1. When buying Prosecco to make Peach Bellini cocktails, don’t worry about picking the most expensive bottle available. The natural fruity sweetness from the peaches and the simple syrup (if used) give this cocktail its distinctive taste. An average $10 – $15 bottle will work just fine.

2. When it comes to making minestrone, there are endless variations you can try. This soup is traditionally made using whatever vegetables are locally available and in season. Let your local farmers’ market or your own seasonal garden be your guide.

3. The key to making delicious soups is to “layer” the flavor. For example, if adding bacon to your minestrone recipe, brown it in your stockpot or Dutch oven first, then sauté the chopped vegetables such as garlic, onions, celery or carrots in some of the pan drippings to impart extra flavor.

4. Never throw away the outer rind from fresh Parmesan cheese. Instead toss one into your soup pot to add yet another flavor “layer” to your recipes. And, yes… freshly grated Parmesan cheese is ALWAYS a better option than the stuff you find pre-grated in the store.

5. Although it didn’t originate in northern Italy, ribollita is a very popular Italian dish you can make with leftover minestrone soup. Simply brush some ciabatta or other crusty bread with olive oil and toast in your oven until golden brown. (Set under the broiler, but watch carefully so it doesn’t burn). Place the toasted, crusty bread in a soup bowl and ladle warm minestrone over it. Top with fresh shaved Parmesan cheese and enjoy!

6. When made correctly, gnocchi should be oh-so-light and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Unfortunately, the dough is easy to over-knead and the end result is tough, dense, and chewy. One trick to avoid this? Use a pastry scraper to combine your wet dough with flour instead of your hands. Chopping and turning the dough with a metal blade – instead of kneading it with your warm hands – won’t activate the gluten in the flour, which is what makes the dumplings so tough and chewy.

7. Not sure what texture your gnocchi dough should be? Just squeeze your earlobe. The dough should be soft and ‘giving’ to the touch, not overly thick and dense.

8. Can’t find official “polenta” in your grocery store (other than the premade packaged rolls)? You can use regular cornmeal, but look for medium to coarse ground for the best results.

9. The type of rice you use to make risotto is very important. While it may be tempting to try whatever rice you have on hand – don’t. Common long-grain rice lacks the proper starch content to yield the creamy results you’re after.

10. Most modern pesto recipes call for using a food processor to the blend the ingredients. There is no question this method is much faster and easier than doing all that chopping by hand. However, when you finely chop the ingredients by hand, some natural variation in particle size occurs. This creates a less homogenized and paste-like final product that adheres to the nooks and crannies of pasta or gnocchi differently. The result? More distinct flavors from one bite to the next. Give it a try sometime!

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