7 Quintessential Italian Ingredients to Keep on Hand
With its rich and savory flavors, Italian food is one of the finest cuisines in the world. Italian culinary traditions have long been passed down from generation to generation to become some of our most beloved dishes. These delectable meals are often a gathering ritual for friends and family, as well.
If you’re new to Italian cooking or brushing up on your skills, you’ll want to stock up on the fundamental elements that make this Mediterranean fare burst with flavor. Here are seven quintessential Italian ingredients you’ll want to keep in your kitchen at all times, including Italian seasonings.
Everyone who cooks Italian food should keep dried pasta on hand. It’s a kitchen staple and well-suited for nearly any traditional Italian dish.
If you’re feeling adventurous, making your very own noodles is easy. For example, this basic homemade pasta recipe calls for simple ingredients, such as an egg, salt, flour and water.
You can run your pasta dough through a pasta machine if you want to, or roll your pasta by hand. While it may take a little longer, there’s something spectacular about homemade pasta that beats packaged every time.
2. Oregano, Basil and Parsely
Certain spices and herbs are essential in Italian cooking, and oregano, basil and parsley are at the top. Here are how the herbs differ:
*Oregano: An aromatic, earthy and somewhat bitter herb that always finds its way into pizza, spaghetti sauce and other types of tomato-based dishes.
*Basil: Slightly bitter with notes of mint and pepper. It’s typically used in tomato sauce, pestos, pizza, paired with cheese and mixed with other Italian seasonings.
*Flat-leaf parsley: Used in soups, stock, stew and egg dishes, as well as for enhancing the flavor of other herbs and for garnishing. It’s also known as “Italian parsley.”
Additionally, an Italian cook will likely fill their spice cabinet with garlic, rosemary, thyme, sage and fennel, as well. Of course, having dried herb ingredients is convenient; however, fresh herbs are the most pungent.
3. Balsamic Vinegar
If you’re new to Italian cuisine, balsamic vinegar is an essential ingredient you should always keep in your pantry. You may be wondering what balsamic vinegar is and how to incorporate it into your cooking.
Balsamic vinegar is a complex syrup that comes from Modena, Italy. It spends years concentrating inside wooden barrels to achieve its rich chocolatey coloring. You’ll find it tastes divine drizzled over strawberries and raspberries, figs, mozzarella, tomatoes and even ice cream.
4. Olive Oil
Olive oil is often referred to as the “liquid gold” of Italian cooking and is fundamental for bringing all the dish’s flavors together. Even though different types of olive oils range from extra-light to bold, you’ll likely get the most use out of extra-virgin olive oil.
Extra-virgin olive oil comes from pressing olives, separating the pulp and filtering the oil to remove any solids. Without exposure to heat and chemicals, it can maintain its flavor and antioxidant properties. It’s perfect for making salad dressings and marinades, dipping oils, sauteeing, roasting, frying, or baking.
There are several health benefits of olive oil, as well. For example, various studies have indicated that olive oil improves cardiovascular health, depression, Alzheimer’s, breast cancer, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and metabolic syndrome.
Is Italian cuisine truly Italian without fresh, ripe tomatoes? Whether made into sauce, diced and sauteed or eaten raw, tomatoes are a quintessential ingredient you must keep on hand.
Tomatoes are the heart of Italian cooking and pair well with pizzas, cheese, meat, onions, peppers and just about anything else you can come up with.
Try this easy Italian-Style Bruschetta recipe which calls for plum tomatoes, olive oil, basil, onion, red wine vinegar and black pepper. Dice your tomatoes and onions and mix them with your seasons to create a delicious salsa.
Bruschetta is a classic Italian dish that goes on top of a toasted baguette. You can even add a slice of mozzarella cheese and drizzle balsamic vinegar for an extra bite.
Three kinds of cheese are widely used in Italian cooking: Parmigiano-Reggiano, ricotta and mozzarella.
Parmesan cheese is a hard cheese made from partially-skimmed cow’s milk. It’s described as having fruity and nutty notes and is typically finely grated to add bold flavoring to pasta, soup, polenta and stews, and can pretty much be used to enhance the flavor of any dish.
On the other hand, ricotta is much more velvety and ideal for adding creaminess to savory dishes like manicotti and lasagna. Due to having a slightly sweet flavor, fresh ricotta is also used in pizza, salads, and desserts.
When it comes to Italian staples, however, mozzarella is the winner. As a milder cheese than parmesan and ricotta, mozzarella is usually added to more traditional baked pasta dishes and pizza toppings. Mozzarella is paired well with tomato, basil and balsamic vinegar for a delicious Caprese salad, as well.
Olives have long been a part of Italian cuisine since the early Roman days. You can add olives to antipasto salads and various pasta and meat dishes.
Many people marinate olives in olive oil with traditional Italian herbs and spices. However, feel free to switch things up with this Kicked Up Olives recipe that calls for marinating olives with red pepper flakes, garlic, rosemary, fennel, tangerine peels and onion slices.
Master Italian Cuisine With the Essentials
You can create outstanding Italian dishes with these essential ingredients; however, cooking is really fun when you experiment with the different spices and ingredients.
Feel free to modify traditional Italian recipes to make them your own. Just remember to pass your creations down to the next generation, as well.