1. Always use homemade stock.
2. Always use fresh garlic and corn.
3. Always use fresh herbs, unless dried are indicated.
4. Always use fresh Parmesan cheese, and grate it just before using it.
5. Unless otherwise indicated, "chopped" vegetables means 1/2-inch pieces.
6. I use Italian plum -- or Roma -- tomatoes almost exclusively. If they're unavailable, use the best-smelling, ripest tomatoes you use for the difference in size. If you can't find good fresh tomatoes for cooking, use good quality canned plum tomatoes. For salads, though, use only fresh tomatoes.