Daydreaming of an Italian vacation? Those golden sunsets. The olive trees swaying in the breeze, the rolling hills striped with grapevines. A farm table set for a leisurely dinner al fresco under the wisteria. A glass of Primitivo toasting yet another beautiful day.
Why wait? Start where the Italians would, with an unfussy meal of high-quality ingredients, simply prepared, like our Cacio e Pepe. Stock your pantry Italian-style, and you can easily pull together a dreamy, nourishing feast on any day of the week. Delizioso!
- Olive oil. Keep one workhorse olive oil for everyday cooking, and splurge on a really good bottle of extra-virgin oil for finishing, salad dressings and saucing pastas. Excellent California producers include McEvoy Ranch, Stonehouse and Grumpy Goats Farm.
- Dried pastas. Have a variety of shapes on hand to pair with different sauces and quickly sautéed veggies. Give orecchiette, strozzapreti or cavatappi a whirl. Legendary cookbook author Marcella Hazan (she’s considered the Julia Child of Italian cooking in the US) offered some helpful rules of thumb for perfect pasta cookery.
- Cured meats. Slice up sopressata or roll up prosciutto for an antipasto plate with cheese and ciabatta. Keep frozen pizza dough on hand for a better-than-delivery meal, adding whisper-thin slices of salami at the end of baking. Freeze a package of diced pancetta and you’ll always be two steps closer to bucatini amatriciana.
- Grains. Farro, rice and polenta keep for ages in the pantry. Pull them into service for a side dish (or main) with a box of chicken stock, dried porcini mushrooms and aged Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Regianno cheese.
- Jars and tins. Toss olives, capers, anchovies and a big can of San Marzano tomatoes together for a gutsy puttanesca sauce. Cannellini beans with oil-packed tuna are a classic salad pairing for an easy lunch. Get creative with crostini toppings: artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, or jarred bruschetta spread (which can also double as a pasta sauce).
- Herbs. Nothing brightens a store-bought sauce like a chiffonade of fresh basil or flurry of chopped oregano. Fresh herbs don’t keep long, though, so unless you have a window herb garden at the ready, rely on dried herbs. (Generally, one teaspoon of dried herbs is equivalent to a tablespoon of fresh.) Also bear in mind that dried leafy herbs are only really fresh for 6 months to a year; old spices won’t make anyone ill, but they won’t flavor your dinner much, either.
- Lots of garlic. So much garlic! Plus a few onions (yellow or cippolini, a sweeter Italian variety) and shallots; many, many Italian recipes start with these ingredients. Alliums keep best in a cool, dry area with some ventilation; a countertop usually does the trick. Store separately from potatoes, since an onion’s gases will hasten spoilage in spuds.
- Layer Cake wine. Because, well, it just wouldn’t be la dolce vita without it. No passport required!