In our 6th year of teaching homemade, Italian cooking, the number one skill I think students leave here with has got to be seasoning. Seasoning, as opposed to flavouring, is just the simple skill of adding enough salt and pepper to the components of a dish.
Yes, the components of a dish, not just the completed dish itself. Let me explain….If we are making chicken parmigiana we will season the sauce perfectly and then also season the chicken before we add the breading. If we are making pasta we will season the water before boiling the pasta…..www.natalinaskitchen.com/cooking-pasta-101/ and then again, we will season the sauce. This ensures that the entire dish we be seasoned perfectly when it arrives at the table and extra salt or pepper will not be necessary…the only extra additions at an Italian table are usually chillies, for heat, and, depending on the dish, grated cheese.
Seasoning should not be confused with flavouring. Seasoning brings out the natural flavour of the ingredients with the use of salt. Pepper primes the taste buds or wakes them up. It also prepares your stomach for digestion by releasing digestinal fluids. Flavouring adds another, completely different flavour. This excercise with tomatoes is a great example;
- Chop a large tomato into small pieces and place it in a bowl
- Taste a piece before adding salt
- Now add a small sprinkle of salt and stir it….let it rest a few minutes. You will notice that the salt will cause moisture to seep out of the tomato
- now taste a piece, it should taste brighter
- now sprinkle a little more salt, let it sit again a couple of minutes, more liquid should be released
- taste another piece…brighter still?
- now add a small pinch of ground black pepper
- taste now…it should be completely different and better than the the first and second piece
- continue tasting and adjusting until it is perfect….be careful though as there is a fine line between perfectly seasoned and over seasoned!
- now if we added chopped garlic that would change the flavour entirely…garlic is a flavouring
My students will hear me say… “Season, taste and adjust…” numerous times during a class. They will often ask me for an exact measurement of a seasoning for a dish and I can’t always tell them. You see, when using fresh produce the size will vary. When reducing a sauce the amount of liquid remaining will vary as well….these factors can affect how much seasoning you need. The best tool for seasoning is your palate. Sometimes that means cooking a small sample of a raw filling with meat in it to taste it before cooking the entire batch. i.e. meatballs
If you master the simple art of seasoning your dishes more effectively, you will automatically elevate the taste of your dishes. And don’t be afraid of seasoning, especially salt…homecooked meals have a fraction of the salt of prepared meals. Salt is often used as a preservative in prepared foods. The health warnings are often directed to people who are not preparing the majority of their meals in their own home.
So get in the kitchen and let’s bring homemade back….
Ciao for now, Natalina