Experience Italy on Your Plate: Cooking Italian Food the Right Way

One of the most popular and well-known cuisines throughout the modern world, Italian food requires a special touch and years of practice in order to master. However, we’ve got an Italian-food cheat sheet that you can use to make your Italian cuisine taste more genuine. Join us as we take a culinary tour through the Mediterranean’s gem.

Where to Start When Cooking Italian Recipes

Use Fresh Ingredients

The first rule of cooking any cuisine is to use the freshest ingredients. Due to the Italian climate, there is an abundance of fresh herbs, fruit, and vegetables, and these are key parts of any Italian recipe.

Italian food uses simple ingredients, so it’s vital to make sure they’re the best of the best. If you want to get that genuine flavour, your best bet is to visit your local farmer’s market to get the produce you need for your Italian dishes.

Master the Sofrito

Almost all the traditional recipes start with sofrito, a mixture of diced onions, celery, and carrots, gently cooked in olive oil or butter. This is the base on which you will build the rest of your dish.

Cooking Traditional Dishes

Let’s get into the details of cooking specific dishes.


Italian soup is a regular feature of the cuisine—think ‘soup of the day’. Traditionally, it contains the vegetables that can be gathered that day. It’s therefore understandable that a lot of what is referred to as cucina povera (peasant cooking) is soup, as it’s a mish-mash of ingredients.

However, that’s not to say there’s no method to making a delicious soup. Take minestrone, for example, which varies depending on the season and the available ingredients. The trick with this is to combine the two basics we mentioned in the beginning—find those fresh, superior ingredients and start with the sofrito.

Tomato Sauce

You likely think of Italian food as being the quintessential food for fresh tomatoes—and you’d be right—but interestingly, tomatoes only arrived in Italy at the turn of the 15th century.

There are as many ways to make Italian tomato sauce as there are Mediterranean countries. The trick to mastering them is to try make them all, and over time, pick one or two that you really love. Some of the types of tomato sauce you can make are:


There are so many types of pasta dishes, but we recommend starting with Aglio e Olio, which translates to ‘garlic and oil’. It’s the most simple pasta recipe out there, but it can burst with flavour if you can master it, which starts with correctly cooking the pasta.

This involves perfectly seasoning the water—not under- or over-seasoning and using the starchy pasta water to make a creamy sauce by emulsifying the olive oil. And remember to cook it al dente, so no super-soft mushy pasta, please!


Typically made from ground mince and varying amounts of tomato, it’s cooked low-and-slow. The most common type in South Africa is likely the Bolognese, although there are bound to be vastly different ideas of what a Bolognese is. It might surprise you to know that the traditional version can contain more than your typical ingredients like fresh basil—it can even have dairy and wine. And did you know that it doesn’t always have a heavy tomato component, but rather a dash of the red fruit to add another delicate layer of flavour?

To enhance the flavour, you can consider adding gelatine to really bring out the umami sense, and if you want to make it your own, add a dash of fish sauce or anchovies.



Starch is a popular ingredient in Italian food, and mastering polenta is an important part of mastering the cuisine. It should be soft and smooth with no hard or grainy pieces. This means often adding in more water than the recipe calls for and, therefore, cooking it for longer.

Depending on the type of dish you’re making, you can cook it with plain water and oil if your sauce is going to be rich, or you can cook it in milk and melty cheese if you want a deep-flavoured, creamy side dish.

Where to Learn How to Cook Traditional Italian Food

If you want to get a head-start in mastering Italian recipes, take our hands-on Italian cooking course. Learn about the secrets to pasta-making, including tagliatelle, angel hair, ravioli, tortellini, casunzei, farfalle, cavatelli, and orechiette—and impress your family and friends with delicious meals.

Call us on 083 640 5960 or email bruna@parmesancheese.co.za to make a booking today.