Italian food is eaten all over the world, and if you cook, even once in awhile, you’ve probably prepared some classic Italian dishes. Whether you’re cooking for a family, group or preparing a romantic dinner, you really can’t go wrong with Italian cuisine.
Basic Italian food recipes are everywhere, and chances are you already have favorite books or sites that you turn to for recipes. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with the classics if prepared properly, there are some ways you can spruce up traditional recipes and make them your own.
Homemade chicken parmesan served over penne pasta will delight even the pickiest dinner guests.
Chicken parmesan is a classic, and it’s many people’s introduction to Italian food. There are countless recipes and about as many variations as there are chefs, but none of them are unique to your kitchen.
Spice It Up: Bread Crumbs
Bread crumbs are an integral part of good chicken parmesan, so ditch those breadcrumbs that your mom used from the grocery store. If you don’t mind getting dirty in the kitchen, you can easily make your own breadcrumbs with a day-old loaf of bread and your broiler or oven.
The flavor of homemade breadcrumbs is much better than the ones you’ll get in a can or jar.
If you don’t want to make your own breadcrumbs, try using Japanese Panko breadcrumbs instead of regular ones. They’ll add a little extra crunch and flavor, and Panko breadcrumbs are pretty much the gourmet standard.
Your dinner guests may not know exactly why your chicken parmesan is so much better than everybody else’s, but you will. The secret is in the breadcrumbs.
Another traditional, classic dish, baked manicotti is a great dish for a big group or picky kids because it’s relatively easy to make, and you can feed a big group without breaking a sweat. But what’s going to make your baked manicotti special and different than everybody else’s?
Pick the Right Cheese
Baked manicotti calls for a fair amount of cheese, so the cheese you pick really matters. Baked manicotti calls for two types of cheese, both of which give the dish its signature flavor.
Buy a block of Parmigiano-Reggiano and grate it yourself for the best flavor.
Instead of going for bargain-basement parmesan that comes out of a can, go for something a bit better.
Grab a block of Parmigiano-Reggiano from the cheese aisle at the grocery store and grate it yourself. It will cost you a little bit more, but the quality and taste is so much better you’ll wonder why you wasted your time with anything else.
If you can’t find Parmigiano-Reggiano at your regular grocery store and you don’t to make an extra trip to a gourmet store or cheese shop, Pecorino can work just as well.
Making your own ricotta cheese is well-worth the effort.
Most people don’t know too much about the quality of the Ricotta cheese that they’re buying. In fact, if you’re like most people, you probably just grab the first container of Ricotta that you see in the refrigerated cheese aisle. However, there is a difference between good ricotta and the stuff you usually get at the grocery store.
With ricotta cheese, you want to look for the freshest possible cheese. In some markets, you’ll find hand-packed ricotta, and that’s the best option, if you can find it.
You might need to go to a specialty shop in order to find hand-packed whole-fat ricotta, but you’ll notice the difference in the final product immediately. The taste of a quality ricotta cheese is much milder, yet somehow deeper in flavor than cheaper pre-packaged ricotta.
If you really want to experiment, you can even find recipes to make your own ricotta cheese that will rival pretty much anything you can buy from a store. It’s isn’t that hard, either.