James Beard Award winner, Marcella Hazen teaches us about Insaporire

Insaporire: “to make tasty…what you do to draw out and develop the flavor of a single or several ingredients.”

This past week, the James Beard Foundation celebrated the legacy of old and new chef’s alike.  All the celebration, James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award winner Marcella Hazan introduced fresh pure flavors of Italian cooking to Americans. Along with writing six cookbooks with her husband Victor, and teaching numerous cooking classes, she also introduced us to balsamic vinegar along with many others new “tasty” Italian ingredients.

She encouraged me and countless others to re-think how we cooked. What good was it to select good ingredients, if we did not really use our senses:  vision, aroma, touch, sound, in order to make the food tasty, “insaporire?” Sounds ridiculously simple, doesn’t it, but to those home cooks and chefs eager to serve the best flavored sincere dishes, it was a most important concept that had to be understood and mastered. Her advice wowed us, her recommended new-to-us ingredients greatly expanded our repertoire and vision and ultimately, our finished dishes.

Vegetables especially, took on an entirely new meaning for many of us following her lead. She wrote that if blindfolded, and we tasted barely scalded green beans or broccoli or asparagus, it would be hard to tell which was which. Using Italian prepping, the best of each vegetable will produce a fuller flavor. It’s not surprising that in Italy, the richness and variety of vegetables take a prominent place as a first or second course and that for almost every meal, vegetables are an essential to the happy progression towards making a meal insapororie.

I also learned that blanching, as a prelude to insaporire is prerequisite step for vegetables like spinach, kale or chard. Blanching, then squeezing out as much water as possible, then adding it to a base of garlic, oil, onions (or bacon) does not dilute the base, but makes the dish insaporire.

How does that happen? By re-learning how to properly prep and draw flavors. For example, insaporire takes place as a result of another procedure called arrosolare. The root of the word is rosa, Italian for rose, the flower and hue. It means to cook something until it acquires a warm hue, not necessary rosy.

To begin, sautés onion or garlic in butter or oil over medium heat till it becomes a particular shade you need. Have patience to watch garlic so it doesn’t turn brown.  That is called arrosolare. Add the next ingredient, coat well, when it opens and swells with the savors of onion or garlic or both, that is insaporire. Or, remember, when using heat you need to force an entry into the vegetables whose flavor you want to expand. By not using a brisk heat vegetables may simple soak up fat or taste flat or boiled. Insaporire at a lively heat makes the difference in a sauce that is fully developed with flavor or a bland one. Adding spice or turning up the garlic does not do it. It only produces a borrowed flavor rather than a true flavor.

I invite you to make your food tastier with Marcella’s Italian insaporire cooking techniques. You’ll think you’re in Italy. And, isn’t that a grand idea after a hard day.

P.S. visit usatoday.com to read about the humorous visit and four course dinner that Marcella and Victor Hazen had at the  Olive Garden Restaurant.

To read more food insights written by Jma follow her at eatsavortaste.com

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