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.

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.

How to Saute Garlic

Be sure to add enough olive oil to almost coat the entire pan, and turn to low to medium heat.  Once the pan begins to get hot, add the garlic slowly and lower the heat if it begins to cook too quickly. 

It is important to cook garlic so that it’s golden.  Once it begins to turn brown, an unpleasant bitter taste is released.

How to Cook Pasta

General Cooking Instructions

  1. Bring large pot of salted water to boil.
  2. Do not break the pasta
  3. Cook the pasta until very al dente, which is about 2-3 minutes earlier than what the package reads for cooking time.
  4. Remove the pasta with a slotted spoon, Chinese spider, or tongs – depending on the shape of the pasta – and add to your pan of sauce and cook for the additional 2 minutes, stirring so the pasta is coated.  You can add a ladle of hot pasta water to adjust the consistency and taste of the sauce. 
  5. Turn off the heat and add the grated cheese and any fresh herbs called for in the recipe.
  6. Serve HOT!

Pasta and Noodles 101

Salting Your Pasta/Noodle Water:  My general rule for salting pasta water is to add 1 to 1 ½ tablespoon of kosher salt to 6 quarts of water in a large pot. If you use iodized salt, use less.

Cooking Rice Noodles: Rice noodles are more delicate than the wheat pasta that I ate as a small child, but I love them!   To cook rice noodles, bring 3-4 quarts of water to a boil in a  6-8 quarter pan over high heat.  I rinse the rice noodles first in a bowl of cold water and then add them to the pot.  Add the rice noodles and stir to separate.  Cook until barely tender to the bite for about 2- 3 minutes.  Drain and use immediately.

Picking Kitchen Knives

I believe that there are three knives that you must have in the kitchen:  a chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a serrated knife.

A chef’s knife has a wide blade between 6 and 10 inches long and is used mostly for chopping.  A paring knife looks like a mini-chef’s knife; the blade is between two and four inches long.  It’s ideal for peeling onions, slicing vegetables, and even cutting small vegetables and filleting small fish.  I use a serrated knife for cutting bread, tomatoes, meat, and citrus.

How to Crush Garlic

Simply place a clove of garlic under the palm of your  hand and crush it.  It might hurt a little, but some cooks prefer this method.  You don’t even need to remove the skin.

You can also take a chef’s knife and place the blade flat on the clove with the sharp side facing away from you.  Use the heel of your hand to press the blade down on the clove.