Stress-Free Cooking for Easter and Beyond

Filippo Gozzoli , Executive Chef at Sirio Ristorante in New York City is renowned for his  “à la minute” cooking

Image Courtesy of Sirio Restaurant
Image Courtesy of Sirio Restaurant

Filippo Gozzoli , Executive Chef at Sirio Ristorante in New York City is renowned for his  “à la minute” cooking style, a technique of preparing dishes as they are ordered, rather than prepping them in advance (as most restaurants do). For the amateur chef, this may induce fear of last-minute stress, epic food fails and a table of guests with growling stomachs (as it did for me at first). But channeling his respect for using simple and seasonal raw ingredients and time-saving techniques to maximize flavor turned out to be more of a Kitchen Hero than a Kitchen…Help Me!

Here are my favorite easy cooking strategies from the talented gastronomist:

1. Skip the labor-intensive appetizers.

Gozzoli recommends looking for appetizers with four ingredients or less. “For Easter, deviled eggs are appropriately festive and delicious yet surprisingly simple to prepare, making for the perfect Easter appetizer. With only four ingredients, one needs only to combine 6 hard-boiled eggs, 1/2 teaspoon paprika, 2 tablespoons mayonnaise and 1/2 teaspoon mustard powder for a scrumptious treat.”

2. Pick your ingredients based on what’s freshest.

“It is imperative to utilize ingredients that are fresh and seasonal, such as lamb. Lamb often connotes the beginning of spring, with its consumption peaking in March and April. Lamb marinated with fried artichokes (a staple in spring Italian cooking) is the perfect  easy entree to pay homage to both the season and the holiday.” For produce, check out WiseBread’s thorough list of what fruits and vegetables are in season by the month and The Fruit Guys’ Almanac for a comprehensive guide on fruits and veggies and the best practices for storing them (You should keep Brown Beech Mushrooms stored loose in a paper bag in your fridge to keep them fresh, but tomatoes shouldn’t be refrigerated…who knew?!)

3. When all else fails, a well-cooked pasta can make all the difference.

“Try and incorporate a dish with  personal meaning or cultural history for special celebrations, like Easter. Pastas are often low-effort ways to evoke memories from around the dinner table.” Chef  Gozzoli suggests Pasta al Forno, a Sicilian staple for special occasions and celebrations. And here’s a neat tip: “For the perfect al dente pasta make sure to set your timer to a few minutes before the recommended cooking time on the back of the box. Also, to speed up the overall hands-on cooking time, make sure to prepare your pasta sauce while the pasta is cooking so that the two can be incorporated immediately after the pasta has cooked.”

Pasta al Forno
·         Dough: 400 grams (about 14 ounces)
·         Meat sauce: 1 medium pot
·         Sauce: 500 ml (about 2 cups)
·         Nutmeg to taste
·         Salt: to taste
·         Butter: to taste
·         Grated Parmesan cheese: 80 grams ( about 3 ounces)

1.       Cook  the pasta in salted water until al dente and drain. Put it in a bowl and add the sauce you need to season it well. Heat the sauce and add  a pinch of nutmeg.

2.       Put the pasta in a baking dish, then pour a layer of pasta and cover with a ladle of sauce and a lot ‘of sauce, make another layer and then keep it up until all the ingredients. Complete with the sauce.

3.       Cover all with the Parmesan cheese and some butter and bake in the oven at 180 ° C for 25 minutes.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest