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I promise you it will make a noticeable difference in the finished dish!

John and Maria' Paganini
John and Maria' Paganini

Use only 100% olive oil; the best oil comes from Lucca, Italy. Berio is a brand that constantly provides a quality oil. Most stores carry Berio. Keep it in a stainless steel container since light can ruin the flavor of a good oil.

Always use freshly ground pepper. There is no substitute for freshly ground pepper.

Try to use dried Italian pasta if you are not making fresh. It is considerably less starchy, less likely to stick together when cooking. Frozen or fresh pastas from supermarkets are not really superior to Italian dried pasta. FACT!!!

The very best grating cheese is Parmigiano~Reggiano. It has no equal. Grate your cheese right over your dish of pasta or soup... in the manner of the Italians.

To store cheese (in pieces), wrap in layer of foil or plastic wrap, then refrigerate. If you find it is drying out, wrap it in a cloth that has been dampened with water or oil, then rewrap. You can freeze it for a few weeks; after that, it will lose some of its flavor.

Use herbs and spices with restraint. Remember that dried spices are three times more potent than their fresh counterpart. Fresh herbs are available now at most stores -- finally! There is no substitute for fresh.

Try to use Italian, flat leaf parsley. Buy it with the root and use the root for soups, sauces and wherever you would like a parsley flavor. Adding more of the fresh herb just before serving is another trick to remember.

There is really no good substitute for homemade stock. Canned stock is incredibly high in sodium and lacks good flavor. Miner's makes a concentrated stock additive that works well if your stock is weak tasting. It comes in beef, chicken, veal and other flavors and is a good thing to keep in your freezer. Available in most butcher shops.

If recipe calls for fresh tomatoes, use "Romas." Roma tomatoes are meatier, have better flavor and contain less water.

If you are using heavy cream for a sauce, you must reduce it by half, else you will not achieve the best results in your finished dish.

To cook pasta al dente' means to cook it lust until you feel it will be a bit firm to the bite. Soggy or rubbery pasta is a sad sight to behold, sadder yet to eat...

If a recipe calls for cooking and baking pasta: cook in boiling water for less time than usual. For a pasta dish that calls for cooking pasta first and then adding to a sauce and cooking again: do the same, i.e., take pasta out before al dente'

You will notice the term "coarse salt" is used again and again. It is merely kosher or pickling salt. This type of salt imparts a great flavor to salads, homemade breads, and is used for the pasta water. Try it on your salad and see the difference it makes.

To tame the sleeping culinary tiger garlic: parboil it for about 10 minutes, or roast it (see index). If onions are too strong, soaking them in cold water for a few hours will result in a noticeable sweetening.

When making risotto, you will not get the optimum results unless you use the Italian rice which is called Arborio -- it is available in all Italian stores.

Surprise: The best Italian (and French) chefs use only unsalted butter in all their cooking. Another surprise: Most Italians do not use butter on their bread.

Get to know Balsamic vinegar. Use it where any recipe calls for a robust vinegar. Excellent in salads, soups, on meats and fruit. Add a bit of brown sugar to your Balsamic to get the taste of the really authentic vinegar that is aged for a few hundred years.

Next time your recipe calls for mozzarella ,try fresh bocconcini.. available at most Italian specialty stores. It is sweet, milky and delicious and a world away from its supermarket counterpart. Makes a princely pizza too!

You can find any/all of the Italian cooking ingredients given in this book at most Italian specialty stores.

If there was a single hint that I could give or one important hint to share, it would be that "FRESH HAS NO EQUAL." Every one of my husband's relatives in Italy shop daily for their food. That, of course, is not practical for "us westerners," but we can be particular about what we put in our baskets. I have found it pays great dividends. I hope you do, too.