In Italian, Nonna means grandmother. Her kitchen is a very special place, filled with delicious aromas of favorite comfort foods. Learning how to cook from grandmothers and family members is a unique gift that lasts a lifetime. Preserving the recipes for future generations is an essential responsibility that assures the continuity of traditions and culture.
Sometimes a simple kitchen tip is the key ingredient that transforms a challenging recipe into an easy one. These helpful hints will make the beginner cook feel confident in the kitchen and proud of the delicious results.
Asparagus: To check for freshness, “snap” off the tough ends. The fresh asparagus will break about an inch away from the bottom.
Avocado: To ripen, place in a paper bag with an apple. Store at room temperature for a few days.
Béchamel White Sauce: To prevent milk from sticking to the bottom of the pot during heating, first rinse the pot with cold water, then without drying it, add the milk.
Beets: Since beets take a long time to cook, prepare them before you need them and store them in the refrigerator. Add to salads for extra flavor and nutrition. Cut off the tops, rinse well and steam for 30 minutes or until tender. Soak in cold water, then peel off the skins.
Biscotti: Biscotti make a nice hostess gift. Pack them in an air-tight container and decorate with a colorful ribbon.
Butter: If you do not have butter, you can make it yourself. Whip heavy cream at high speed with a couple of ice cubes. The fat will separate from the whey and make a ball of fresh butter.
Chard: Chard is two vegetables in one – the stalks are crunchy like celery but sweeter, and the leaves are cooked like spinach. Rinse well. Cut off the stalk and cut into 2-inch pieces. Cook them for 4 to 5 minutes with onions in olive oil. Then add the leaves, and cook for 2 minutes longer.
Cheeses: To preserve cheese, add a cube of sugar to its container. The sugar will absorb the moisture and keep the cheese fresher longer.
Dessert: To remove the cake from its mold after it has cooled off, warm it up for a
couple of minutes.
Dirty Pots: If your pots have a bad smell, rub the inside with a handful of moist tea.
Endive: Before serving, remove the bitter inside leaves.
Fish: To keep fish from sticking to the bottom of a pan, place it on a layer of sliced lemons.
Flour Coating: When flouring small pieces of meat, poultry or fish, put them along with the flour and seasonings in a plastic bag. Close the top and shake well.
Lemons: Choose round, bright yellow and sweetly fragrant lemons to guarantee the most juice, a potent zest and a high concentration of vitamin C.
Meatballs: To keep them tender and moist, add mashed potato or cubed bread that has been soaked in milk to the meat mixture.
Nuts: Toasting nuts brings out more of their flavor. To toast, spread them evenly on a baking sheet and toast in a pre-heated 350°F for 8-10 minutes. Allow to cool and store in an airtight container.
Onions: To avoid crying while chopping onions, place a small piece of bread on the tip of the knife. To get rid of the smell of onion on your hands, wash your hands in cold water and rub with lemon juice, coffee grounds, salt or potato peels. Do not use hot water, it fixes the smell on your hands. To get rid of onion breath, eat an apple or chew some fresh parsley, citrus peel, or roasted coffee beans.
Oranges: To get more juice out of oranges put them in warm water for a few minutes before
Parsley: To keep parsley green and happy, add a piece of cork to the water.
Potatoes: Don’t buy potatoes that are soft or have cuts, bruises or decay. If potatoes have any green spots, cut them off before cooking. They could taste bitter and in large amounts can be toxic. Put peeled potatoes in water to keep them from turning brown. Use them within 2 hours to prevent the loss of water-soluble vitamins.
Rice: To prevent the rice from boiling over, add a tablespoon of olive oil to the pot. To prevent rice from sticking together, add a few drops of lemon juice to the pot.
Roast: For best results, sear evenly on all sides before placing in oven.
Rosemary: Extra rosemary can be dried by hanging in a dry place. Use in roasted vegetable dishes, soups, or stews.
Salt: To prevent salt from sticking to itself in humid weather, add some grains of uncooked rice to the salt shaker. If soups or sauces are too salty, add a peeled potato. It will absorb the extra salt.
Sauté: For best results when sautéing, make sure the olive oil or butter is hot before adding the food to the pan. Otherwise, the food may stick or not sear properly.
Shellfish: Use your nose to determine if shellfish is edible. Bad fish will give off an unpleasant odor.
Spoons: Use wooden spoons to stir food. Metal ones can change the flavors.
Vegetables: Use a little water and high heat to steam vegetables. Since steam is hotter than boiling water, vegetables will cook faster.
Whipping Cream: Heavy cream or “whipping cream” must be very cold in order to whip into big, fluffy mounds. For best results, chill the cream, beaters and bowl for at least 2 hours. Start beating at low speed until the cream begins to thicken, then increase the speed until the cream makes a stiff peak when the beaters are lifted.
Whipping Egg Whites: Egg whites produce the most volume when whipped at room temperature. However, they separate best from the yolks when cold.
Zucchini: Avoid buying larger zucchini because they can be less flavorful and may be bitter.
Asparagus: Store in a plastic bag, in the refrigerator. Use within a few days.
Basil: To keep basil fresh, put the stems in a glass of warm water.
Beets: Store uncooked beets in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Store cooked beets in a sealed container in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days.
Broccoli: Store in a plastic bag, in the refrigerator. Use within 4 days.
Butternut Squash (and other winter squash): Store at room temperature.
Carrots: Store in a plastic bag, in the refrigerator. Best used within 7 days.
Cauliflower: Store tightly wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Celery: Store in a plastic bag, in the refrigerator.
Cherries: Store at room temperature for up to three days. Or store in a paper bag in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.
