Selecting the best ingredients is key.

August 14, 2008

High-quality ingredients are essential to Italiancooking―the better your olive oil, tomatoes, and cheese, thebetter these simple dishes will be.

Olive oil: One of the essential ingredients of Italiancooking, olive oil is used not simply as a cooking oil but for theflavor it adds to a dish. For this reason, it's important to useonly extra-virgin olive oil―it has the most flavor.

Tomatoes: When fresh, ripe tomatoes are not available, usegood canned tomatoes (unless the recipe specifically calls forfresh). Choose whole, peeled tomatoes rather than chopped orcrushed. Use imported Italian San Marzano tomatoes if you can findthem; they're the best.

Garlic: Use garlic judiciously so it's not an overwhelmingpresence.

Pasta: Use pasta imported from Italy. Premium brands ofartisanal production will have a satisfying texture and the subtleflavor of semolina flour. For egg pasta, avoid the "fresh" pastasold in refrigerated cases. Either use homemade or buy the driednoodles packaged in nests.

Rice: Arborio is the most common rice used in makingrisotto, but other varieties―such as Carnaroli or VialoneNano―which are just now becoming available in America, areperhaps even better. One characteristic they all share is atranslucent, starchy exterior that melts away in cooking to giverisotto its distinctive creamy consistency.

Dried porcini mushrooms: Look for packages that have largeslices of whole mushrooms. They add a wonderful rich flavor torisottos, pasta sauces, and stews, and can infuse cultivated whitemushrooms with their robust flavor.

Parmigiano-Reggiano: Only cheese that is produced in alimited area surrounding Parma according to strict guidelines maybe sold as Parmigiano-Reggiano. It's a cheese of incomparableflavor, texture, and richness that make it not only an excellentgrating cheese but also one of the world's great table cheeses.

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