Cucina Pasta-bilities – Ingredients for an Italian Kitchen August 15 2016, 0 Comments

A meal can only be as good as its ingredients. The key to the amazingly delicious Italian meals lies in fresh, quality ingredients.  True Italian dishes are surprisingly simple, but infinite care and patience is put into the selection of ingredients and building a flavor base to create the wonderfully aromatic dishes.

We’re excited to share a few tips with you stock your Italian kitchen with all the best and necessary ingredients to turn a simple dish into a delicious meal. And after your Italian pantry is set, stayed tuned for next week’s post on building your flavor base for the best Italian meals!

Spices, Herbs, and other Italian Pantry Essentials

Fats

  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil – store in a cool, dark cupboard. Experts recommend using a bottle within a year and a half of bottling, and within 6 weeks of opening for best results.
  • Butter and Vegetable Oil – if the taste of olive oil will be overpowering for your dish, Italian cooks combine butter and a vegetable oil. The combination allows cooking at higher temperatures without burning the butter.

Spices

  • Nutmeg – used in both savory and sweet; freshly ground nutmeg has the best flavor and aroma
  • Pepper – Black peppercorn is preferred as it has a more rounded taste than the white. Always use freshly ground pepper as it loses its aroma soon after grinding.

Aromatics

  • Onion – onions are indispensable to Italian cooking and once upon a time, was the main ingredient to the base flavor of Italian dishes (more on base flavors in next week’s post!). The most common preparation for onions is to finely chop and sauté in olive oil until caramelized before adding the other ingredients.
  • Oregano – This herb is popular in Southern Italian cooking and is especially found in pizzas and sauces.
  • Rosemary – This herb comes second to oregano in usage within Italian cooking. Practically indispensable to roasts and delicious on breads like focaccia. Best when fresh from the garden, rosemary is a very hardy plant and easy to grow - try planting some in your garden or in the kitchen.
  • Sage – This used to be a medicinal herb but has grown to be a favorite in Italian cooking. As with rosemary, best used fresh with the whole leaf. Best paired with game birds, veal, and often with beans.
  • Parsley – Italian parsley is much more pungent than the curly leafed variety and is used as flavoring rather than garnish
  • Basil – best used fresh; basil is most fragrant with the least amount of cooking, added at the very end of the cooking process.
  • Bay Leaves – this is a wonderfully versatile herb that can be used in almost any Italian dish. Purchase whole and dried bay leaves, which have an indefinite shelf life.
  • Garlic – Italians use garlic as a subtle flavor, never overpowering other flavors. The most gentle flavor comes from the whole (always unpeeled) clove, and the strongest comes from a finely chopped clove.

Others

  • Olives – Black olives are more suited to Italian cooking than the Greek Kalamata olives. Cooking too long accentuates the bitter flavor in olives, so it’s best to wait til the end of the cooking period to add olives.
  • Capers – pungent but not harsh, capers can be used to brighten up sauces for meats and fish, or used in stuffings

Italian ingredients/flavor base varies region by region, each place incorporating locally available ingredients, so don’t be afraid to improvise with locally grown ingredients. 

Stay tuned to learn about Italian cooking techniques - battuto, soffritto, and insaporire. Buon Appetito!