Coffee: Fresh coffee makes the best coffee. Buy it in small amounts. Store whole beans in an airtight container in the freezer, not the refrigerator. Store ground coffee in an airtight and lightproof container in a cool, dry, dark place. After a few days it will begin to lose its flavor due to the combined assault of moisture, air, light and heat.
Corn: Sweet corn loses sugar every day after it is picked. Use it quickly. Store in a plastic bag, in the refrigerator. Use within a few days. Flat-leaf or Italian Parsley: Store in the refrigerator, with the stems in a glass of water covered with a plastic bag.
Garlic: Store whole garlic in a well-ventilated spot, outside of the refrigerator. Herbs, dried: Store in airtight containers away from heat, light and moisture.
Leeks: Store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Best used within a few days.
Mushrooms: Store mushrooms in a paper bag inside a plastic bag, and they will keep for a week — though they will lose some moisture. Trim the ends off the stems and use the rest.
Lettuce: Rinse well before eating, and then spin dry. Store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 2 or 3 days.
Melons: Store whole melons at room temperature and cut ones in the refrigerator.
New Potatoes: Store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
Olive Oil: Store in a cool, dry dark place in a glass, porcelain, or stainless steel container with a tight fitting lid. Do not store in plastic or reactive metals.
Onions: Store whole onions in a cool, dark place. Do not store them near potatoes, which give off moisture as well as ethylene gas, which can cause onions to spoil quickly. Cut onions should be wrapped tightly in plastic, refrigerated and used within two days.
Oranges: Store in the refrigerator. Fresh juice may turn bitter after a few days, so squeeze it fresh and drink it quickly.
Parmesan Cheese: Fresh Parmesan cheese keeps well in the refrigerator, if wrapped tightly in plastic wrap. Grated Parmesan cheese can be stored for longer periods in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer.
Peas: Most peas should be served the day of purchase because most varieties perish quickly. If refrigerated, they should be kept in a plastic bag. All fresh peas should be washed before they are cooked, but not before they are placed in the refrigerator.
Peppers: Store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Peppers will shrivel if stored for more than 4 days, except when cut and kept in water. Green bell peppers will stay fresh a little longer
than the yellow and red ones.
Pine Nuts: Pine nuts come from pine trees. They have a high fat content and should be stored in an airtight container in the freezer.
Portobello Mushrooms: Remove the mushrooms from any wrapping and transfer to a tray or plate. Cover with dry paper towel. Store in the refrigerator. They should keep about 5 to 6 days.
Potatoes: Store in a cool, dark place. Do not store potatoes in the refrigerator, as the low temperature will cause the starch to turn to sugar which will cause them to darken when cooked.
Spices: Store in airtight containers away from heat, light and moisture.
Strawberries: Store in a paper bag in the refrigerator, use within a few days. Better yet, rinse then drain and leave in a bowl on the kitchen counter so everyone can eat them.
Tea: Store crushed or whole leaves in an airtight and lightproof container in a cool, dry, dark place. Just like coffee, its enemies are moisture, air, light and heat.
Tomatoes: Store whole, ripe tomatoes in a cool place – around 55°F. Do not store them in the refrigerator. Temperatures below 50°F can destroy that great tomato flavor and texture. Store unripe tomatoes in a brown paper bag and leave them for a few days at room temperature to ripen. Store cut tomatoes in the refrigerator and use as soon as possible.
Zucchini: Zucchini are perishable, so buy only as many as you need. Store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
Artichokes: To cook, place in a pot with a few inches of boiling water. Steam until the lower leaves can be pulled from the choke, about 30 to 45 minutes.
Asparagus: Steam whole with the tips out of the water. Do not overcook.
Beans: When cooking dried beans, soak them overnight in plenty of water. Always throw away the first batch of cooking water, then add a tablespoon of oil to the second one. They will be easier to digest.
Carrots: Put peeled carrots in water to prevent them from turning brown.
Corn on the Cob: To cook, boil water, add the corn then remove it as soon as the water returns to a boil. (Corn that is not very fresh may take a few minutes longer.)
Hard Boiled Eggs: Place them in a saucepan with enough cold water to cover completely by 1 inch. Bring to a gentle boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook an additional 10 minutes. Immediately place eggs in ice water to help yolks stay bright yellow.
Leeks: Leeks are grown in sandy soil and need to be thoroughly rinsed. Cut off the outer leaves and trim the bottom. Rinse well. Begin cutting from the bottom, as you get closer to the green part, make sure to rinse away any dirt. You can also cut the stalk open and separate the leaves to make them easier to rinse.
Meat: To tenderize tough cuts of meat, soak it for a couple of hours in lemon juice or vinegar.
Mushrooms: With meaty mushrooms it’s always a good idea to add water or broth while cooking, rather than additional oil.
Potatoes: Boiled potatoes should be started in cold water rather than hot, to guarantee even cooking from outside to inside during the long cooking time.
Spinach: Rinse several times under running water, or soak it in a bowl, as the crumpled leaves have a tendency to resist washing. Lift the leaves out of the soaking bowl, empty the water, and repeat.
Strawberries: To prevent strawberries from filling with water, rinse first and then remove stems.
Vegetables: Steaming is one of the best ways to cook vegetables. It helps maintain more of the vegetable’s natural taste, texture and color. In a large pot, bring an inch or two of water to a boil over high heat. Add vegetables, cover and steam for 2 to 3 minutes. (Potatoes take 15 to 30 minutes.)
Zucchini: Rinse them, pat them dry, and trim off the ends before cooking. Small zucchini can be sliced or cubed for cooking, larger ones can be sliced lengthwise, and the seeds removed.