Monthly Archives: January 2014

What kind of pot is best for making sauce (gravy)?

image source - flickr.com/photos/myhsu
image source – flickr.com/photos/myhsu

I love the enameled, cast iron Dutch oven from Le Creuset.

The proper pot is important when making a tomato-based sauce, especially one that cooks for a number of hours like a ragù Bolognese or a traditional Sunday gravy. High-acid foods require high quality cookware, and tomatoes are high on the acid scale. A low quality pot may not last with continuous high-acid cooking, and elements from an inferior pot may even contaminate the food that’s in it.

A pot with a thick bottom is a must when making a sauce with a long cooking time. The two best choices here are stainless and enameled cast iron. Both are great at retaining heat, even over uneven heating sources. Stainless is the choice for most restaurants because they are not only lighter than cast iron, but quite a bit cheaper. For home use, I recommend a high quality enamel-coated, cast iron dutch oven like Le Creuset.

I’ve got to hand it to the French on this one; the quality of Le Creuset is unsurpassed. There are a number of other companies that make enamel-coated, cast iron cookware, but quality varies between them. Staub is another high quality brand, but beware the cheap knockoffs. When it comes to cast iron cookware, you do get what you pay for. My first pot was one from the celebrity cookware line of a certain domestic goddess (you know, the one who did a little time some years back), and after my first few times making sauce, not only did the inside of the pot begin to discolor, but the enamel began chipping off. Luckily, none of those chips ended up in my sauce. Le Creuset has a lifetime guarantee on their cast iron products and is resistant to chips and discoloring. Not to mention, clean up is a breeze.

I know, I know. Le Creuset is pricy, and spending upwards of 300 dollars on a pot is a little hard to justify, but it is possible to find a great LC pot for much cheaper. If you are lucky enough to live near a Le Creuset outlet store, you can find great deals on most of their products, especially on discontinued colors and styles. Occasionally, there are sales running where you can save up to 40%. Home Goods is another great place to find discounted Le Creuset. It goes quickly, so you have to be a bit assertive and check the stores early and often. Because they are guaranteed for life, eBay and garage sales are worry-free options, as well. Once you’ve made the investment, you will never (ever) need another pot.

Is it true that Parmigiano Reggiano is lactose-free?

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Surprisingly, yes.

The production of Parmigiano Reggiano, the king of Italian cheeses, is one of long tradition and strict regulation. The cheese must be aged a minimum of 12 months before being inspected and deemed worthy of the DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta) stamp. One thing that must be true of all Parmigiano Reggiano is that it is made from 100% raw cows milk. So how does a pure cows milk cheese become lactose free? Through a maturation process dating back several centuries.

During the early stages of maturation, bacteria turns the lactose into lactic acid. By the end of the minimum 12 months of aging, the amount of lactose in the cheese barely registers above 0. Despite its name, lactic acid is actually safe for those with a lactose intolerance.

There are a number of other hard, aged cheeses that are also lactose free, including Parmigiano Reggiano’s close cousin, Grana Padano. Just be aware. A cheese simply named “Parmesan” may not be aged enough to be lactose free. When purchasing a wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano, always buy one with a bit of the rind with the “Parmigiano Reggiano” stamp, otherwise it may not be the real thing.