The Best Ingredients To Stock an Italian Pantry

Words: Katrina Rose Wind

Whether you’re Italian, love Italian food or just want to keep your pantry up to date, it’s important to have the basic Italian cooking staples in your kitchen. When you cook Italian food, you cook from the heart and soul, so it’s important to not skimp on any important ingredients that a recipe may call for…

Italian Herbs & Spices

italian pantry

First things first, herbs! Spices and herbs are very important when it comes to cooking in general, they elevate any dish and enhance flavour. Italian dishes rely on specific herbs to distinguish their classics – think basil in a basil pesto, and crispy sage with brown butter gnocchi. Other must-have herbs and spices to include in your Italian pantry are bay leaves, parsley, oregano, hot chilli, thyme, black pepper, and rosemary.

Try this recipe for Gnocchi in a Creamy Basil Pesto Sauce


Extra Virgin Olive Oil

italian pantry

Pour olive oil on everything to make any dish instantly better – think tomatoes, salads, seafood, pasta… the list goes on! You can never go wrong with buying a good quality, cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil; it’s the most natural and highest quality oil. Remember to always keep it stored in a cool spot, away from the sun, in order for it to keep its fresh flavour. We cannot stress enough how important olive oil is for a classic Italian pantry, and South Africa has so many incredible and globally award-winning local extra virgin olive oils to choose from.

Want to know the difference between extra virgin olive oil and other olive oil? If you’re even more curious, learn how to taste olive oil correctly.

Bonus: Here’s a recipe for an Italian classic, Aglio e Olio Linguine


Balsamic Vinegar

italian pantry

We know we went on a whole spiel about how olive oil is the it condiment in an Italian pantry, but we are here to open your minds… balsamic vinegar is just as important. Adding this to salads – game-changer; adding to risotto – out of this world. In Venice, they even add aged balsamic vinegar to their gelato. In order to get the wonderful flavours that balsamic vinegar has to offer, make sure to buy the traditional option.

Check out this recipe for Balsamic Roasted Beetroot & Mozzarella Salad


Lemons

italian pantry

One of the most important fruits for Italians is the lemon. In some parts of Italy, they even gather to celebrate a good lemon harvest. These festivals involve barrels upon barrels of fresh lemons, and all things lemon.

This fruit is the catalyst for other ingredients in Italian dishes, as it allows you to better taste the other flavours in dishes. A grating of fresh zest or a squeeze of juice can elevate fresh seafood dishes, as well as flavour biscotti, or bring out the flavour of sautéed meats. Always keep lemons in your Italian pantry!

If you want more lemon in your life, check out this recipe for Rainbow Carrot & Pea Risotto with Lemon Dill Pesto, and check out our round-up of lovely lemon recipes.


Tinned Tomatoes

italian pantry

Italians like everything fresh! Even so, canned tomatoes serve as a base for most sauces, as well as for Italian roasts, soups and more. However, the Italians love a specific type of tinned tomatoes, so try to get concentrato di pomodoro, passata or anything with garlic in it. Passata is a bottled tomato purée, which is very common in a lot of Italian dishes; if you want to step your game up, add this to your next dish.

A great way to use tinned tomatoes is in this Parmigiana di Melanzane.


Sun-dried Tomatoes

italian pantry

The Mediterranean region pride themselves on sun-dried tomatoes, especially in southern Italy. You can keep it simple and eat it with some fresh bread, cheese and a glass of wine – how divine! They are also perfect for pasta dishes; think a basil and sun-dried tomato pasta.

Hosting a dinner party soon? Try this recipe for Sun-dried Tomato, Ricotta & Chorizo Aubergine Rollups.


Pasta

italian pantry

This is an obvious one, but we still have to mention it. Having pasta corta in your Italian pantry, which is basically all other types of pasta that isn’t spaghetti (fusilli, penne, farfalle, etc.) is essential. The shorter shaped pastas are actually designed to hold the sauce better, which gives you the best flavour profile. A good spaghetti is also essential to even remotely call your kitchen an Italian one. Check out our guide of different types of pasta, we also got you covered with a step-by-step guide to making your own pasta.

Try making this Sicilian-style Pasta or this recipe for Linguine with Mussels and Prawns.


Garlic

italian pantry

Garlic has a relatively long shelf-life, so having a couple of bulbs in your kitchen at all times is 100% doable and essential. Almost all Italian recipes use some form of garlic, so if you can keep fresh bulbs, that’s first prize; if you are stuck, powdered garlic or refrigerated crushed garlic will do.

If you ever want a marinade that’s perfect for steak, check out this Anchovy, Garlic and Rosemary Marinade.


