The Italian cupboard: 20 basic ingredients
The ingredients in an Italian cupboard will probably be fairly consistent across the country although there are enormous differences between the Italian regions and huge regional variations in cuisine.
Make sure you have most of these ingredients in your cupboard and you’ll be ready to create many wonderful Italian dishes!
1. Extra virgin olive oil
The number one ingredient that characterises Italian cooking! Most Italians will have two types of olive oil in their cupboard, a basic one for frying or sautéing and the best extra virgin olive oil (organic if possible) that they can afford for adding to pasta sauces, for drizzling into soups, onto a risotto, grilled vegetables and of course for bruschetta and salads.
2. Tinned tomatoes
An absolutely essential staple – it’s perfectly acceptable to used tinned tomatoes in Italy but make sure that you choose simple whole peeled plum tomatoes ‘pomodori pelati’ as opposed to chopped or diced for a better flavour in everything from sauces to soup. The best varieties in Italy such as the San Marzano come from Campania – the volcanic soil gives an amazing flavour to all the produce grown there.
The basis of so many Italian dishes and the perfect comfort food. Make sure it’s durum wheat pasta and if possible bronze die cut, it will have so much more taste and better absorb the sauce and it’s flavour. Keep three types of pasta in stock – long, short and a tiny one for soup (a separate post dedicated to which pasta goes with which sauces and dishes will follow soon). Wholegrain and spelt pasta offer a healthy and tasty alternative to traditional white pasta.
Make sure you choose Arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone nano if you want to make great risotto. These are all short-grained rice which release starch making them ideal for creamy risottos. Vialone nano is also good for adding to soups.
5. Cannellini beans
Again tinned Cannellini beans are fine. These are an essential, satisfying and healthy ingredient often found in Italian cuisine. They are full of fibre, protein and antioxidant-rich flavonols. Cannellini are perfect to mix with pasta, in soups and salads or to make into a tasty dip.
6. Bread Crumbs
Whizz some up at home in a food processor or buy the ready prepared ones and add texture and flavour to loads of Italian dishes. Bread crumbs are ideal for breading cutlets or chicken, mozzarella or ricotta balls before frying or for mixing with parmesan and sprinkling on top of a delicious ‘sformato di patate’ (mashed potato dish), they are also found in some pasta dishes such as pasta with anchovies.
Used in everything from antipasti to pastas, olives are packed with cholesterol-lowering monounsaturated fats, vitamin E and antioxidants. The small dark ones are generally used in cooking.
Capers or ‘capperi’ will add a natural richness and depth of flavour to all of your favourite sauces, soups, salads, stews, and rice and pasta dishes. The best Italian capers come from the island of Pantelleria, they are higher in polyphenols (the anti-oxidants that are said to prevent cancer, arteriosclerosis and slow down the ageing process) than other capers.
9. Balsamic Vinegar
The real balsamic vinegar (which are not artificially coloured and thickened) comes from Modena and is made from a selection of excellent musts and vintage wine and left to mature in vintage barrels, it’s perfect for dressing your salads, drizzling on raw vegetables and uncooked meats or fruit.
10. Dried Herbs and Seasonings
Keep dried oregano, sage, and thyme on hand to lend that Mediterranean flavour and aroma to your dishes. A shake of some dried Calabrian oregano can transform a simple olive oil bruschetta.
11. Fresh Basil
This sweet aromatic herb is a staple for topping pastas and pizzas and of course for scattering liberally across your Caprese salad.
Many recipes use anchovies for a hit of flavour where the anchovies provide a subtle background flavour which isn’t always necessarily that fishy! Much loved by Italians from north to south, anchovies are often that secret ingredient that you just can’t put your finger on! Use them in numerous sauces, salads, in pasta or to create a delicious antipasto.
This highly flavourful aged hard cheese (most often used grated) adds a nutty flavour and lovely texture to Italian dishes, particularly pastas.
14. Porcini Mushrooms
Always buy dried porcini to keep in the cupboard, not only do they smell wonderful they can quickly be soaked and used to make a quick and tasty risotto or pasta dish. Good quality dried Porcini are not cheap. Look for the ones that come in fairly intact slices rather than lots of broken pieces.
15. Onions and Garlic
Both are essential ingredients especially for making the ‘soffritto’ the essential basis for most Italian savoury dishes. The soffritto is made up of different ingredients depending on what region you are in but either onion or garlic will almost always be used and sometimes together along with carrots and celery. The finely chopped ingredients are lightly sautéed in olive oil until nice and soft and then the main ingredient is cooked in the soffritto to absorb its flavour.
16. Peperoncini – Red Chillies in any form!
These hot chilli peppers are added to most southern Italian specialties, including pasta sauces and pizza.Find them fresh, dried, powdered, preserved whole (eat them as an antipasto) or chopped in oil.
17. Stock Cubes
A guilty secret ingredient of many an Italian cook, these ‘dadi’ or stock cubes are often used to add some extra flavour to many dishes or to make a quick broth for risotto!
There are over 100 types of honey in Italy and it is a really popular ingredient enhancing the flavours of cheeses and sweetening desserts
Choose either the stronger and more intense buffalo mozzarella which is best in Caprese salads or the more milky flavoured ‘Fior di latte’ made with cow’s milk – great in lasagne, baked pasta dishes and on pizza.
Wine is added for flavour to many Italian dishes. White wine to fish dishes, pasta ones and risotto, red wine to meat casseroles.
Made a list? Now check out our recipes and start planning some fabulous Italian feasts!