The French Pantry

On a personal note……….

                               Photo Credit: HelloLovely.com 2020

 

 

During the global COVID-19 Pandemic, I have found myself rediscovering the joy of cooking. For many of us, it has become a necessity with various degrees of success.

I also discovered that my pantry really does look like a global food market and it is something that I always took for granted. I have spices for around the world, that I use  on a regular basis to add a new zip or zing to a standard dish in my weekly rotation of meals. In fact, I have done some of my best cooking  last year and I do hope to continue.

Basically this series of  essential pantry items based on global cuisines was borne out of the desire to  simplify something as complex and wide-reaching as a national cuisine; to break it down in an effort to better understand the key flavors and components that truly make a particular country’s food.  It is the pantry where the building blocks of  any dish starts begins, with ingredients that are always well-stocked and on-hand.”

 

As we continue the series of  blog entries about global pantries, we would  remiss in not mentioning the cuisine of France.  Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned home cook, here are some of the   essential ingredients  that every cook needs to start cooking French cuisine at home.

 

So,…….

What are the things that define French cuisine? The answer isn’t an easy one and it’s likely to vary widely depending on who you ask. From Michelin star chefs to Julia Child to Jacques Pepin, beef Bourguignon to bouillabaisse, French cuisine is rooted in tradition but characterized by the diversity of its regions and a general reverence for quality ingredients. But if you look closely at the culinary origins of just about every French dish, you will  see some patterns, and whether it’s a base of butter or a finishing flourish of fleur de sel, the key ingredients for a well-stocked French pantry are ones you’re probably familiar with—they might even already be staples in your repertoire!

You can cook any style of French cuisine in your own kitchen, from brasserie classics like steak frites and salade Lyonnais to lofty cheese or chocolate soufflés.

Even if you don’t feel like turning on the stove, you can build a wonderfully satisfying French meal out of bread, cheese, pâté, and wine. So stock your pantry with these French essentials and you’ll always have options for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert.

 

 

Dairy

European-style Butter

First of all, one must understand that not all butters are created equal, and no French pantry would settle for butter with anything less than 82% fat. It should also be cultured for a tangier, more savory taste that sets it apart from other butters. Rich French butters are often salted (but not always) and might be a bit more expensive than your average stick or block of butter, but they are so worth the splurge! A good unsalted French butter is essential to sautéing, mounting sauces, and making buerre blanc.

 

Heavy whipping cream (full cream, pure cream)

A splash of cream added to pan juices makes a great quick sauce for mussels, chicken, or steak.

 

Crème fraiche

A quality French crème fraîche will be silky smooth with a slight tang and leave a soft, buttery flavor on your palate. Use it in lieu of heavy cream for savory pan sauces or serve it alongside a rich dessert to help cut the sweetness.

 

Comté Cheese

Where would we be without French cheeses? The best of the best and easiest for everyday use is Comté—a semi-hard, subtly funky, nutty cheese made from unpasteurized cow’s milk in Eastern France. It’s creamy pale color goes and capacity for extreme meltability makes it my number one for casseroles and gratins—French or otherwise.

 

 

 

 

 

Hard Cheese

French cheese is amazing, and properly stored, it can keep for quite a while.

Emmental Cheese

Emmental, Emmentaler, or Emmenthal is a yellow, medium-hard cheese that originated in the area around Emmental, in the canton of Bern in Switzerland. It is classified as a Swiss-type or Alpine cheese.

Emmental was first mentioned in written records in 1293, but first called by its present name in 1542. It has a savory but mild taste. While the denomination “Emmentaler Switzerland” is legally protected, “Emmentaler” alone is not; similar cheeses of other origins, especially from France the Netherlands, Bavaria, and Finland, are widely available and sold by that name.

Emmenthal has very good melting properties, which makes it ideal for cheese fondue or any dish that requires melted cheese, such as gratins and casseroles, grilled cheese sandwiches, pasta, and egg dishes. It can also be eaten cold, layered into sandwiches, or served on a cheese platter with fruit and nuts.

 

Gruyère Cheese

Gruyère is a good melting cheese, particularly suited for fondues, along with Vacherin Fribourgeois and Emmental. It is also traditionally used in French onion soup. Consider keeping Gruyere on hand for gougeres and Croque Monsieur. a classic French toasted ham and cheese sandwich. Gruyère is also used in chicken and veal cordon bleu.

