With many restaurant dining rooms still shuttered throughout the United States, food lovers are eagerly seeking out ways to get their hands on chef-caliber meals, even if their only options involve rolling up their sleeves and becoming good friends with their home kitchen appliances. If this sounds like a familiar situation, then you’ll be glad to know that we’ve rounded up a few useful tips on how to upgrade your home-cooked eats, all courtesy of a critically acclaimed toque: Chef Andrew Carmellini, whose celebrated restaurants include Locanda Verde, The Dutch, Lafayette, and Little Park in New York City, Rye Street Tavern in Baltimore, and San Morello in Detroit.
Don’t underestimate the value of high-quality ingredients.
When asked for the number-one piece of advice he’d offer to home cooks looking to up their games, Carmellini had an immediate response: “It’s cliché, but spend the time and a little more money on the best ingredients. You don’t have to do much to make you [feel like] like a star [in the kitchen] if you’re using high-quality products. Things like authentic prosciutti (I like Prosciutto di San Daniele and Prosciutto di Parma) can elevate a salad or pasta dish instantly.”
Consider buying directly from restaurant suppliers.
One intriguing side effect of rampant restaurant closures is the fact that some meat and produce suppliers, who traditionally only sold their wares to restaurant kitchens, are now willing to directly sell to individuals. Carmellini views this development as a positive for home cooks, telling us that “in most cases, restaurant suppliers will have better inventory than retail [stores]. If you’re buying fresh cheese and produce, [going through a supplier] is usually better.”
Farmers’ markets are great shopping destinations — as long as you’re willing to do your due diligence.
Farmers’ markets get a lot of credit for featuring carefully sourced local produce, cheese, and meat, and it’s mostly well-deserved. That said, Carmellini recommends doing a bit of research about your market vendors to ensure that you’re getting the freshest possible products: “Farmers’ markets are always a smart move, but be aware of the policies of your local market. Sometimes, I see farm stands that sell produce that they don’t grow or that come from other parts of the country. Right now, from the end of August through October, is the best time of the year to cook. [Keep an eye out for] stone fruit, tomatoes, beans, and lots of veggies.”
Keep these two secret weapons in your fridge and cabinet.
According to Carmellini, he always keeps two very specific ingredients on-hand for home cooking purposes: “Dried Italian oregano on the branch and Grana Padano cheese. You can find the oregano at any good Italian food store. They dry it in the sun, and it smells so floral and strong. Grana is my go-to everyday cheese when cooking Italian food. Finish a pasta with it or grate it over salads.”
If you’re seeking an easier-than-it-looks Italian recipe that’s ideal for the late summer season, try Carmellini’s Insalata di Rucola with Prosciutto di San Daniele, Grana Padano & Winter Pears.
Insalata di Rucola with Prosciutto di San Daniele, Grana Padano & Winter Pears.
For the salad:
- 1/3 lb baby arugula
- 1 large fennel bulb, sliced thin
- 3 celery stalks, sliced thin on the bias
- 2 tbsp grated Grana Padano
- 2 ripe winter pears, sliced thin
- 12 slices Prosciutto di San Daniele, sliced thin
For the dressing:
- 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp water
- 1 tsp sugar
- Salt, to taste
- Coarse-ground black pepper, to taste
- Dried oregano, to taste
- Combine the arugula, fennel, and celery in a large bowl and sprinkle the Grana Padano over the top.
- To make the dressing, add extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, water, sugar, salt, pepper, and oregano to a small bowl and whisk until smooth.
- Add the dressing to the salad and toss gently to cover all of the leaves.
- Plate the salad in individual bowls.
- Arrange the sliced pears on top of the greens and the Proscuitto di San Daniele on top of the pears. Serve immediately.
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