Italian cooks always have several basic ingredients on hand in the kitchen. These staples, when added to recipe-specific ingredients, make almost any Italian recipe a snap!
Herbs and Spices
A small potted basil plant is common on the windowsill of many an Italian kitchen. While dried basil leaves can be used if no other alternative is available, the taste of fresh basil (regular basil, not the fancy 'hybrid' varieties) can't be beat for flavor.
Fresh bay leaves can be quite hard to obtain, (bay, or laurel, grows more in a tree form, not suited to the average windowsill) so dried bay leaves that retain their green color are an acceptable substitute.
Parsley is another herb that is perfectly suited to a pot on the windowsill, it is easily grown, and there is really no reason to use the prepackaged, dried, ground parsley flakes. Always grow the large-leaved, so-called Italian parsle, rather than the curly-leaved varieties, which are devoid of flavor.
Rosemary is yet another herb that is easily grown indoors, although the size of the plant may require more space than the average windowsill. Rosemary does most of its growing in the winter, so it should be placed near a window that can be opened slightly. Indoor Rosemary plant require plenty of circulated fresh air and light.
Most dried sage does not have a flavor that is appropriate for Italian cooking. It is best to try to find fresh sage, if possible. Fresh American sage is the same as Italian sage.
The cult of olive oil and the critical refinement about it equals the fanaticism of wine expertise. Flavor varies according to climate and soil and the more than sixty varieties grown for oil production in Italy. Darker oils may or may not have a richer flavor,it depends on the region and production.
the best olive oilis extra-virgin, in which the olives are hand-gathered, and the acidity must not exceed 1%of the weight. The best extra-virgin oil is produced on farms, often connected with vineyards. In addition, in recent years, it has been documented that olive oil (especially extra-virgin) is extremely good for us.
Prosciutto, Salami, and Pancetta
'Prosciutto' is usually considered the uncooked, unsmoked ham, cured in salt. The proscuitto of Parma from Langhirano is the prosciutto that goes so well with fresh figs or melon as an antipasto.
Tuscan prosciutto, which is more salty, is used with salamio for antipasto.
Genoese and Milanese salamis are useful for regional dishes.
Tuscan salamis are also celebrated in Italy, and are usually made on farms connected to vineyards.
Pancetta, the same cut of pork as bacon but salted rather than smoked, is very important to Italian cooking. it can be found in better supermarkets, and Italian food specialty stores.
Porcini mushrooms are perhaps the best known in Italian cooking. They often grow to great size, and their caps are broiled and eaten as a main dish. The wonderful flavor of porcini is preserved, and even intensified, by drying. Dried porcini are available in Italian markets and specialty stores. Although they may seem expensive, a little goes a long way, and the flavor is worth the price.
Anchovies are preserved in two ways: dieid in oil, filleted and lightly salted; and in salt unfilleted. The first is much more readily available. The second is preferred by Italian cooks for their taste.
There are other items which are considered 'staples' in the Italian pantry, but these are the most basic. As you explore the Flavors of Italy, you will find your own staples to keep on hand, depending on your favorite recipes.