Broths, soups, sauces and gravies
This is a concentrate of meat or vegetables used in cooking to enhance the flavours of various dishes. It usually comes in the form of a cube packed in aluminium foil. This concentrate can also be found in granules, as dry powder and even in the form of jelly. The main ingredients in stock cubes are salt (in variable quantities), monosodium glutamate (although there are several products on the market that no longer contain this ingredient) and other ingredients depending on the type of stock cube: vegetables for vegetable stock cubes and meat extracts for the so-called classic stock cubes, and then mushrooms, fish, animal and vegetable fats, food flavourings, yeast extracts. In recent years, there has been a diffusion of ready-to-use liquid stocks packaged in cartons (meat, vegetable, etc.).
Meat extract is a particularly important ingredient in cooking, used for many years to flavour and enhance dressings, sauces, stocks, risottos and roast meats. It is a highly concentrated meat stock made by boiling and concentrating lean beef, which is then packaged and stored at room temperature, also for long periods of time.
The name Minestrone derives from the Italian verb minestrare, to administer, because it was served at the table, “administered” by the head of the family. It is more liquid than soup and in addition to the usual vegetables it contains cereals such as rice, pasta, spelt, barley, etc. In Lombardy it is made with rice, while in Veneto and Emilia Romagna, pasta or cappelletti are added.
It is made of vegetables but it can be served with croutons. There is never rice or pasta in a soup. Its name is similar in all European languages, deriving from the Gothic word “suppa”, which indicated the slice of bread that was put in the bowls before the broth was poured in. Soup is thick and has a consistent texture, and there is very little liquid, which is absorbed by bread and croutons. Soup is very popular in Tuscany, particular with collard as the main vegetable, while in Calabria and Sicily they use legumes and beans. In Sardinia, it is traditional to added pieces of cheese.
A French term, now part of Italy’s gastronomic language, indicating a meat, chicken or fish stock eaten hot or cold at the beginning of a meal, usually in the evening. Consomme can be served on its own (perhaps flavoured with a fortified wine such as Port or Madera) or garnished (very thinly cut pasta, almond paste, vegetable julienne, croutons, poached eggs, etc.).
In recent years, ready-to-use stocks have become widespread. It is obtained by boiling beef, poultry, vegetables and extracts in water, after which it is sterilised and packaged in cartons. There are many different variations of liquid stock on the market, and it is used to make soups, risottos, or pasta in broth.
Sauces and condiments, including some very elaborated ones with lots of ingredients and spices, have always been used in cooking to add flavour and aromas to foods. Below is a brief description of the most used industrial products.
Mayonnaise (from the French “mayonnaise” or from the Catalan “mahonesa”)
This is one of the most famous and popular dressings; it is creamy and smooth, generally white or pale yellow, and is eaten cold. It is a stable emulsion of vegetable oil in water, with egg yolk as the emulsifier, flavoured with vinegar or lemon juice; the use of mustard is also allowed. The ingredients are egg yolk, mustard (optional), vinegar, oil and lemon juice. When other ingredients are added, it has various other names. Optional ingredients are, for example, salt, seasonings, spices, herbs, mustard.
This is a pasty product with mustard seeds or mustard flour as a characteristic ingredient. Other typical ingredients are vinegar, sour grape juice, grape must, fruit juice, alcoholic beverages or other liquid foods, sugars, salt, herbs, spices and flavourings. It is a condiment obtained from the ground seeds of the mustard plant, native to Asia and a member of the cruciferous family. Mustard is used in cooking and is much loved by consumers. The ingredients in mustard vary from country to country, combined to create different recipes, with a more or less intense flavour depending on the spices used.
In Italy, industrial mustard is made of a mixture of:
- White mustard seeds
- Black mustard seeds
Other famous and much appreciated variations are French mustard, especially Dijon mustard which is particularly spicy and flavoursome, and “moutarde à l’ancienne” – well-known and increasingly appreciated in Italy – which is an old-style grainy mustard made in part with whole mustard seeds, giving it a particularly grainy texture and an unmistakable flavour.
Tomato Ketchup is a smooth dressing/condiment made from ripe tomatoes, peeled and seeded, or tomato derivatives, including concentrate, with added vinegar, sugars, salt and aromatic ingredients and their extracts, such as onions, spices and permitted additives. The minimum content of dry tomato extract is 6%.
This is a widely used condiment that is used to coat meat during barbecuing. The barbecue sauce is brushed onto the meat in order to flavour it during cooking. The sauce can also be paired with French fries or fried chicken.
This originally French condiment is a “rich” version of mayonnaise, made of both fresh and hard-boiled eggs whipped with oil and then flavoured with chopped pickled gherkins, capers, parsley, tarragon and often other ingredients such as mustard, olives, raw onion or chives, etc.
Worcestershire sauce, or Worcester sauce, is a sweet and sour, slightly spicy English condiment, named after the English county of the same name. It is dark brown and suitable for meats, sauces and soups, and is an indispensable ingredient in some cocktails. The recipe hasn’t changed since its invention in 1835: the sauce is aged in wooden barrels for three years, and the ingredients include onions, garlic, salted anchovies, onion shallots and aromatic herbs. After aging, malt vinegar, tamarind, cloves, red pepper and sugarcane molasses are added.
Ragu is a condiment/sauce made from tomatoes and minced or chopped meat that is cooked for many hours. The name derives from the French “ragout”, which in turn derives from “ragouter”, which means “to awaken the appetite”. Originally the term indicated highly-seasoned stewed meat that was then served with other dishes. In Italy it became the traditional sauce for pasta on feast days. Various ingredients are used to make it, varying according to the region. Ingredients that are always present include tomato, beef (sometimes mixed with pork), olive oil, celery, carrots. The typical Italian ragus are Bolognese ragu and Neapolitan ragu. Ragu is usually used as a sauce for pasta, in flans and also served with polenta. In recent years, fish and tofu ragus (for vegetarians) have become popular.
Tomato sauce is probably one of the most common and traditional pasta sauces in Italian cuisine: there are infinite versions of the basic recipe, made with puree, tomato pulp or peeled tomatoes. The origins of tomato sauce: real tomato sauce is less than two centuries old, or at least the Italian version is. As is well known, the tomato plant is not native to Europe, and before America was discovered no one on the old continent knew of its existence. Tomatoes were in fact brought to Europe for the first time in the 1500s, not long after the Spanish conquest of America. The Aztecs called the tomato “Tomatl”. It was later also known as the “Love Apple” because of its shape, and then the “Golden Apple” due to the variety of yellow tomatoes that were very popular at the time. The first recipe for tomato sauce is attributed to the Aztecs, who made a sauce consisting of red and green chili peppers, pumpkin seeds, tomatoes, onions and spices. Today there are many different recipes for tomato sauce – a symbol of Italian cuisine – based on the basic recipe of tomato and basil and including various ingredients such as vegetables and various herbs/spices.