The Magical Olive Oil Drizzle

You can make almost every meal better if you have a “finishing extra virgin olive oil” in addition to the olive oil you use to cook.  When I prepare open face sandwiches,  pasta, risotto, soup, meat, fish, and vegetables, the end is all the same.  Tilt that bottle of good extra virgin olive oil and drizzle it on the finished dish before eating.  That bottle will cost a little more than the oil you use to cook, but it will take your dish to another level.

Blanching Basil

Fresh basil is so tasty and versatile, but if your basil hits heat, stays in your hand for too long, or is even stirred or blended for a little too long, it begins to oxidize and turn black. 

When you have a little extra time to make your recipe, blanching basil is a useful technique.  Simply bring a large pot of water to a boil and have a big bowl of ice water ready. Once the water is boiling, dip the bunch of basil into it for a few seconds – just until it wilts.  Then remove it with tongs or a slotted spoon and transfer immediately to the ice water.  Now you can use the basil however you would like.

Pistachios

Pistachios are tasty and nutritious nuts used often in Italian and in particular, Sicilian dishes.  They are also often eaten as a snack and used in ice creams, confections, baked goods and other sweets. I really love the Sicilian Bronte pistachios when available. 

Try using pistachios to make a pesto or add them to salads, meat or fish dishes for some extra flavor and crunch.  I like to add crushed pistachios to breadcrumbs and coat chicken breasts with them as well.

Basil

Basil  is used in cuisines worldwide and is a favorite fresh herb used in many Italian regional dishes.  The most famous growers of basil are from the Liguria, the Italian Riviera, but my family grew basil in both Sicily and Piedmont, and I grow it in New Jersey today. 

When using basil, always wash it and pat dry with paper towels; then remove the leaves from the stem. If you are in a hurry or are worried about those knife skills, you can tear the basil into pieces and add it to your dish.  Otherwise, stack several leaves together and roll into a cylinder and cut crossways into thin strips.

Kosher Salt

Kosher salt is a type of coarse-grained salt that I like to use for salting pasta water or water used for cooking noodles.  It has more flavor than plain iodized salt, and you don’t need as much of it to season the water.  I also use kosher salt for salting meat, fish, salad, and vegetables.  However, I prefer using sea salt when finishing dishes.

Toasting Techniques

Toasting Sandwiches in a non-stick pan:  When toasting quesadillas (like my Hummus Quesadillas) or sandwiches in a non-stick pan, use a very small amount of oil over medium heat.  My Italian culinary instructors would insist on olive oil; however, I sometimes use a little vegetable oil or Canola oil.  

Wait until the pan is hot – but not too hot – and place your sandwich onto the pan.  You can use the palm of your hand to press it down so it cooks evenly.  Use a flat spatula to flip. 

Panini Press:  For me, it is one of the greatest inventions.  I toast sandwiches, quesadillas, and day-old bagels in panini presses.  The results remind me of the Italian style panini sandwiches – your final product is crunchy on the outside and moist on the inside.