Ask The Chef

Ask The Chef

June 13, 2012 - Salumeria Italiana

Send your questions to and the staff at Salumeria will give you their expert advice. Here are some questions from our customers as well as some tips for your future dishes.

Q. I'm thinking of giving my father some really good olive oil for Father's Day -- for flavor and also for health reasons. What can you tell me about the health benefits of EVOO?

A. Extra virgin olive oil has many health benefits, chief among them polyphenols which are antioxidants. The characteristic "bite" of extra virgins indicates a high polyphenol level. Such olives as Coratina, Leccino, and Frantoio olives are medium to high in these antioxidants. The fresher the olive oil the better the polyphenol level. That's why you always want to ask for the latest harvest, now the 2011 harvest. Some manafacturing processes can also reduce polyphenols.  Since we sell super premiums from the latest harvest, and ones that are not processed or mixed with other oils, the polyphenols -- and health benefits -- are reliable in our EVOOs.


Q. In Italy, I've tasted extra virgin olive oil drizzled on meats. Can you suggest what I should do with the Super Premium Extra Virgin I bought from Salumeria Italiana?

A.  Start out with simple luxury: Grill ribeye or sirloin steaks, no more than medium rare. Season well with salt and pepper. Then drizzle 1-2 tablespoons of extra virgin such as Colonna Molise DOP or Segreto DOP on  top of each steak. Add a sprig of Italian parsley. For a side dish to add to the occasion, check out my recipe for Potato-Truffle Ravioli. 

Q. I saw something about kamut pasta in one of your newsletters. What is it exactly?

A. Kamut is an ancient grain believed to have been first grown by the Egyptians. A whole grain, it makes a pasta that has a texture very similar to durum wheat. That means that the pasta is easy to handle, and cooks quickly to al dente. And unlike some whole wheat pastas, it doesn't get sticky. Higher in protein and fiber than regular pasta, this is a great way to go whole grain.

Q. My daughter Angela shops in Salumeria often, and she has sent me many sauces. I am trying to make veal dishes. What is the best cut to buy, and do you always have to pound it?

A. The cut of veal you buy depends on what you want to do with it. Veal cutlets used for veal scallopini dishes such as veal marsala or piccata are pounded to an even thickness to tenderize them and ensure they cook quickly and evenly. Thicker chops or veal shanks would either be more tender or would be cooked slowly to tenderize. Here's a easy, no-fail recipe for Marinated Veal Chops With Herbed Butter.

Q. I want to make an Easter wheat pie. I bought a can of Annalisa Grano Cotta to use but the instructions are in Italian. Can you tell me where to find a translation?

A. You're in luck. We just posted a Recipe translating the Annalisa Pastiera or Wheat Pie from the back of the can. This product helps to streamline the process. Although each Italian grandmother seems to have her own recipe, passed down through generations, this one will please everyone.

Q. I bought a bag of La Grande Ruota Semola recently. Would you recommend using this alone for pasta or mixing with all-purpose flour?

A. Pasta making brings up all sorts of opinions among Italians, many of them based on regional or cultural differences. We surveyed some good pasta makers who come to our store. Maria from Avellino near Naples makes pasta at least twice a week. She uses half semolina and half all-purpose flour, and her ratio is one large egg to 100 grams of flour. She says she likes the texture of the semolina-all purpose pasta, which has a little roughness to catch the sauce. Her grandchildren always ask for her homemade pasta, she says.

Maurizio who is from Mantova in the northern region of Lombardy uses only Antimo Caputo 00 flour, which is of very fine texture. His proportions, 1 large or extra large egg to 100 grams of flour, are the same.  He's known for his filled pastas, especially tortelli di zucca (pumpkin-filled ravioli) famous in Lombardy.

The email questioner is a cooking instructor and said her semolina-only pasta was a great success. However, it is harder to work with and is often used commercially for dry pasta such as spaghetti and other long cuts.  (Below is a link to pasta dough recipe using all-purpose and 00 flour.)

Q. Would you have a fresh pasta dough recipe to share with us? I want to make pasta with my granddaughter.

A. Recipes for making egg pasta usually call for the same ingredients in slightly different amounts. Pasta making is really about technique. We give you tips to make your pasta a success.

Q. Do you have a good recipe for Italian meatballs?

A. Italians calls meatballs polpetti and usually eat them as a second course without pasta. They're usually smaller than American-style meatballs, and contain pork as well as beef. Many old recipes were all pork since it was usually cheaper. These were devised to use up leftover bits of meat by thrifty housewives, and almost never were featured in restaurants. Here's a recipe that combines two meats as well as ricotta and pine nuts for flavorful little polpetti.

  • Q. What is the best way to flatten a chicken for easy roasting or grilling?

