Monday, February 25, 2008

How to cheat at Italian. Time-saving tips again.

Who is this guy? A hint: he loved pasta. See the end of this post where he is a more mature gentleman.

Time-saving tips again! I used to give a lot of them two years ago – but I hope you don't remember, as I am a bit embarrassed.

I love good food, made out of good ingredients. But I hate cooking.

YET, even more I hate frozen dinners or ready-made food, especially soups and sauces.

So I do cook, and I suffer and cook.

Where is Mr HP, you ask? To tell you the truth, he does cook quite often. But for one thing; he comes home hours after Miss Funnybunny and me, and we will be starving if we keep waiting for a provider. Another thing is that his menus are slightly limited. For example, they often contain minced meat. Too often. So, we need a refreshing change.

In yesterday's Guardian there were good tips under the title "How To Cheat At Italian". (There have been articles like "How To Cheat At Chinese" and "How To Cheat At French", but those are far, far more difficult and not at all as practical.

* * * * *

How to cheat at Italian

No need to slave over a pasta machine. For Italian like mamma makes, just ask the maestro, Giorgio Locatelli

Sunday February 24, 2008
The Observer

1. Leftover soup tips

When we make soup at home, we always freeze the leftovers in ice cube trays; when they're frozen you pop them out and into a plastic bag and they'll be there waiting when you get home from holiday, or late from work. Remember to cool your leftovers down quickly in the fridge, though.

ISTORI: Very good. And so clever. First into cubes and then the cubes into a plastic bag. Can you believe this!

2. Keep it simple

If you make things easier for yourself then your guests will feel more welcome - when they come over for dinner they don't want to see you tearing your hair out in the kitchen. You'll never go to an Italian person's house and be served show-off food - they'll cook food that they know well. So it's not really cheating to get a little help from a good delicatessen - get some cured meats and some olives and put them out for when people arrive. We wrap cured meat around breadsticks and serve them as part of the antipasti.

ISTORI: Hmmm... I usually, like ALWAYS, do cook food I know well. But now I could wrap cheese over my rye bread stick as my show-off food? And my delicatessen is the Hakaniemi Food Market, of course.

3. Think ahead

Make sure one course is coming from the oven: either a roast or some baked fish, or do a pasta al forno, which you can make the day before. If you do something like lasagne, you'll only need to make the bechamel topping and add some parmesan and put it in the oven. I always make my lasagnes a day or two early - a night in the fridge really intensifies the flavour.

ISTORI: I have not yet figured out what this means and why. Too many difficult words like "al forno" and "bechamel". But once I have solved the codes here I'll follow this, too.

4. Avoid ready-made sauces

Using fresh tomatoes is always best in sauces, but tomatoes are seasonal, and there's nothing wrong with using a ready-made passata. Just avoid ready-made sauces - none of them are any good and they're full of sugar. It's not difficult to make your own - just buy some tomatoes, olive oil and fresh basil and warm them up!

ISTORI: I SO agree! Ready-made sauces are all bad, bad, bad. Ketchup being the worst – too much sugar. As for me, only pesto will do. I make good sauces, but to the list of oil, tomatoes and basil I'd add onions and garlic.

5. Shop every day

So often I go to people's houses and see a little bunch of basil suffocating in the fridge. We shouldn't shop once a week just so we can eat rubbish for five days. Your fridge should be empty every night, or at the very least, cook the fresh things in it, and put the finished dish in the fridge.

ISTORI: I don't actually like to shop every day, but luckily the shops are close and I often have to get just a little bit of something almost every day. We have also learned not to buy a lot at once. So – ok.

6. Cook too much

If you make fresh pasta, remember that it freezes brilliantly, including stuffed pasta. Make a kilo and freeze the extra in a single layer on a sheet of greaseproof paper for about six hours, then put it in a plastic bag (with a label telling you the date and what's in it!). Try and keep at least part of the freezer empty for this sort of thing - we always have a clear shelf in ours.

ISTORI: Yep. I always do cook too much. (And then freeze.)

7. Don't buy flavoured oils

Avoid flavoured oils at any cost. They are absolutely pointless. Just get yourself some beautiful olive oil and chop up a couple of garlic cloves and add them to the bottle. Next day you will have garlic olive oil. Or you could use dried rosemary.

ISTORI: "Avoid flavoured oils at any cost." Seriously? WHAT are flavoured oils? So this was an easy one again.

8. Use a slow cooker

Slow cookers are an excellent investment and very safe. You can make foolproof slow-cooked ragu in one. Put two kilos of minced beef, browned, two chopped carrots, a chopped celery stalk, two chopped onions, a bouquet garni, two cloves of garlic, a bottle of red wine, a litre of passata, five tablespoons of olive oil, a litre of water and some salt and pepper (this will serve eight) in the cooker first thing in the morning and then when you get home from work you'll have the best ragu.

ISTORI: I wish I knew what a "slow cooker" is. But once I have found that out I will definitely get one. This ragu sounds delicious, with onions, passata, wine and the rest of the music.

9. Cheat with a lamb shank

Or you could put a shank of lamb in it, with some vegetables and cover it with water and you'll have fantastic meat, vegetables and a perfect stock for risotto.

ISTORI: Hmmm... that one is something difficult again. To have a stock sounds good, but I am not a risotto person.

10. Use a meat thermometer

The other thing I strongly recommend is a meat thermometer. My wife, Plaxy, was a bit sniffy about it to start with, but now she uses it, too, and it's just the most straightforward way to make sure your meat is perfect every time.

ISTORI: If I ever cook meat I promise I most certainly will do it with a meat thermometer. I just have not proceeded so far. If we found some organic-eco-lamb or reindeer somewhere the day might come.

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