, place your choice of protein and vegetables along with potatoes, olives, capers and sun-dried tomatoes and cover it with a bit of wine and water (or vegetable stock if you have). At least 2/3 of the protein has to be covered by the liquid. Bake it for half an hour.

Now comes the pro tip — take the meat out while it’s still undercooked, cover and let it rest while you enjoy a drink or two with your guests. The longer you rest it, the better it will be. The idea is to not spend too much time in the kitchen. Even if you are doing a pasta, do a baked version!

About Chef Aabhas/ Sorrentina:

Sorrentina by Foodhall is a modern Italian restaurant located in Foodhall’s flagship location at Linking Road, Mumbai. Chef Aabhas Mehrotra blends traditional techniques, rustic flavours and seasonal specials to bring you a slice of Italy in the heart of Mumbai.

Follow him @aabhas.mehrotra @sorrentinabyfoodhall @foodhallindia

We’d love to hear from you! Do let us know if you try this recipe – you can leave a comment below and/ or tag us in your delicious creations on Instagram @the_foodiediaries.

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  1. Lily Bridgers

    I needed to hear that the best tomatoes, which typically cost only 5% more than regular ones but make all the difference to your Italian cuisine, should always be used when preparing a tomato-based sauce. I sure hope the authentic Italian restaurant my husband and I can find follows that tip because we just love a good tomato caprese! We’re celebrating our 1st wedding anniversary next week and we both miss our honeymoon in Italy so we thought it’d be perfect to dine at an Italian restaurant. Thanks for the tips.

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