The secrets to good Italian cooking

Think Italian cooking is all about the laborious processes of kneading dough and stewing tomatoes? Think again! Here are a few handy hints to execute the perfect Italian dish from Bella Vista’s Head Chef, Jem Erdonmez.

There’s nothing quite like filling your home with the scent of rustic Italian cooking. The bubbling of cheese that tops a comforting lasagne, the sizzling of thinner-than-paper eggplant slices ready to be rolled in a delicious involtini. Then there’s the almond decadence of a crescent-shaped tea biscuit served with a nice, strong coffee…

But, while this all sounds like it may taste like gourmet’s answer to heaven, it also sounds like an arduous task. There’s the peeling of fresh tomatoes, the simmering down of sauces, the minutes hunched by the oven to assure your pizza dough has the right colour and crunch.

Not so! According to Jem Erdonmez, Head Chef at Bella Vista Hotel, precision is to French cooking, what simplicity is to the Italians. That is, the flavours of Italy may be intense but creating them isn’t as laborious as most would like to believe.

“It’s all about good quality ingredients, cooking everything from scratch, and keeping it simple,” he says.

That’s right, our favourite culinary delights that were derived from ancient Rome and other parts of the world, which trickled through Sicily and ended up on the plate of many a kitchen, just need a little love and a few key ingredients – extra virgin olive oil, garlic, cheese or tomato.

Jem — who always touts free range eggs, prosciutto, marinated green olives, yogurt and open bottles of wine in his fridge — also recommends stocking your pantry with basil, balsamic vinegar and red wine. They all help to add sweetness and acidity which can balance out a dish. Above all else, they help to season your dish, extremely important when dealing with simple recipes.

For those just starting to explore the wonders of Italy, opt for easier dishes – such as chilli, garlic and olive oil tossed through fresh pasta, or simple summer salads like a crowd favourite, the caprese, which layers juicy tomato with freehand creamy mozzarella.

For the skilled home chef, try your hand at prosciutto and cheese stuffed chicken breasts, or making your own pasta. The more daring can work on a serving of fresh potato gnocchi. “Due to the fact potatoes are sometimes more moist and sometimes more dry,” Jem says. “It really comes down to having a feel for it, and the experience to have perfect gnocchi every time.”

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