When stocking your pantry for Italian cooking, there are a few essentials you need to have. Some of these things aren't easy to find, but they're well worth it! If you are interested in making good Italian food, find a local retailer that can help you. Most large cities have vibrant Italian-American communities with stores geared towards these types of purchases. Here's five simple items you need to produce excellent, authentic Italian food at home.
Olive oil. Italians love olive oil, and with good reason! It's used as a cooking oil, used in salad dressings, and used to flavor pastas. Buy two different olive oils: an extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling on cooked foods and for use in salad dressings; and a more standard-grade olive oil for frying and cooking. These oils aren't cheap, but will last you a long time.
Balsamic vinegar. Balsamic vinegar is the basis of many fine Italian dressings and sauces. It can be used very easily (use it sparingly, though!) to flavor any dish that needs a touch of acid and a brilliant bouquet of sweetness. Reduce balsamic vinegar with a teaspoon of sugar, and you have a great sauce for grilled meats. Or, marinate fruit with a touch of balsamic vinegar for an unforgettable dessert.
Spices. There are three spices considered key in Italian cooking: parsley, oregano, and basil. Italian chopped and dried parsley is added to just about everything to add an earthy, bold flavor. Oregano is also added to sauces and stews to bring forth a hearty aroma. Last but not least, basil is a key ingredient in most Italian sauces and salads. With this trinity of Italian spices, you can add authentic flavor to any dish.
Bread crumbs. Seasoned Italian bread crumbs are the perfect breading for any authentic Italian meat dish. Dredge a pork chop in eggwash, then bread with Italian bread crumbs; fry in some olive oil, and you'll never go back to anything else! Bread crumbs also work as a good stuffing for artichokes and other vegetables; they also work to add bulk and flavor to light pastas. The opportunities are limitless!
Garlic. Contrary to popular opinion, you CAN have too much garlic-- so use it frequently, but sparingly, then taste it along the way and add more if needed. For an authentic Italian flavor, add some roasted garlic to your pasta sauce or pizza.
After you stock up on these essentials, you'll be on your way to making fine Italian food at home. And don't forget the king of cheeses -- a brick of fresh Parmesano-Reggiano to grate over your food is just as important as the core ingredients when it comes to authentic Italian flavor!