THE PRINCIPLES OF ETIQUETTE
It is typical when having guests for lunch or dinner to ask yourself what you should cook. I am here to give you some guidelines to help your own answers to this question.
To offer a menu which really makes your guests feel at ease, you should take into account what you know of their dietary habits, allergies, diets and nutritional philosophies, and most especially what they like! Imagine if you prepare a menu based on meat dishes and one of the guests is vegetarian! Obviously this is not going to be a good idea and you should therefore develop the good habit of informing yourself about these aspects. Your cooking skills need to be married to your knowledge of the “tastes” of the guests if it is to be really appreciated. You need to consider the number of the guests and think about the preparation which needs to be undertaken. If there are children, then it is a good habit to think of a menu which can be shared with them or to offer something different particularly for them. When thinking about quantities, I suggest that you always prepare two extra portions o that you can handle either the arrival of an unexpected guest or, even better, in case someone would like “second helpings”..
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A successful menu is not one which is composed of “refined” dishes or is too fancy, rather it made up of well cooked dishes, presented in a harmonious sequence. To help you with the choice of a menu, you can consult cooking books and look for recipes which are matched to your own cooking skills and the time you have available for their preparation. If you choose to make a new recipe, try it at least a couple of time before the event. Choose some dishes which can be prepared the day before so that you can have more time to pay attention to the details of the table and above all to make yourself beautiful and relaxed. Above all do not find yourself preparing things up to the last minute but be ready to welcome your guests and join with them before they are seated at the table, hopefully enjoying an ‘aperitivo’ without stress from the preparations.
A menu is a sequence of at least three courses which must not only be tasted for themselves but should also encourage the taste of the next course, so pay attention to the flavours which each contains. In thinking about the combinations of courses, you can draw on two different schools of thought.
That “strengthening” school which suggests starting with the dishes which have a more delicate flavour before moving to those with stronger flavours, or the school of contrasts which suggests alternating a more flavoured dish with a lighter one, so as allow the taste-buds to rest and to allow better appreciation of flavours in a longer menu.
In choosing the combinations remember to never offer dishes cooked in the same cooking style or containing the same ingredients, for example two boiled dishes or two soufflé, or foods which repeat the same form or colours.
Fish or meat? Do you know that “Etiquette” requires a mixed menu especially on more formal occasions? But: if you start with a special meat dish, such as a carpaccio, for a pre-dinner appetiser, then you might start the meal with a first course of fish. Alternatively if you have offered fish appetisers then you should start with a first course with vegetable and then move to the meat dish. In the case of a menu of this kind prepare small quantities together with food which contains carbohydrates.
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While we have just discussed the Etiquette aspects, we also need to enhance this by considering the nutritional point of view, which should never be undervalued. In structuring your menu, it is important to make the right choice of key ingredients and foodstuffs: Doctor Lucia Taragnoloni (A Nutritional Biologist) suggests that you always choose fresh and seasonal products, richer in taste and so making a real difference from the point of view of the flavours; giving a preference to local, short-chain, products; and the use of aromatic spices rather than heavier condiments so as to give nuance to the taste and to facilitate digestion. When choosing dishes, you should avoid putting together different types of animal proteins (milk or meats, eggs or cheese), simple and complex carbohydrates (sugar, pasta, potatoes and bread) and simple carbohydrates with protein foods. For any dish there is a specific and appropriate cooking technique which improves its taste and delivers a healthier result..
Meat: Always avoid charring and cook it slowly over a longer time. Meat which is under-cooked or raw, carpaccio and tartares, require great attention to avoid the dangers of zoonosis.
Eggs: We have always know these are delicate food the use of which requires attention to their freshness and storage (never change the temperature more than twice) and whether boiled or fried always cook them for at least 2 minutes or if whipped cook for 1 minute.
Legumes: Keep them soaked for at least 10 to 12 hours changing the water frequently, cook them starting in cold water on a low heat and only add any salt at the end f the process so as to avoid the thickening of the hull.
Milk: Soak the boiler in water to avoid sticking and use a cover to prevent the formation of a skin of casein, cooking over a low heat will lead to loss of nutrients.
Yoghurt: Has unexpected properties. It can be used as a delicate light condiment with many foods (salads, risotto, meat or fish recipes, desserts) instead of fatty condiments such as butter.
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We know that food alone does not make a menu, it also requires thought as to which drinks to combine in it.
Water: low mineralized or similar
Wines: Favour local products, preferably with the DOC or DOCG (such as Grechetto dei Colli Amerini, Sagrantino di Montefalco etc)
Whatever menu you choose, we recommend you always keep in mind the correct quantity to serve, also taking into account the age of the guests and their life-style.
The video of Alessandra Carbonari’s presentation