Some basic Italian cooking terms you should know
Most recipes are written in a simple form. From time to time there are words and phrases that you should become familiar with.
Al dente: You will see this term in practically every pasta dish or recipe. The literal meaning is, “to the tooth”. Al dente means that the pasta is done to a chewy perfection. There are many cooks that tend to overcook pasta, so that when the pasta sauce is added, the whole mixture turns to a mush. In the old country one way to see if the pasta is ready is by taking a strand of the pasta such as spaghetti, and throwing it against the wall. It sticks to the wall the pasta is ready. If you really don’t care for this method, just bite a single piece of pasta to see if it is cooked to the consistency that you like.
Julienne: Some folks think that this is a fancy Italian name for Julian, its not. It’s just the gourmet word for saying “cut into very thin strips”. Even though this word is from French origin is often used in Italian cooking.
Reduce: Creams, sauces, or soups are often reduced by allowing to boil until the stock is condensed in thickness. Boiling off or reducing is an inexact measurement. Don’t burn your pan and use discretion when a recipe calls for, “reduce by half” as this simply means, boil until the liquid is about half of what you started with.
Deglaze: A recipe may call for a pan to be deglazed. When meat is cooked in a pan or skillet in the oven there is residue from the cooking that coats the inside of the pan. Deglazing means to add some liquid, either water or wine, to the pan to help scrape up the brown morsels and drippings that remain in the pan. Normally you will remove the pan from the burner so that it does not burn or catch fire.
Marinara: In the old country, wives of fishermen would make a tomato sauce in a quick manner that would be served with the catch of the day. Today, marinara refers to various forms of tomato sauces that are made without meat. Tomatoes, herbs, and spices are the only additions that are normally used to make a tomato sauce called marinara.
Ragu: A meat sauce sometimes referred to as Bolognese, usually includes some vegetables like celery, minced onions, and diced carrots. One or all three veggie ingredients can be used. Sometimes a small amount of cream is added as well.
Dolce: This is a term that is generally referred to for a desert. The word actually means sweet.
Italian cooking basic terms
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