  • A. Removing the backbone from a chicken or other bird before roasting will mean more even, quicker roasting or grilling. It also makes it easier to season with a paste of herbs stuffed under the skin. Start with the chicken breast side up and with the cavity of the bird facing you. Then using a large, sharp knife, cut along the backbone on either side and pull it out. Although working this way may sound upside down, it makes the chicken more stable, and also you can see what you're doing so it's safer. Flatten slightly with the palm of your hand and place the bird on a large half sheet or roasting pan.


Q. I am intrigued by the Chestnut Honey and its compatibility with cheese. Do you have a favorite cheese to go with it, and a wine recommendation?

A. I'm buying Mieli Thun Chestnut Honey myself today, and plan to have it for breakfast tomorrow. I'll drizzle it over whole wheat toast and fresh ricotta. For a cheese pairing, any of the fine pecorinos -- such as Pecorino Toscano Stagionato DOP or Pecorino Gran Cru -- would be wonderful with this cheese. Or try it with a creamy Taleggio DOP and some Sweet Soppressata. I like simple stuff.

For wines, look for varietals rather than a brand name. I'd recommend for reds, varietals such as Primitivo or Nero d'Avalo, or for a white, Inzolia. And to expand the conversation, Chestnut Honey would also be a great complement to grilled pork chops with rosemary and orange peel, or to any other kind of pork. It can go right on to dessert, too, over vanilla or hazelnut gelato with glass of Vin Santo or other Italian dessert wine.

Q. Could you recommend an olive oil for all types of salads, especially Caesar salads?

A. I'd recommend Partanna Extra Virgin Olive Oil. That's our go-to oil, with clear, true flavor but mild enough not to clash with strong elements in Caesar salad dressing. Another advantage of this Sicilian oil is its price. Then you can save the more expensive EVOOs for drizzling over roasted meats or fish.

Q. I love caponata. Is it difficult to make?

A. Not at all. This mixture of vegetables includes raisins, a touch of sugar, and also capers and vinegar. This sweet and sour shows the Arab influence in Southern Italy. Although the list of ingredients may look long, preparation is simple. Caponata is usually served as an antipasto and goes well on grilled bread or crackers. Here's a recipe.

Q. How should I use prosciutto in a pasta dish?

A. When I use prosciutto in pasta, I’m looking for sweetness, a little saltiness, and tenderness. A small amount of prosciutto will pack a lot of flavor,  without too much cost or calories. Orchiette with cauliflower, green olives, and prosciutto is a classic Apullian dish. Or in spring time, Tuscans love prosciutto with green beans and strozzapeti.  It can also substitute for pancetta in a carbonara sauce. And speck, or smoked prosciutto, adds a smokey hint to winter minestrones or even to a New England fish chowder.

Here are some more suggestions:

1. Use a mere 2 ounces to perfectly flavor a risotto serving four people. 2. Try it in the classic pasta recipe of peas, prosciutto, and cream with Spinosi fettucine. 3. Wrap shrimp in prosciutto, place on skewers, and grill in minutes. 4. Make a knockout pizza with prosciutto, caramellized onions, walnuts, and gorgonzola. 5. Slip bits of prosciutto over clams for clams casino. 6 Roll with grilled eggplant into a roulade filled with goat cheese. The list goes on...

1. Use a mere 2 ounces to perfectly flavor a risotto serving four people. 2. Try it in the classic pasta recipe of peas, prosciutto, and cream with Spinosi fettucine. 3. Wrap shrimp in prosciutto, place on skewers, and grill in minutes. 4. Slip bits of prosciutto over clams for clams casino. 5. Roll with grilled eggplant into a roulade filled with goat cheese. 6. Use in a Veal Saltimbocca recipe. And here's a recipe for a prosciutto, caramellized onion, walnut, and gorgonzola pizza.



Q. On your website, I saw pici pasta. Is it like bigoli? Can you tell me the ingredients?

A. Bigoli and pici are the same cuts of pasta. They are called different names in different regions -- in Tuscany, pici refers to the thick, long strands. In Venice, it is called bigoli. The ingredients of the Tuscan Pici that we sell are only durum wheat semolina and water. This hearty pasta is a good match for a meat sauce such as Bolognese or even a tomato-based seafood sauce. The pasta does take up to 18-20 minutes to cook to al dente, and should be stirred carefully to prevent breakage. However, the reward is its excellent taste!

Q. Do you have a good recipe for Bolognese sauce?

A. There are many Bolognese sauces out there. My preference is one using at least several meats -- beef, pork, a cured meat such as pancetta, and even veal. Then the Bolognese needs a long cooking time to develop the flavors -- this is a subtle sauce with the flavor coming from the simple ingredients, not from heavy spicing so cooking time is of the essence. It should be rich, complex, and delicious. See our recipe. And enjoy.

