When someone offers me advice or a suggestion, a way to do something easier, or a simple trick to make a dish that much more delicious, I'm super thankful. I want to pay it forward so here you go:
Always read the recipe through from start to finish, more than once. This will best prepare you for what's to come and help get you ready to organize yourself, prep your ingredients, gather your tools and create a timeline.
Go ahead and organize yourself, prep your ingredients, gather your equipment and create a timeline. Have fun. Put on some music.
Season. Season. Season. You can't cook a dish and then just sprinkle some salt and pepper on at the end. This won't work and it will make for a bland something or other with salt and pepper poured on it. You should season and taste at each step, as much as possible. This speaks more towards the savory dishes. We want to coax the flavors of every ingredient, little by little, step by step. Even sweet recipes require salt because it brings together all of the flavors. Without, everything is just bland, dull and sad. I don't trust a recipe that doesn't include salt in the ingredients list. So there.
More about salt. Make sure your pasta water is adequately salted. Taste it. If it doesn’t taste like you are taking a sip of seawater, then add more salt.
Garlic. I like you but I don't love you but I also need you. Know what I'm sayin'? I try not to let it overpower the other flavors at the party. I don't enjoy biting into chunks of garlic, raw or cooked. When a recipe calls for sautéeing chopped garlic, I usually just smash a clove, remove the skin and sauté until lightly golden. If you like a stronger garlic flavor, then peel, and chop or mince the garlic.
Onion is also an important aromatic, but like garlic, I don’t like it to be too strong. Sometimes a recipe will call for an entire chopped onion. I usually just do half that amount. Sauté on gentle heat it so it starts to soften. I loathe chopped up raw onion when there's not supposed to be any. Then you take a bite and it's an awful surprise. There go your taste buds. Good day sir.
Ingredients matter. Whenever possible, use fresh, high-quality stuff. If you can’t, that’s ok too but just do the best you can. It will make a difference I promise. Grated Parmesan is not Parmigiano Reggiano from Italy. The end.
De Cecco pasta is my favorite brand but there are other good ones out there! If you can, check out Rummo or Giuseppe Cocco (super pricey but amazing).
When using canned Italian peeled tomatoes don't be fooled by the label. Labels lie. Many of them claim to be "San Marzano Style". What does that even mean? They either are or are not. Lately, I've been using Cento and I have been very happy with the results. They are creamy and velvety and not too acidic. Find your favorite brand.
More about canned tomatoes. Whenever I am making any type of tomato sauce, I put the tomatoes in a blender or Vitamix and purée them with a healthy handful of fresh basil. That way, you are already starting off with a fresh, basil-infused sauce before you even begin to build the sauce and other flavors.
If you want to create that lovely sear on pieces of meat, don't overcrowd the pan. Food releases moisture when it's cooking and will steam rather than sear if too crowded. The same is true when roasting vegetables, potatoes, meats, etc.
Another thing about labels. Do a google search to find a list of the olive oil companies that are truly selling pure extra virgin olive oil. Many of them are liars and frauds and are selling you a mixture of sub-par oils. Good times.
Pies. I'm not a pro. But I know a few things:
Keep everything as cold as possible. You can even throw your flour and mixing bowls, etc. in the fridge as well. Fill up a glass with ice and water and put that in the fridge too. Dough doesn't like warmth. Don't try to make a pie in the south. Oh, wait.
After you make your dough, let it chill out for no less than 3 hours in the fridge.
There are so many methods for making your dough. You really just have to see what works best for you. You can use your hands to cut the butter into the flour, or your food processor, or try the fraisage way. It's the French technique where you use the heel of your hand to smear the butter into the flour in long strokes. Try that one for sure!
All butter crust vs. butter and shortening vs. lard, add vodka, don't add vodka, again, you just have to experiment and see what you like. Many people swear their way is THE BEST way but really the only thing that matters is what works for you.
For single crust pies that I am pre or blind baking, I will usually freeze them for about 30 minutes before baking. It helps the dough hold its shape and not shrink. This isn't necessarily true for pumpkin and other custard pies. Some say to add warm filling into a warm crust, others say the opposite. Insert confused emoji here.
This is true about tarts as well. I will line my tart pan, poke holes in it with a fork, and freeze for 30 minutes before blind baking.
I attempt to make my dough a day before and bake it the next day. Less overwhelming for the pie-making extravaganza.
When rolling out your dough don't forget to breathe. Seriously.
For other pies that aren't single crust, I will still put the entire pie in the fridge for 30 plus minutes before baking.
Pies can be annoying and frustrating. But, they are SO delicious so be patient and keep pie'ing. The more you do it the better you will be! Yey!
Always use some sort of eggwash. Please. I use 1 T milk, 1 egg, and a pinch of salt. After I gently brush the egg wash on the pie I sprinkle it with turbinado sugar for color, flavor, and texture.