If you stock your kitchen cupboard with all the following ingredients, you and your guests will always eat well, even if you find yourself with five times as many people as expected or if friends turn up unannounced. Most of these foodstuffs will keep for a long time or are used so often that they’ll never go to waste. Store any opened packets in the fridge. Above all else, make sure you’ve always got a wide range of dried pasta to hand.
Extra-virgin olive oil
High-quality ingredients are at the heart of all Italian cooking, but olive oil is the key. Use the best olive oil you can find (extra virgin) to make pasta dishes. You’ll be thanked for it.
Essential if you want to prepare some of the more traditional pasta dishes of Italian cuisine. Choose wisely the most suitable variety of olives for the recipe you’re using.
You can buy capers in brine or pickled in vinegar. Italians say that capers keep their natural flavour best in brine. Store in the fridge once opened.
Buy fresh, firm heads of garlic and store in a cool, dry place. They’ll last a good couple of weeks in perfect condition.
Look for flat anchovy fillets in olive oil (either tinned or in a glass bottle) and store in the fridge once opened.
Good saffron is expensive and is sold in threads. It is worth paying for, though, because a tiny amount will impart its wonderful smell and flavour to any dish. Chop well before use.
Dried mushrooms are easy to find and simple to use. Store in their original packaging or wrap them in Clingfilm and they’ll keep just fine.
Italian cooking wouldn’t be the same without herbs. Thyme, rosemary, oregano, basil, sage, parsley and marjoram liven up lots of pasta dishes. Store in a sealed jar (labelled with the name of the herb and the date if bought loose).
Buy a whole nutmeg and grate when needed. It has a powerful flavour, so go easy.
Tinned tomatoes, tomato puree and sundried tomatoes. Check out what’s available and listen to what the experts have to say. If it’s tinned tomatoes you’re after, buy a tin of whole, peeled tomatoes, which should be fairly firm and rather sweet. The best way to buy tomato puree is in a tube, as you can use exactly the amount you want—remember to use this concentrate in moderation. Sundried tomatoes can be bought loose or in oil. If you buy them loose, leave them to soak overnight, then dry and store in olive oil.
Genuine balsamic vinegar should be a really old vintage—and come with a price tag to match. If you’re lucky enough to have a bottle of ‘aceto tradizionale’, make the most of it! If not, go for our balsamic vinegar, produced in the region of Modena (Italy), with a minimum of two months in oak barrels).