The Italian Job

Cook like the nonnas of Tuscany with these tips from Café Fiore’s Saverio Posarelli.

Ask Saverio Posarelli where he learned to cook and you won’t hear the names of fancy cooking academies. “My grandmother. She was a Tuscan nonna and she cooked very simply—straight out of her garden.”

He tends to do the same thing, via farmers markets, at his Woodland Hills restaurant, Café Fiore. The chef, who grew up in Florence, has a distinct and commanding stage presence while teaching cooking classes at his 5,000-square-foot eatery but thus far has eschewed the TV chef thing. “Chef? What exactly does that mean really? Aside from really distinguished chefs like Alain Ducasse or Wolfgang, if you take away the pedestal, we are all just cooks,” he says emphatically.

Here Saverio offers some easy tips to maximize flavor and help you cook like a nonna.

DO use olive oil with labels that say Olio Novo. The literal translation is new oil. Typically from Tuscany, these oils are unfiltered and made from olives harvested during the early part of the season. They tend to be more fruity tasting and flavorful than others. I often see them at Costco (Kirkland brand) in January and February. The label says Extra Virgin Olive Oil Tuscano. When you see it, buy it!

DON’T chop garlic. When making sauces, use whole cloves. You’ll get much better flavor. You don’t even have to smash them. Cook them slowly and they’ll dissolve into the sauce. I only smash the cloves in seafood sauces.

DO go to farmers markets for the best herbs. I like to buy from Country Fresh Herbs at markets. It is owned by a couple with a farm in Tarzana.

DON’T cut fresh basil. The metal in the knife oxidizes the basil and it loses flavor. Break it up with your hands or toss the leaves in whole.

DO integrate seasonal vegetables into dishes. In the fall, I love to buy the fairytale pumpkin at farmers markets. Sauté it in olive oil, garlic and shallots, and add to pasta. Or roast it with a little brown sugar on top. Some grated cheese at the end—delicious!

DON’T always feel the need to create a sauce. If you have a good soffrito you can add things like guanciale or prosciutto for more flavor. And you can add a little wine, olive oil and some pasta water (left over from cooking the noodles). That’s your sauce right there.

DO salt the water when cooking pasta. The pasta absorbs the salt and it adds flavor.

DON’T rush. The most important ingredient in cooking? Time.