Italian Pantry Staples

By admin | July 21, 2011

Photo: Andrea Parrish-Geyer

Cooking Italian food can be surprisingly simple and very rewarding. The key is to use fresh and delicious ingredients in a simple way that showcases their natural and delicious flavors. Here are a few key pantry staples that every Italian pantry should have.

Things that will keep for a while:

  • Canned tomatoes-Much of Italian cuisine involves tomatoes and tomato sauces, so you should always have a few cans of good tomatoes on hand. Whole plum tomatoes are best for sauces, but diced or crushed tomatoes are also fine and will cook faster.
  • Extra virgin olive oil-When sauteing meat or vegetables stick with something cheaper like canola oil, but for drizzling on afterwards or just dipping bread, a really good bottle of olive oil is important. Try to buy the best olive oil you can afford on your budget. Cold pressed extra virgin olive oil is a good choice if you can afford it.
  • Vinegar-For a simple salad dressing, a bottle of red wine, cider, or balsamic vinegar is a great thing to have on hand. A little vinegar and olive oil are enough for a delicious salad dressing.
  • Sea Salt-There are a lot of different types of salt out there, but a simple sea salt works well for Italian cooking.
  • Dried pasta-Fresh pasta is great, but it’s a lot of work to make and won’t keep for very long in your cupboard. A few boxes of good dried pasta are always a must-have in an Italian pantry. Make sure to have a variety of shapes and sizes too.
  • Dried beans-A few bags of dried cannellini beans or lentils are perfect for a hearty winter soup. You’ll have to soak dried beans for a few hours though, so keep that in mind when planning your meals.
  • Pecorino cheese-Good cheese is a very important part of Italian cooking. There is a wide variety of options like Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, mozzarella, ricotta and provolone that will work well in different dishes. The harder cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano should keep well for a while.
  • Chili Pepper Flakes-Adding a bit of heat to a sauce can be easily accomplished with some dried chili pepper flakes, which will be inexpensive and should last you a long time.

Things that should be bought fresh:

  • Pancetta-Pancetta is a rolled-up Italian bacon and can add a lot of flavor to any number of dishes. But if you don’t have it on hand, regular side bacon will often work.
  • Garlic and Onions-Spanish or white onions are a must have for Italian cooking and red onions are great for a raw salad.
  • Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, Thyme-A few herbs, like these, are always useful for adding a bit of flavor to your dish.


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