Cooking School

7 tips for making the best Italian food at home

By: Jennifer Bartoli

Seared Cherry Tomato Pasta <br /> Photography by Jeff Coulson Author: Canadian Living Credits: Seared Cherry Tomato Pasta <br /> Photography by Jeff Coulson

Cooking School

7 tips for making the best Italian food at home

By: Jennifer Bartoli
When you have a handful of picky eaters to please, going out for Italian is a good start. But a few key ingredients and techniques can help you make delicious Italian recipes right in your kitchen. Try our tips for making the best Italian food at home.

1. Cook pasta until it’s al dente

Restaurant-quality pasta should only be cooked to the point where it’s firm to the bite, as opposed to mushy. To ensure that your pasta isn’t overcooked, taste a strand of pasta one minute before the suggested cooking time indicated on the package directions. Then you’ll be able to best assess when to drain it.

2. Properly salt your pasta water
Delicious pasta dishes start with well-seasoned pasta water. Pasta water should taste like the ocean, which requires more salt than you might think. Most of that salt doesn’t end up in your food, of course, but generously salting your water is the key to ensuring that you have a tasty canvas to work with. Use two tablespoons of iodized table salt per five quarts (20 cups) of water and 450g (one pound) of pasta. You can decrease that amount to one tablespoon if you want to use lightly salted pasta.

3. Use good quality extra-virgin olive oil
Extra-virgin olive oil, made from the first pressing of the olives, is la crème de la crème of olive oils. It’s full-bodied, fruity and very flavourful. Use good-quality extra-virgin olive oil as a finishing oil to drizzle over salads, pasta or grilled meat or fish dishes. Though it costs more, it’s well worth the splurge.

4. Don’t buy pre-grated cheese
Look for blocks of cheese and stay away from the already grated kinds, which are less fresh and less flavourful. Grate cheese using a microplane or grater for small shreds, or a vegetable peeler if want to top your dish with larger shavings.  

5. Amp up your herb game
Whether it’s garnishing a Caprese salad with fresh, torn basil, making gremolata to top grilled fish or tossing in some fresh parsley to finish a pasta primavera, fresh herbs are an essential part of Italian cooking. Look for fragrant herbs and add them generously to your favourite Italian dishes for an extra touch of freshness.


6. Keep it simple
Italian food is all about simple recipes that showcase fresh, good-quality ingredients. Look for the best ingredients you can find, even if that means using them in smaller quantities. Good-quality fresh buffalo mozzarella, tuna packed in olive oil and paper-thin slices of cured meat will transform your meal from tasty to spectacular.

7. Let cheese come to room temperature before serving
Love a good antipasto platter? Make sure to take cheeses out of the fridge about one hour before serving so the cheeses have the best flavour and texture.

Craving pasta? Take a look at 10 of our best pasta recipes.
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Cooking School

7 tips for making the best Italian food at home

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