Tips for Rookie Cooks

Party In Your Pantry, The second part

Party In Your Pantry

  • Hard cheeses

As they age, cheeses usually become firmer as well as more pungent, so hard cheeses are particularly flavorful. The common varieties Parmesan, Asiago, Pecorino, and Romano add a nearly compulsory savor and richness to pasta, risotto, soups, and salads—plus, they make a beautiful garnish when grated into a fine fluff or shaved into curls with a vegetable peeler. Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano, which is aged for a minimum of three years, is considered the best-quality Parmesan. Hard cheeses have long shelf lives—you can keep a block, tightly wrapped in plastic, in the refrigerator for months. If a spot of mold develops, just cut it away. To save time during dinner prep, you can grate or shave your cheese a couple of days in advance and store it in the refrigerator, in a tightly sealed container, until ready to use.

  • Mascarpone

This creamy, dense, high-fat cow’s milk product is technically not a cheese but is usually referred to as one, so we’ll go ahead and brazenly include it here. Originating in Italy, mascarpone (pronounced mass-car-poh-nay) is often used in desserts like tiramisù, but can also be used to add richness and texture to savory dishes like our Spicy Crab Cakes or Baked Polenta with Mascarpone and Corn. It has a soft, spreadable consistency comparable to cream cheese, which is a decent substitute—either on its own or combined in equal parts with sour cream—if you can’t find mascarpone.

  • Chipotle chiles in adobo sauce

Chipotle chiles are smoked jalapeños, usually sold canned in adobo sauce. They’re fairly spicy with a distinctive smoky flavor that adds depth and richness to soups, stews, and sauces. We use them in several recipes, including Spicy Chicken Mole and Roasted Potato Slices with Chipotle-Lime Sour Cream. You can find chipotle chiles in Latin American food stores or the Hispanic foods aisle of many supermarkets. Since you’re probably not going to use an entire can, unless you’re cooking mass quantities or are a masochist, store the remaining portion in an airtight container in the freezer and chip off frozen chile chunks as you need them—or better yet, put one chile with a healthy spoonful of the adobo sauce into each well of an ice cube tray and freeze overnight. Transfer the cubes to a ziplock plastic bag and pull out cubes as you need them.

  • Citrus fruits

We’re always sure to have a healthy reserve of citrus fruits—especially lemons, limes, and oranges—on hand for flavor emergencies. We use the juice to add sweetness or tang to salad dressings, marinades, sauces, dips, and spreads. The zest—the colored outer part of the peel—adds an extra boost of flavor when used with the juice, but it also provides intense citrus flavor when you don’t want to add liquid (as in dry rubs, flavored salts, and some baked goods). When using zest, be sure to scrub the fruit well first, and then remove the zest with a Microplane grater (our preferred zesting tool), citrus zester, cheese grater, vegetable peeler, or sharp knife, being careful to avoid the bitter white pith beneath it. The flesh of citrus fruit makes a pretty addition to salads, desserts, and cheese plates. Unrefrigerated, citrus fruits will last up to a couple of weeks. Stash them in your nice, cool crisper and their life span will increase dramatically. Warm or room temperature fruit yields more juice than refrigerated. A few seconds in the microwave can help you get the most out of the refrigerated fruit. In our recipes, we equate the juice of one lemon to about 3 tablespoons, the juice of one lime to about 1½ tablespoons, and the juice of one orange to about ¼ cup—but these numbers aren’t set in stone. Adjust your quantities to the size and juiciness of your citrus fruits, as well as to your taste.

  • Lemons

We use lemon juice and zest in everything from pasta sauces to cookies. We especially love Meyer lemons, which were brought from their native China to the U.S. in the early 20th century by plant explorer Frank Meyer. Believed to be a cross between regular lemons and Mandarin or sweet oranges, they are sweeter and juicier than the regular variety and have thin, edible skin. Thinly sliced, they make a gorgeous topping for pizza or savory tarts (see Meyer Lemon and Asparagus Tart,

  • Limes

Lime juice and zest are essential components of many South and Central American and Asian cuisines. Limes add a special tang to our Watermelon, Feta, and Mint Salad and take center stage in our Wasabi-Lime Vinaigrette and our Lime Dream Ice Cream.

  • Oranges

We like both the common navel orange and the uniquely flavored Cara Cara orange for adding bright sweetness to sauces, dressings, and desserts. Keep a couple on hand and you’ll always be prepared to whip up our Orange Crème Fraîche Cake at a moment’s notice. Experiment with other varieties, like faintly raspberry-flavored blood oranges or sour Seville oranges.

  • Crème fraîche

Crème fraîche, which originated along the south coast of France, is now officially (according to us!) one of the modern world’s most delicious dairy products. It’s similar to sour cream, with a tart, creamy flavor, but is made with a lower amount of bacterial culture and has a thicker consistency. You’ll find it used throughout this book in delectable recipes like Crème Fraîche and Buttermilk Ice Cream and Orange Crème Fraîche Cake with Bittersweet Chocolate Drizzle and as a suggested topping for various sweet and savory dishes. If you can’t find crème fraîche, substitute sour cream.

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