8 Top-Chef Tips to Easier Cooking

Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli knew each other growing up in Queens, New York, reunited years later, and now run the Frankies Spuntino restaurant empire. They just wrote a cookbook, The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual (Artisan, $25), which is part recipe collection and part wisdom trove. We asked them for the most useful food advice ever. See their tips below:

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1. Never Use a Cheap Olive Oil

In cooking, you have proteins, carbs, and fats, and your fat should be the best quality you can get. Our food is sometimes only three or four ingredients - but if three ingredients are playing in a band and one guy isn't playing so good, it doesn't sound right. Any time you put quality olive oil on something, it's sparkle sparkle sparkle.

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2. Own These Three Items:

Knife, bowl, pot. You need to cut, you need to mix, you need to cook.

3. Taste While You Cook

Don't wait till the end. How do you know what you're doing? Taste and season every step of the way.

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4. The Most Essential Cheese

Parmigiano-Reggiano gets the glory, but pecorino Romano costs about a third less and it's stronger in that earthy, grandma's-cooking flavor, so you need less of it. If you see Parmigiano in a recipe, you can use pecorino.

5. How to Cook Better Pasta

Fresh pasta: It's done when it floats to the top, two or three minutes. Dry pasta: Taste it. Then taste it again a minute later. You shouldn't be walking away from the stove anyway. What do you need to do for eight minutes that's so important? Stick around. Have a drink. Because the box isn't right. If the box says seven minutes, start tasting after four. When you bite it, look at the cross section so you can see how much the water has penetrated - you want just a tiny bit of white in the middle.

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6. On Cooking with Oil

There are better cooking oils than olive: sunflower, grape seed, canola, in that order. They don't burn. Start it in the pan cold, bring up the heat slowly. If you want olive-oil flavor, start with one of those, then add a little olive oil.

7. Don't Oil the Pasta Water

Giving the pasta a good stir about 30 seconds after adding it to the pot will keep it from sticking together.

8. Relax

Don't be afraid. Cook with love, or it won't come out well. Put your music on, get in the mood, have a drink. And then, one day, cooking just clicks, like when you figure out how to pedal a bike. You understand the one-two-threes, then you can improvise. And you discover that the trick to cooking the way we do is, there is no trick.


Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.