Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Cooking from Italian recipes

Many of us are lovers of Italian cuisine, and some of us actually cook it, or try to. But if you want to take it to the next level- and believe me, it will be a quantum jump- seek out and follow recipes in the original Italian, from Italian sources. Here's how to start:

You should have some knowledge of Italian, but not necessarily advanced. The hardest part of Italian is the verb, and the verbs in recipes are generally imperatives ("beat two eggs," "place in oven"), indicative tense ("I beat two eggs," I place in the oven"), or the easiest, infinitives. You're not going to get too many subjunctives, imperfects or passati remoti. Although it would be amusing if you did. The vocab, while extensive, is limited, especially for the simpler fare. Get a decent online bilingual Italian dictionary.

Now. You can of course collect Italian cookbooks, old and new, but the way to go is the Internet. Specifically, Google. No, but not, or other non-Italian Googles. Go to The results from the various country versions of Google are not the same. Try this experiment: in, input "spaghetti carbonara"; in, input "spaghetti carbonara." See? Do you want Americans (or even worse, Brits) telling you how to make Italian food? I don't. For a fast recipe, while you are still in your default Google, input the name of the dish plus the word ricetta, which should take you to Italian resources. For example, "spaghetti carbonara ricetta" should weed out non-Italian versions of same. Other great sources are Italian food blogs, Italian food forums, and the Italian version of Italian food producers.

So, if you are American, you will now notice that these Europeans are measuring things metrically. Of all the nerve. Naw, don't do all the calculations, are you kidding me? You can of course have your little set of measuring cups and such in fluent metric. But once again, Google is your amico. Input any pesky metric units in and out will come the extremely rational and user-friendly American units! Try these: 1.5 kilos in pounds, 600 ml in ounces, 180 degrees Celsius in Fahrenheit. How cool (or hot) is that?

Now we're cooking' with gas (literally, I hope). Don't just stop at the written recipes. Go to the video recipes. This should make it easier because you'll actually be seeing what they're doing as they're prattling along; but you can get into a lot of trouble if the video ricetta doesn't come with a written list of ingredients and quantities. Here's an example of one that does, a pasta with tuna recipe from the top food blog Giallo Zafferano. If you are advanced in Italian and already a proficient cook, go straight for the video recipes you'll find on You Tube, once again using the "ricetta" tag to weed out non-Italian stuff.

One last note. Italians tend to be less precise in their recipes, probably because they assume that you know a lot of this stuff already. You're not likely to find things like "pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F, lower to 325, and bake for 22-26 minutes until knife comes out clean when inserted in middle and edges are a deep golden brown." Deal with it- it's all worth it.