Q. What recipe for basil pesto should I use if I want to freeze it? Do you have tips on freezing?

A Salumeria Italiana manager Goni Topi makes the very popular basil pesto sold in the store and online. He makes huge batches, puts it in half-pint containers, and freezes them. This Basil Pesto recipe freezes well. Goni says the secret to successful freezing is to use good quality rigid plastic or glass containers with a tight-fitting seal on the lid, and to put the pesto in the coldest part of the freezer away from the door. That way the pesto should be good and taste fresh after thawing for several months.

Q. In the Porcini Mushroom Topping for pizza, I notice that you put cheese on your pizza sauce before scattering asparagus tips over the sauce. Why is that? Doesn't cheese go on last?

A. I like to see the ingredients, and a covering of cheese will mask the pretty green and freshness of the asparagus. The next pizza topping to appear in our RECIPES will be a white pizza with porcini and truffle cream. In that recipe, the pizza is baked with only cheese, and the truffle cream added later. Watch for the recipe and find out why!!

Q. I just bought my first box of Mutti Tomato paste. If a recipe calls for a 6-ounce can of tomato paste what is the equivalent of the Mutti double concentrated tomato paste?

A. Reduce the amount of tomato paste called for by half when using Mutti Tomato Paste, Double Concentrate. So if the recipe calls for 6 ounces of regular tomato paste, use 3 ounces. The general rule in other recipes when using this fine concentrated tomato paste is 1/2 teaspoon per person for fish, meat, or vegetables, and 1 teaspoon per person for tomato sauces, where a strong tomato taste is required.

A. Q. My pizza dough is hard to roll out. Plus it lacks flavor. What should I do?

A. I've gotten many of these questions lately at Salumeria Italiana. Here's what I tell customers. First of all, regular flour will always be difficult to roll out. That's why Antimo Caputo Double Zero flour is used by Italian chefs. You'll see a big difference. Secondly, one way to boost the flavor in pizza crusts is the same method that bread bakers use: Slow rising over at least four hours to eight hours in cool room temperature, or up to 10 days in the refrigerator will give you pizza with real taste profile -- pizza with personality. Check Recipes for my take on pizza dough.

Q. Why are you suggesting chicken thighs in your marinade recipe?

A. The thighs are really the most flavorful part of the chicken, and are also quite inexpensive. And you can cook them in different ways -- braise, grill or roast, or make a stock with them.

Q. Should I make plain risotto for risotto cakes or use your recipe for asparagus risotto?

A. If risotto cakes are too heavy on the rice, you're chewing and chewing. The asparagus cuts the starchiness of the rice, and makes it a little lighter.

Q. Your recipe for Asparagus Risotto calls for pencil-thin asparagus. Shouldn't I buy big, fat spears?

A. Thin asparagus is usually more tender, and in this recipe or even for pasta, is easier to cut into small pieces. Otherwise, the asparagus might not meld together with the risotto or pasta.

Q. What is basket cheese?

A. Basket cheese is a very mild, usually unsalted cheese that is formed in a woven basket, hence its name. This cheese is sold in Salumeria Italiana's retail store around Easter time, to be used in Pizza Rustica and other Easter specialties. Like ricotta, it is very fragile and cannot be shipped successfully. Some recipes substitute mozzarella for basket cheese. However, it must be a firm mozzarella, not mozzarella di bufala because the high water content would make the filling too runny.

Q. I love veal chops. How would you suggest making them?

A. Veal is a tender, moist cut of meat when well prepared. But it sometimes needs a flavor boost. I suggest marinating the meat before grilling it on an outdoor grill or on an indoor grill pan. Then serve it with an herbed butter sauce for a simple, yet luxurious dish.  Check Recipes for my take on veal.

Q. What kind of rice makes risotto and why?
A. Italian rices –Arborio, Vialone Nano, and Carnaroli -- are special varieties that break down to become creamy and fuse with other ingredients when cooked very slowly in liquid.  Then you have risotto, one of the glories of Italian cooking.

Q.  What’s your favorite olive oil?
A. Olio Carli. I think it’s the best value for an all-round extra virgin oil for drizzling, vinaigrettes, and sauces. And because it’s filtered, I can use it for light sautéing without fear of burning. Olio Carli is from Liguria, a region that’s not as well known as Tuscany or Sicily, but the oils produced there are outstanding.

Q. What do you always keep in your pantry?
A.  I want to have everything on deck so when I’m in the mood for, say, puttanesca, I have all the ingredients right there. It frees you up.  Salted capers, Ravida sea salt, oregano, bay leaves, olive and other oils, vinegar, San Marzano tomatoes, rice, pasta, anchovies, chocolate, the list goes on. One thing I always have is fregola, the Sardinian toasted couscous. It’s underused, I think, and should be in everyone’s pantry.

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