What's Cooking at the Genua's?

It's Not Just Popcorn!

The Italian Kitchen (Part 3)

on June 13, 2010

Today’s post is all about what should be in an Italian Pantry.  By stocking your kitchen with a few basic ingredients you’ll be ready to prepare most Italian and Tuscan recipes. Our supermarkets are much better at carrying the ingredients than they used to be. But if there’s still something you can’t find, there’s always the “pork store.” You know the place, it always smells so good when you walk by. Basically any Italian specialty store will have anything you need. Remember, using high-quality ingredients at the best price you can get them at is crucial. The better the olive oil, tomatoes and cheese, the better the simple dishes will taste!

This list is just a basic list of what is found in most good Italian kitchens.

Olive Oil: An essential in Italian cooking. Stick with extra-virgin olive oil for most recipes.

Dried Pasta: Use pasta imported from Italy such as Barilla and DeCecco. For the most part any imported pasta products made from semolina flour are good choices. For egg pasta, stay away from the so-called “fresh” pasta sold in refrigerated cases. They aren’t so “fresh” as they would have you believe. Either use homemade or buy the dried noodles packaged in nests.

Tomatoes: When fresh, ripe tomatoes are not available, use good canned tomatoes (unless recipe specifically calls for fresh). Choose whole, peeled tomatoes rather than chopped or crushed. Imported Italian San Marzano tomatoes are the best if you can find them.

Onions and Garlic: Generally, white or yellow onions for cooking and red onions for salads and dishes that do not need cooking because they are milder. Garlic should not be an overwhelming presence.

Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese: Expensive but worth it. Excellent grating cheese as well as a table cheese. Drizzle a little balsamic vinegar and olive oil over it and have it with some crusty Italian bread.

Cheeses: Cheeses are very important for Italian dishes. The basics like Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, mozzarella, ricotta, and provolone are a good choice to have around.

Legumes (beans): Dried cannelini beans, lentils and ceci (Garbanzo/chick peas) are always good to have on hand. Canned beans work just as well especially if you’re in a rush.

Cornmeal: Use a medium textured cornmeal for polenta. Keep it in a tightly closed container and it will last for months. It’s also good for dusting the pan when making pizza.

Rice: Arborio is the most common in making risotto but others are used as well.

Balsamic Vinegar: There are many different balsamic vinegars. Depending on its age, it can be very expensive. You can use the inexpensive  one for salads as long as the quality is good.

Anchovies: (I love these salty little buggers!)It’s good to keep a jar of these in the fridge to add a special zip to certain dishes. You can also find anchovy paste in a tube, which is milder in taste and very convenient to have. (I use the tube)

Dried Porcini Mushrooms: Look for packages that have slices of whole mushrooms. They can be a little expensive but a little goes a long way. Keep it in an airtight container and they’ll keep for a long time. If you rehydrate them, keep the water, strain it and use it to add some flavor and depth to soups, sauces and stews.

Capers: (My husband’s favorite) You can find two kinds of capers. The smaller ones that are pickled in vinegar, and the larger ones that come packed in salt. The larger ones are very flavorful and need rinsing of the salt before using. They are also harder to find. A few chopped capers can add a nice flavor addition to dishes that seem to need just a little something.

Olives: Both black and green varieties are good. If they are packed in brine and imported from Italy, even better. We like the stuffed ones. Stuffed with bleu cheese, anchovies, garlic, peppers…

Herbs and Seasonings: For the most part fresh herbs are preferred in everyday cooking, but this is hard to do and they are generally more expensive and can go bad quickly if not used. So always keep on hand dried herbs and seasonings. Keep dried oregano, rosemary, thyme, and sage. I also always keep garlic powder on hand. Whole black pepper to be ground at the moment of use, sea salt and red pepper flakes are also important to have in your pantry.

Flour: All-purpose flour is good to use for making pasta and pizza dough. Bread flour for cakes and semolina flour for pasta is also very useful.



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