THE ITALIAN PANTRY
A well-stocked pantry makes cooking delicious Italian meals a snap. Countless dishes can be made from ingredients on hand, especially on snowy days.
High-quality ingredients are essential to Italian cooking: the better your olive oil, tomatoes and cheese, the better your meals will be. In most Italian kitchens, you will find the following items in the pantry:
OLIVE OIL – One of the essential ingredients of Italian cooking, olive oil is used not simply as a cooking oil but for the flavor it adds to a dish. For this reason, it’s important to use only extra-virgin olive oil for garnishing dishes and salads– it has the most flavor. If you splurge on any one item, I would suggest you buy the best you can find.
DRIED PASTA – Use pasta imported from Italy such as Barilla and De Cecco. Generally, any imported pasta products made from semolina flour are good choices. For egg pasta, avoid the “fresh” pasta sold in refrigerated cases. Either use homemade or buy the dried noodles packaged in nests.
TOMATOES – Use good canned tomatoes (unless the recipe specifically calls for fresh). Tomatoes come whole, peeled, chopped, crushed or strained. Use imported Italian tomatoes if you can find them; they’re the best. Tomato paste in a tube is very handy when you only need a tablespoon or two.
ONIONS AND GARLIC – Generally, white onions for cooking and red onions for salads and dishes that do not require cooking because they are milder. Garlic is a must have.
SUN-DRIED TOMATOES – Buy tomatoes packed in olive oil – they have more flavor than the dried. You can even use the oil to add flavor to delicate dishes.
ARTICHOKES – Jarred artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers add delicate flavor when tossed with pasta, salads or as a topping for pizza.
LEGUMES – Keep dried cannellini beans, borlotti beans, ceci and lentils on hand to use in soups, stews or as a side dish. Farro and barley are good for soups, salads and risotto-like dishes.
CORNMEAL – Use a medium textured cornmeal to make polenta. Keep it in a tightly closed container and it will last for months. I also use cornmeal to dust my pan when making pizza.
RICE – Arborio is the most common rice used in making risotto, but other varieties, such as Carnaroli or Vialone Nano, which are just now becoming available in America, are perhaps even better. One characteristic they all share is a translucent, starchy exterior that melts away in cooking to give risotto its distinctive creamy consistency.
BALSAMIC VINEGAR – There are a variety of different balsamic vinegars. Depending on its age, it can be extremely expensive. You can use an inexpensive one for salads, as long as the quality is good. Red wine vinegar is also essential for a good salad dressing.
ANCHOVIES – Keep a jar or can packed in oil to add a zip to certain dishes. You can also find anchovy paste in a tube, which is milder in taste and is quite convenient.
DRIED PORCINI MUSHROOMS – Look for packages that have large slices of mushrooms. They add a wonderful rich flavor to risottos, pasta sauces and stews, and can infuse cultivated white mushrooms with their robust flavor. Although they can be an expensive item, a little goes a long way and, if kept in an airtight container, they’ll keep for a long time. Keep the water used to rehydrate them. Strained, it will add a depth of flavor to many soups, sauces and stews.
CAPERS – You can find two types 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, require rinsing of the salt before using and tend to be a little more difficult to locate. A few chopped capers can add a punch of flavor to dishes that seem to need just a little something.
OLIVES – Both the black and green varieties are good, if packed in brine and imported from Italy even better. They can be added to pastas and salads for great flavor.
HERBS AND SEASONINGS – Generally fresh herbs are preferred in everyday cooking, but it is also important to keep dried oregano, rosemary, thyme, basil and sage available. Whole black pepper, sea salt and crushed red pepper flakes are also important seasonings to have on hand.
FLOUR – All-purpose flour, bread flour and white whole wheat are needed for pizzas and breads. Semolina flour is also very useful for some bread and pizza doughs.
BREAD CRUMBS – Italian seasoned crumbs come in handy for quick toppings.
TUNA IN OLIVE OIL – a must have for a quick pasta dinner. Canned sardines in olive oil are another good addition.
Although these are the bare basics to have in an Italian kitchen, stocking these basic staples in your pantry will ensure that you can create authentic tasting Italian recipes. All you’ll need to add are a few fresh ingredients and you’ll be all set.
Tomato Soup with Chickpeas and Pasta
Canned tomatoes provide the flavor here, so you can make this warming soup any time of year. If you’d like to use an herb other than sage, either rosemary or marjoram would be a good choice.
- 7 cups canned tomatoes with their juice (two 28-ounce cans)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
- 2 cups canned low-sodium chicken broth or homemade stock
- 2 cups water
- 1 3/4 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 cup ditalini or other small pasta
- 2 cups drained and rinsed canned chickpeas (one 19-ounce can)
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
- 1/3 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
In a food processor or blender, puree the tomatoes with their juice. Set aside.
In a large pot, heat the oil over moderately low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic.
Add the pureed tomatoes, the sage, broth, water and salt to the pot. Bring to a boil. Stir in the pasta and chickpeas. Bring the soup back to a boil, then reduce the heat. Cook, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in the parsley, pepper and the 1/3 cup grated Parmesan. Serve topped with additional Parmesan.
Note: Look for high-quality canned tomatoes for this soup, such as plum tomatoes from the San Marzano region of Italy.
Easy Polenta with Tomato Sauce
- 2 cups milk
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1 cup yellow cornmeal
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese
- 2 cups store bought spaghetti sauce, or your favorite recipe
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a 9 inch square baking dish.
In a large pot, combine the milk and chicken stock. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. When it is at a rolling boil, gradually whisk in the cornmeal, making sure there are no lumps. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring constantly until thick, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese.
Pour the polenta into the prepared baking dish and spread the spaghetti sauce over the top.
