Italian Secrets from my Friend

I preface this article with the fact that my very picky eating phase came when I was older. My first few years of college were filled with comfort foods and I rarely tried anything new. I made the same meals at home, ordered the same foods at restaurants, and this was mostly because I liked what I ate and never wanted to try anything new. On top of which, I didn’t like tomatoes, mustard, celery, bell peppers, cilantro, sour cream, and a myriad of other foods. I can’t stand anything that’s been soaked in vinegar. I never even put butter on my toast (I still don’t, but I’m no longer opposed to putting butter on my baked potato). So while some of these tastes persist, many have been brought to new light by my friends. So I share with you now the tricks that one friend in particular taught me, and how I learned to like foods I thought I hated.

This one particular friend lived in Italy for a small chunk of his life. We’ll call him Josh. While in Italy, he learned all he could about cooking from the elderly couples that he worked with. He’d help them, and they would teach him some of their long-standing family know-how of pasta. I was amazed at what this friend could do to food to make it so good. He laughed at me when I very first tried a bite of his homemade spaghetti and told him I was “pleasantly surprised.” What did he do to make this food so tasty, you ask? I’ll tell you what I know.

First off, I think he made the food with love. Love of life, love of food, love of friendship, and love of Italy. I’m of firm belief that love makes food taste better on any occasion. I hadn’t tried a tomato in years by the time he had come into my life, so who knows if I would have discovered an appreciation for them without him. He shared with me the fact that tomatoes pH levels change when they are cooked, giving them an entirely different flavor. I can still see him standing in my kitchen stirring diced tomatoes in a pot he coated with extra virgin olive oil and a dash of balsamic vinegar. I didn’t even like vinegar… Secret number one: Love. Secret number two: olive oil coat and a dash of balsamic vinegar.

This particular dish he made for me was made from scrounging about in my college-student kitchen. I had almost nothing in my cupboards (he supplied the basic Italian stuffs talked about above, and the noodles), so we found canned tuna, and carrots. I was skeptical, to say the least. He explained why it would work, though. He had a coworker who didn’t eat meat, but could eat fish, and fish goes wonderfully with marinara because of the lighter flavor. Then he grated the carrots into the sauce. Fun fact: ketchup used to be made with fermented fish and tomatoes. Fermented ketchup was banned in the US in the early 1900’s and ketchup forever changed to the red substance it is today. Secret number three: fish does mix well with Italian, and tomatoes. Secret number four: you can’t really taste vegetables that have been shredded into a tangy tomato sauce. Even if they’re not shredded, veggies like zucchini or mushrooms go great with Italian.

The thing I love about Italian food: If you have the basics, you can make anything, and it is likely to taste good. So cook your noodles, and add some olive oil to the boiling water—this prevents the water from boiling over the pan. Don’t be afraid to cook your sauce chunky. I love just cooking a can of petite diced tomatoes with some basil. Nothing else needed, except for maybe cheese. I love cheese on top. Enjoy your Italian dining, my friends!


    Mary Hildebrandt
    Weekly Newsletter Contributor since 2014
    Email the author!

blog comments powered by Disqus