Tinned Fish

italian pantry

You may be thinking ‘???’ but hear us out. Italians love good quality tinned sardines and tuna packed in olive oil. Tinned fish makes for the perfect quick snack – simply scoop up with your favourite cracker or focaccia and chomp away. They are also wonderful for quick pasta dishes; throw them on top, add a pinch of salt and you’re good to go!

These Mediterranean-style Sardines are so easy to whip up.


Anchovies

italian pantry

There are so many ways to enjoy anchovies – in a paste, preserved in olive oil or salt. It is easily a fan favourite among Italians. In their eyes, the best-quality anchovies are those that are packed in salt; a close second would be the olive oil-packed anchovies packaged in glass jars. If you buy anchovies packed in salt, don’t forget to rinse them well before eating.

Make butter out of anchovies for an extra kick, with this recipe for Rare Rump Steak with Anchovy Butter.


Capers

Not just on your morning bagels! Capers are an Italian kitchen staple; they are the buds of a flower that are picked, dried and then preserved in salt or in vinegar. Capers are typically served in caponata, an aubergine side dish – their acidity enhances the flavour of the aubergine. They are also used in a lot of Italian meat and seafood dishes, as well as sauces.

Try this recipe for Beef Carpaccio with Capers and Rosemary Straw Potatoes


Olives

Nothing tastes quite like Italy than a perfectly marinated or cured olive. One of the most important olives to Italians is the Bella di Cerignola. Also known as ‘Cerignola olives’, these brine-cured olives can range from green to yellow to red or black. If you’re not sure how to de-pit an olive, it’s best to use the pressure method – place the olives under the wide part of a chef’s knife and apply pressure. The force will loosen the pit and voilà! Imagine if nonna found out you didn’t have olives in your Italian pantry; don’t disappoint, always keep a jar or two in your kitchen.

Try this Mixed Herb & Olive Fussili recipe, it’s perfect for simple weeknight dinners.


Cheese

Mozzarella and Parmigiano Reggiano are the two most important kinds of cheese to Italians. Of course, you can buy a Grana Padano, which is a cheaper option to Parmigiano Reggiano – but if you want that authentic flavour, it’s better to go with the Reggiano. The great thing about these hard cheeses is that they have a relatively long fridge-life and a little goes a long way. Fresh mozzarella spoils rather quickly, so it’s best to use it within the week.

Hot tip: keep your Parmigiano or Grana Padano rinds in the freezer; when you prepare a Bolognese or tomato-based sauce, toss in as-is and see how it imparts the most amazing flavour into your sauce.

Learn how to make Pan-fried Line Fish on Parmesan Mash.


Rice

Rice is important for making the quintessential Italian dish, risotto. In Italy there are various types of rice; for risotto, the most common ones to use are arborio, carnaroli, and vialone. Some Italian soups have rice in them, the best ones to use are vialone nano, balilla, and arborio. Always keep rice in your Italian pantry – you won’t regret it!

If you’ve always wanted to make risotto, this is your chance! Check out this recipe for Roasted Butternut and Sage Risotto, or Pan-fried Salmon on Pea & Lemon Risotto.


Breadcrumbs

A purist would say they need to be homemade breadcrumbs, but if you need to use store-bought ones, then go for it. However, if you always have fresh bread at home, then you’ll always be able to make breadcrumbs. Breadcrumbs are perfect for crumbing foods and bring a whole other textural layer to chicken breasts, fish, pasta, veal, risotto, and even soups.

Try this recipe for Green Olive, Caper & Herb Pasta with Crunchy Pangrattato


Dried Mushrooms

Dried porcini mushrooms can be used to make sauces, soups, and pasta dishes. Their earthy flavour profile adds such a great flavour to these dishes that you’ll wonder why you haven’t used them before. They also have a long shelf-life, so you don’t have to stress about using them right away; but make sure to keep this one stocked in your Italian pantry.

Check out this mushroom guide, and learn how to cook different types of mushrooms.


Flour

italian pantry

If you want to try your hand at making your own pasta or bread, then flour is essential to have in your Italian pantry. Keep an eye out for ‘hard flour’ and ‘soft flour’. Hard flour is perfect for making pasta and some types of bread, whereas the soft flour is great for making pastries and most types of bread. Semolina flour is simply a wheat flour; it works perfectly with egg yolks, butter and Parmigiano. This flour works best for making gnocchi, and is also great for keeping pizza bases loose.

Be a master at making artisanal breads! Click here to learn five bread recipes that will make you question ever buying bread again.

Buon appetito!

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