Tag Archives: capers

The Italian Kitchen (Part 3)

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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Basic Meat Filling

This is the basic meat filling to use with the stuffed plantains. It can also be used with stuffed peppers, stuffed cabbage etc. The recipe calls for ground beef but you can also add ground sausage to the mix if you wish.

Ripe Plantain

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound lean ground beef (or ground pork)

3 chili peppers, finely chopped and seeded (any type of pepper you want is fine)

1 green pepper, finely chopped and seeded

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon wine vinegar

6 green olives stuffed with pimentos

1 teaspoon capers

1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil

hot sauce to taste

Stuffed Pepper

DIRECTIONS:

1. In a heavy pot, add 1 tablespoon oil and saute chili peppers, onion, green pepper and garlic for 10 minutes.

2. Add oregano, salt, vinegar and ground beef. Stir over high heat until meat loses its red color.

3. Turn heat to low. Add olives, capers and hot sauce. Mix and cook 30 minutes for beef or 1 hour for pork.

4. Let cool slightly so it won’t be too hot to handle when stuffing the plantains or other item.

Stuffed Cabbage

Mom & Grandma’s Arroz Con Pollo

Mom and me at 4 months (May 1962)

My mother and grandmother used to make this recipe quite a bit for us when we were growing up. Nothing I tried in restaurants ever compared to their cooking! It has been years since I’ve had this or even attempted to make it myself. It’s a Puerto Rican recipe and always brings me back to those days growing up. We had all kinds of different ethnic dishes in our house. Our mom wanted us to be well-rounded when it came to food. Maybe that’s why I’m obsessed with food!

Grandma with me (23 months) and Billy (11 months) Christmas 1963


INGREDIENTS:

1 teaspoon oregano

1 tablespoon salt

2 peppercorns

1 teaspoon vinegar

1 onion, chopped

1 green pepper, diced

1 teaspoon capers

1 cup uncooked rice

1-2 packets Sazon

1 garlic clove, minced

2 teaspoons olive oil

2 ½- 3 lb. chicken pieces

¼ cup butter

6 pitted green olives, chopped

1 tomato, peeled and chopped

½ cup tomato sauce

1 can green peas

2 tablespoons achiote for color (Sofrito)

slivered pimentos (from a jar)


DIRECTIONS:

1. Combine oregano, peppercorns, garlic, salt, oil and vinegar. Crush together. Rub mixture over chicken.

2. Brown chicken pieces in butter in large skillet.

3. Add onion, green pepper, olives, capers, achiote, sazon, tomato  and tomato sauce to chicken in skillet. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

4. Drain peas, reserving liquid.  Add enough water to liquid to make 2 ½ cups.

5. Add the water to skillet and bring to a boil. Sprinkle in rice. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

6. Add peas. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Garnish with pimento strips.

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