Basics of cooking and baking Sicilian food
The basics of cooking and baking Sicilian food are what you learn over time. When I started cooking and baking with my mother, I didn’t know anything about cooking or baking Sicilian food. But, I started so young that I really don’t remember not knowing how to cook and bake. What I needed to know about cooking and baking came slow; one step at a time, year after year in my mother’s kitchen.
One of the first things I remember about learning how to cook was helping my mother make meatballs every Saturday for Sunday dinner. I grated the hard bread and the Pecorino Romano cheese. While I was in the kitchen with my mother doing my grating job, I watched what my mother was making and how she did it. I watched her mix the bread crumbs and grated cheese with the ground meats and eggs and the other ingredients that go into meatballs. She didn’t measure anything so when I started making meatballs, I didn’t have to measure either. I just did what she did and my meatballs came out like hers.
I want to share some of the things that I learned from my mother that people who are just learning to cook and bake may not know. I hope that they help you when you cook and bake. Telling you my helpful hints right at the beginning, here, you will quickly learn some of the things I learned over many years of cooking and baking with my mother. I didn’t just jump in, which is something some of you may do if you have not learned to cook and bake before trying some of my recipes. It took time.
I am creating these recipes because I want to pass them down to my kids. They can make many of the dishes that I make even if they have only the list of ingredients. They don’t need much direction because they cooked and baked with me or at least have watched me make things enough times so that they know how to make them.
When I started recreating my mother’s recipes, my brother pointed out to me that our mother cooked by smell and taste. I spent my whole life in the kitchen cooking and baking with my mother so I also cook by smell and taste, just like she did. I know how our foods should look, how they taste, and what they smell like.
If you are making something for the first time following one of my recipes, it is important that you follow it closely. By doing this, you will know what that particular food is supposed to look like, smell like and taste like. This is one of the first of the basics of cooking and baking.
It really is important to measure ingredients accurately. But at the same time, you don’t have to obsess about it.
When you measure dry ingredients like flour, sugar, brown sugar, and cocoa, it should come up to the line of how much the recipe calls for. For one cup, just fill the measuring cup to the 1 cup line and tap the measuring cup on the counter to settle it in the measuring cup and make sure it comes evenly to the line.
Sometimes you will find a recipe that has just too much or too little sugar in it. When you make it a second time, you can adjust the recipe so it tastes as sweet as you want it. Write those adjustments right on your recipe so you have it for when you make it again. My family’s recipes that I share in my blog have the correct amounts that make them smell and taste the way they are meant to be made. When making my recipes for the first time, follow the directions closely. They are so delicious! You will love them!
Make sure that when you measure dry ingredients using measuring spoons, the ingredient in the spoon should come up evenly to the top and not round off like a mountain. That applies to baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices.
With flavorings, you have some leeway. After you have made something once, the next time you will know if you want to add a little more of a flavoring or a little less. Sometimes you might use only one flavoring for something like cookies that calls for 2 different flavorings. It depends on your taste. In some recipes that call for vanilla and lemon flavoring, I sometimes use only the lemon. Other times I use only vanilla. Other times I use half of both equal to the total called for in the recipe. As you make these recipes, you can decide how you like to flavor some things.
The first thing I am going to tell you about rolling out dough is that when you roll it out on a wooden board or table or counter you need to first put some flour on the board/table/counter before you set the dough on it so the dough doesn’t stick to it. And if you are rolling dough out with a rolling pin, sprinkle some flour on the top of the dough before you start rolling it out so it doesn’t stick to the rolling pin.
When you are making something that requires dough to be rolled out with a rolling pin, you will learn how soft or hard the dough should be. You can’t roll out sticky dough and if it is too dry, it will crack. It takes practice to learn how to do it correctly. In one of my cookie recipes, the dough has to be rolled out to a certain thickness. After making these cookies for 40 years, I still am very careful to get the thickness right. If the dough is too thin, the filling oozes out and that is something you don’t want to happen. If it is too thick, you won’t have enough filling for all the dough. What you should do is make one roll of the cookies and bake it. See if the thickness of your dough is holding the filling in or if it is exploding out of it. If it holds your filling, it is just right. If the filling is coming out of it, roll the next one a little thicker. It takes time and practice to learn these things so don’t get frustrated.
When you make cookies that need to be rolled into balls or rolled out like rope and then cut and shaped, you will find it takes time to figure out how to do it just right. Many cookies, because they have baking powder and baking soda in them, rise when they bake. You don’t want them to be huge! One way to learn to get it right is to shape a couple cookies and bake them. If they come out too big, you will know and correct it when you make a full baking sheet of cookies. I still do this after baking for the last 50 years!
When you make cookies that are shaped into balls, make sure the dough ball is smooth and without cracks. You want your cookies to be smooth especially if you are planning to frost them.
If you have kids, let them bake with you. My mother would give me pieces of dough so I could do what she was doing. I would copy her and that is how I learned to bake so many of the things I make now. So many of her recipes don’t have directions; just ingredients with measurements. Many of the ingredient lists aren’t in the correct order of how to put them together. I am able to make them because I learned the steps to follow by watching her. The recipes in my blog have the ingredients in the right order to make baking them easier for you!
Baking should be fun! Your cookies, cakes, pies, and desserts, should look and taste delicious! Enjoy yourself when you bake!
Like baking, when you cook something for the first time, follow the directions as closely as you can so a recipe looks, tastes and smells the way it is meant to. The next time you make it, you can make some changes that don’t make a lot of difference but might be more to your taste. This might include how much of a spice you use, how much garlic, or how hot or mild the flavor is as in chili. The basic recipe is what you follow but some things you can change without totally changing what the dish should taste like.
In Sicilian cooking, sometimes I use hot sausage and sometimes mild sausage, depending on what I am making. For example, in my sausage rolls I use hot sausage for more flavor. The dough tones it down a little so it is not real hot but still has good flavor. You might want to try using mild sausage if you are cooking for people who do not like spicy hot foods. You can also make half of something with hot sausage and half with mild sausage. Also, many times, instead of pork sausage I use chicken sausage if I can find it. It is not as greasy and is healthier and it works great in my recipes. Some things can be changed without totally changing the flavor of what you are making.
When you make stuffed peppers, it won’t make much of a difference if you put more or less rice in the stuffing. Some people like more meat and others like more rice. As for stuffed artichokes, I put in as much of the seasoned bread crumb as I can because I love any kind of stuffing. There isn’t a lot to artichokes so the more seasoned bread crumb in them, the better.
Another way to make foods healthier is to use brown rice in place of white rice. It will taste a little different but if you are used to brown rice, the flavor will be one you are used to. You can still enjoy these traditional Sicilian foods made a little healthier. For someone who always eats white rice, substituting brown rice might change the flavor and you might have to get used to it if you really want to make the healthier version.
Sugar? Our recipe for sauce calls for sugar. I like a sweeter sauce so I might put in a little more than a person who does not like it sweet. You can adjust the amount of sugar you put in your sauce according to your taste.
We also put sugar in the ricotta cheese when we make ravioli and lasagna. Follow the recipe when you make it starting with the amount of sugar in the recipe. Taste the ricotta after you have added and mixed in the sugar. If you want it sweeter, add more sugar a little at a time and taste it after additions until it suits your taste.
These are all things you can experiment with after you have made the recipes as they are written. You might like to try altering some amounts of the ingredients or you might love the recipe just as it is and not change a thing. It’s fun to experiment and try new things!