Over the past couple of weeks I have been very busy moving apartments. The cooking was very limited, but having to move all the kitchen appliances, tools, the whole pantry, got me thinking about how my time here in the US has changed the way I cook.
Actually, I'd be tempted to say that my cooking has improved, since I moved here three years ago: I am using new cooking methods; I am using ingredients that I had never used before; and I am preparing a lot of new dishes, next to my "old" ones.
Using new ingredients or making new dishes does not equal better quality food, of course. But what I think happened is that I was forced to rethink my approach to what I was cooking. I had to understand how the flavors I wanted to recreate (or that I wanted to create from scratch) could be achieved through the ingredients I had. Results weren't always pretty, but for the most part I think I grew as a home cook.
New cooking methods
In terms of new cooking methods, the slow cooker has been a revelation. From soups to bolognese sauce, from pulled pork to chili con carne, I have embraced this technique (let's call it that), and the results have been pretty good. I have not been able to replicate the results I obtain on the stove for my Italian ragu' yet. But with this exception, the rest of the dishes I have been cooking with the slowcooker come out either on par or better than their sister versions cooked in the oven or on the stove.
Then there are my beloved cast iron skillets. Although it is not really a cooking method, more a cooking tool, I have already mentioned the fascination these pans had on me since I was a little boy watching cow boy movies on tv. Enough has been said about these wonderful things: they cook better (vegetables and meat brown better), they are sturdier than most pans, they don't release nasty chemical stuff while you cook, unlike other "non stick" pans (and yet they a entirely non-stick if you treat them right). And then they are cool, full stop. This is an entirely personal view, obviously, but every time I reach for one of my cast iron skillets (I have too many, I am ashamed to give you a number), I feel a satisfaction than a regular pan just doesn't deliver. I am weird that way.
Hot chiles are undoubtedly the single item that has had the heaviest influence on my cooking since moving here. Not only I am using them for new (to me) US Southern or Mexican dishes, but I often use them in new versions of Italian or French classics. Poblano peppers come up often now in recipes that originally called for bell peppers, and chile de arbol has replaced peperoncino in a lot of my dishes. My poblano / bacon (another new ingredient) risotto has been a winner for some time now...
Butternut squash has almost entirely replaced pumpkin in all my applications. Butternut filled ravioli, butternut and sage risotto, butternut and blue cheese pasta sauce...from Fall to Spring, a couple of butternut squash are always sitting in my pantry, next to a variety of fresh and dry chiles. And let's not forget sweet potatoes and parsnips: they haven't replaced other ingredients, but they have added themselves to the list of my go-to ingredients: soups, roasted in the oven, fried (the sweet potatoes at least), I would miss them a lot if I had to give them up now.
The natural result of all this is that I am cooking a lot of new things. Sometimes I limit myself to changing recipes I used to cook before, adding/replacing new ingredients. But more often than not I have embarked in the cooking of entirely new things, alien to my original culture: American classics like chili con carne (red or green), pulled pork, barbecued baby back ribs, but also Italian American things like...(brace for it...) braciole or meatballs, that I had never cooked in my life. I mentioned often that what goes for Italian cuisine here in the US actually originates from a very limited (geographically speaking) region of Italy, so a lot of these dishes were as American to me as chili con carne...I have even started toying with some Asian recipes, for the first time.
Since moving here I have also embraced baking: breads, focaccia, croissants, cakes, biscuits, cookies, cupcakes, pizzas...that's an entirely new dimension that I have added to my repertoire.
So this will sound bizarre to all American food haters and to my some of my European food snob friends, but I have to thank America for becoming a better cook.