Bake for 10 minutes in the preheated oven or until the sauce is bubbling.
Note: This dish can be topped with mozzarella cheese or sauteed peppers or sausage or any topping you like. It also makes an excellent side to meatloaf.
Pasta in Rosemary Garlic Sauce
This dish is also good with the addition of sauteed mushrooms or canned tuna in olive oil.
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
- 6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 (16 ounce) package bucatini or thick spaghetti
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over low heat. Add the onions; cook and stir until they turn a light brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Mix in the chicken stock and rosemary and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook until reduced by a third, about 8 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large pot, add 3 quarts of water and about 2 tablespoons salt and bring to a full rolling boil. Add the spaghetti, return to a boil and cook for 10 minutes or until al dente. Drain in a colander and add the pasta to the sauce in the skillet.
Add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and the cheese; mix well until the butter is incorporated. Adjust seasoning with salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste. Serve in a big bowl or on 4 individual plates.
Use dried herbs if fresh are not available. When substituting dried herbs for fresh the ratio is 1 tablespoon fresh = 1 teaspoon dried.
- 1 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoons butter
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, divided
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, divided
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary, divided
- 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest, divided
- 1 1/2 cups uncooked Arborio rice
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 3 1/2 cups low sodium chicken stock
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Heat oil and butter in a medium heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, 1 1/2 tablespoons basil, 1 1/2 tablespoons parsley, 1 tablespoon rosemary and 1 teaspoon lemon zest. Saute, stirring, until onion is slightly softened (about 2 to 3 minutes).
Stir in rice and saute while stirring until rice grains are oil-coated (about 3 minutes). Pour in wine and stock and reduce heat to medium low. Simmer uncovered for 20 to 25 minutes, or until liquid is almost absorbed and rice is tender but firm. (Note: Stir once or twice while simmering.)
Remove the pan from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in remaining herbs and lemon zest, then add lemon juice and cheese. Cover saucepan with waxed paper and let stand 8 to 10 minutes before serving.
Makes 1 serving
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 canned, drained, water-packed artichoke hearts, diced
- 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
- Salt & pepper to taste
- 1 ounce (about 2 pieces) roasted, drained red bell peppers, diced
In a small bowl, beat eggs well. Add cheese, stirring to mix. Set aside.
Heat oil in a 10-inch, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add artichokes; cook and stir 2 to 3 minutes or until artichokes begins to brown. Add roasted red peppers and cook, stirring, about 2 minutes more, until liquid has evaporated. Add garlic and stir about 30 seconds. With a rubber spatula, transfer artichoke pepper mixture to a small plate; keep warm.
Return the skillet to the heat. When the pan is hot, add egg-Parmesan mixture, tilting pan and lifting eggs as they begin to set with a spatula to allow uncooked portions to flow underneath the omelet. Cook 1 or 2 minutes, until omelet is almost set. Spoon reserved artichoke-pepper mixture onto half of the omelet. With a spatula, carefully fold omelet in half to cover filling. Let cook 2 minutes more or until set.
- Lynda’s Balsamic Chicken Recipe (abowandarrow.wordpress.com)
- Slow Cooker Tomato Basil Parmesan Soup (annaleciaisawesome.wordpress.com)
- SASA’S HEALTHY EATING TIPS: Kitchen Basics: What to keep in your Kitchen Pantry | Healthy eating advice from Herbalife- with Susan Bowerman (sasasherbalife.wordpress.com)
February 10, 2014 at 9:21 am
Adding some more goodies to my pantry over the weekend, thanks for share 🙂
February 10, 2014 at 9:28 am
Thank you for visiting this blog and for your comments. Much appreciated.
February 10, 2014 at 10:22 am
I can’t tell you how many times, your list of pantry ingredients has helped me to get a meal ready at short notice. I use several of these recipes or variations regularly.
February 10, 2014 at 2:14 pm
Thanks Heidi. They are quick meals to make when you get home from a busy day at work and you don’t have to look far for what you need.
February 10, 2014 at 10:36 am
The tomato soup and the rosemary garlic pasta will be tried! Super ideas.
February 10, 2014 at 2:17 pm
Thanks Annie. Good picks.
February 10, 2014 at 11:05 am
Perfect timing – we’ve had freezing rain and I don’t want to drive. I need to cook my from pantry today – thanks for the great ideas.
February 10, 2014 at 2:17 pm
You are welcome Pam. Stay safe.
February 10, 2014 at 12:56 pm
Boy I envy your pantry! That’s the one thing we don’t have in our home (and will definitely have in the next one). Thanks Jovina
February 10, 2014 at 2:18 pm
Oh, so right Karen. A pantry is a wonderful thing.
February 11, 2014 at 12:28 pm
I usually keep most of these ingredients in my pantry, but some are too expensive to keep around all of the time. Things like marinated artichoke hearts and sun dried tomato’s can only be found at the Italian market here in town, and they charge an arm and a leg because most of their products are imported from Italy and Sicily. I must say though, that when I do need a certain thing, they are the go to place, and their choices of pasta’s and cheeses is un beatable. I am a super hero when I buy my wife her (favorite) hot stuffed cherry peppers, and garlic stuffed Sicilian olives. During the year I am always growing fresh basil, parsley, Rosemary, a variety of tomatoes, eggplant, and cucumbers for salads and pickling.
February 11, 2014 at 2:42 pm
It is great that you can have such a wonderful garden. I agree that the Italian store is a place of wonder. I don’t know where you live but my supermarket, Publix, carries very good brands of jarred Italian products and they are not overpriced in my experience. Certainly having these goodies a few times a year is just as rewarding. Thank you Gus for your insightful comments and for reading my blog.