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the brands you buy matter.

June 24, 2010

Often, people ask me how to cook good Italian, and I explain it is all in the ingredients.

Last Christmas, I found myself in a jam. My grandfather, in-laws, sister’s family, and parents were coming for a good Italian meal on Christmas Eve. I am not new at this family holiday cooking, but I was rushed and well, I cheated. I bought a brand of canned tomatoes that was below par, and well the sauce, was DISGUSTING. I mean seriously, it was awful. Bitter and thin, the sauce ruined the meal, and was not what I wanted my grandfather to have.

I learned my lesson. Stick to the brands who reflect true Italian style. Here are my recommendations, implemented by my mother and adjusted by me.

1. De Cecco. I am sorry, an oddly named German brands of pasta or the generic won’t cut it. We only buy De Cecco in this house, and the pasta shows for it. Spend the extra 50 cents, and get the quality we all desire.
2. Progresso whole peeled tomatoes. My grandmother swore by whole, peeled canned tomatoes. She squeezed them with her hands, then set them on top of simmering garlic to make the sauce. No need for basil, it is infused. In my family, we are aggressive. If a grocer doesn’t sell them, we talk to them about selling us cases directly. The bulk price is worth it.
3. Absolutely no Progresso tomatoes? True, they are hard to find. In a bind, I get the organic Muir Glen, they are a mirror substitute. Don’t ruin your Christmas by purchasing those cans that say they are genuine Italian, they aren’t. They are bitter and angry about their subservience to Progresso and Muir Glen.
4. Romano Pecorino. Throw out your crappy Parmesan, it tastes like cardboard. This is a true cheese that compliments Italian cooking. However, never put it on fish. Italians don’t mix cheese and fish.
5. Too lazy for sauce? I mean you have to be pretty lazy to not simmer sauce on a Sunday, besides it makes your entire house smell heavenly. I thought I was the only family member that did it, but a recent facebook exercise showed several of my cousins feel the same way. I find it to be the most relaxing exercise in culinary and olfactory regimes. If that is the case, then buy Rao’s Homemade or Classico. The rest is disgusting. I am not exaggerating.

Realize that what you taste, ingest, and consume has an effect on your body. Decide that buying nicer ingredients may feel expensive, but it is cheaper and better then going out to dinner, especially since no one does Italian like it is done in the home. In the end you created a meal that was perfecto.

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