If you don't have an Italian relative standing next to you in the kitchen, you need a copy of "There are Rules". Like your own personal Nonna, this book is experienced, opinionated, and wants you to eat well. Lu serves up the flavors, traditions, and generosity of Italian meals.
RULE: Salt is an important ingredient -- not an afterthought.
... You should salt by taste, adjusting at the end of your prep. Most home cooks tend to under-salt their food during cooking, and then over compensate at the last minute. This will result in a rather salty finished product. When used properly, salt does not make food taste salty, it just enhances the flavor.
Let me say this once more: Salt as you go. Taste. If necessary, salt again.
I do not use a measuring spoon and I do not put my fingers directly into the salt chicken to grab a pinch of salt. Rather, I use an old scoop to take salt from the chicken to transfer it to my palm, only using what I need and discarding the remainder. Not only is there a lesser chance of cross contamination, I don’t get salt under my fingernails as I’m moving along. And, no, I don’t throw the remaining salt over my shoulder!
There are some foods that must
always be salted--tomatoes are the primary example. Their acid
content requires salt that will bring out the sweetness of the
tomato and will vastly improve the taste of even those Winter-time,
pink, under-ripe tomatoes that you are sometimes forced to use
because that is all that is available. Salt is also important for
cooked tomatoes, a.k.a. sauce. I have been asked how much sugar I
put in my sauce. The answer is NONE. If the tomato passata is
properly salted, there should be no sense of bitterness or
One last note on salt: there are no salt shakers on my dinner table. Salt is used during cooking, not during dinner. If I under-salt a dish while it is being prepared, no amount of extra salt at the table can fix it. If you salt at the table, then you’ll taste salt; if you salt during cooking, then you taste the food.
“There Are Rules” makes for engaging reading, even for non-cooks ( – just ask me!). It is just what it says; each section leads with a brief pronouncement or rule, interspersed with recipes that were carefully developed by Matrascia along with a number of colleagues, who spent hours taking notes as she prepared dishes, in order to compile her methods and quantities.
As for the “rules,” they have intriguing headings, such as “Risotto waits for no one. ... Cappuccino is only for breakfast. ... Parmigiano-Reggiano does not come in a cardboard can. ... No oil in pasta water. ... If you can’t drink it, you can’t cook with it. ...” and many more, to entice the cook to read further.
Besides rules and recipes, the winsome text includes some of the “stories, the opinions and the traditions” Matrascia has used over her years of traveling and cooking in Italy and the United States. In her introduction she says, “It wasn’t so much about the recipes, they could stand on their own. ... It was more about the process of learning to cook.”
Prior to the pandemic, Matrascia taught traditional Italian cooking classes from her home. With “hands-on” classes on hold for now, Matrascia plans to start up some virtual classes in their stead.
-- Barbara Clark, The Barnstable Patriot