 

Fresh Eggs

Eggs are required for fluffy souffles, creamy quiches, and perfect French omelets.

 

 

Baking

High-quality Chocolate

France might not be the first country you think of when you think of chocolate, but it’s a well-known fact that the French have a sweet spot for it From luxurious pralines lining shelves in Parisian chocolateries to the beloved pain au chocolat, many French kitchens have a stock of chocolate for nibbling or baking. Valrhona is one of the premium French brands known around the world for high quality chocolates for all purposes.

A good French baking chocolate is tempting to nibble, but keep it on hand for making mousse, ganache, éclairs, and other delicious desserts.

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Almond Flour

If you’re also interested in French baking, Chef Altieri  recommends keeping some Bob’s Red Mill Super Fine Almond Flour (2 Pounds) on hand. “not the most common ingredient used in the States, it is the base of many classic French pastries, and I truly can’t imagine baking without it.” It’s critical in macarons and helps form the basis of frangipane tarts and the filling for almond croissants. Though not beholden to a specific brand, Chef Altieri reommends that it is best to get “blanched, superfine-ground” almond flour for baking.

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Produce

Garlic

Garlic is très Gallic. It’s used in aioli, persillade, and countless soups, sauces, and other dishes; the average French citizen eats 1 ½ pounds of garlic per year.

 

Leeks

Leeks vinaigrette is a classic French dish, but they’re also used for soups and tarts.

 

Onions

Onions are the star of that classic French soup, of course, but also one of the three key ingredients in mirepoix, which underpins many French sauces and braises.

 

Dried Mushrooms

 

Dried mushrooms can be rehydrated for rich, creamy soups, vol-au-vent, or mushroom duxelles.

 

Mirepoix

A mirepoix (/mɪərˈpwɑː/ meer-PWAH; French: [miʁ.pwa]) is the aromatic flavor base of many a French stock, soup, and stew. It is made of a mix of diced carrots, celery and onions (and sometimes leeks)  that are  sweated ( slowly cooked—usually with butter, oil, or other fat) for a long time on low heat without coloring or browning, as further cooking. The key is not to get them brown or caramelized, but simply to urge the vegetables to release their natural sweetness. It is a long-standing cooking technique in French cuisine.

 

 

Canned and Dry Goods

Canned Tomatoes

Canned tomatoes and tomato paste will be useful for building flavor in several French stews and braises, like boeuf bourguignon and bouillabaisse.

 

Dry Lentils

Dried Puy lentils, or French green lentils, make a great simple side dish,

 

Tarbais Beans

 Haricot Tarbais are heirloom beans originally from the New World and transplanted in  France . Its  has a sweet, milky flesh and thin skin. Certified as beans grown the traditional way in a specific region, these beans are the ideal choice for cassoulet. Tarbais beans are also perfect for chili, braising with pork and greens, and can replace white beans in any recipe.

As a side dish, to cook these beans as they would in France, simmer with carrot, onion, garlic, peppercorns, and a bouquet garni (bay leaves, celery leaves, fresh parsley, and/or fresh thyme tied with string or placed in a cheesecloth bag). For an extra-rich broth, throw in a thick slice of pancetta or a ham hock.

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French Bread

Fresh bread is a French favorite, particularly baguettes and boules. Eat for breakfast with a coffee, or after dinner with a bit of cheese.

 

Meats & Fish

Pâté

 

You can make fresh pâté, or buy shelf-stable versions to keep on hand when you have a hankering for a Gallic snack. Rillettes and foie gras work too.

 

Saucisson

Saucisson, or French dry sausage, is another great snack to keep in your larder.

 

Sardines

If you’re a fan of fish, stock some French sardines or tuna in your pantry, maybe alongside some canned escargot if you savor snails.

 

Spices and Herbs

Salt

Fleur de sel

 French for “flower of salt,” fleur de sel  is  harvested by hand from seawater.  It is primarily used as a finishing salt to add s a delicate  and light briny crunch to finished French dishes, elevating the flavors of  a sweet or savory dish it’s sprinkled on. Since the real stuff is quite expensive thanks to the laborious process by which it’s harvested,  you do not have to use it for your everyday cooking—keep it as a special ingredient to finish off your dishes. Try a sprinkle on a chocolate mousse  or as finishing salt for fluffy scrambled eggs.

 

La Baleine Fine Sea Salt

It seems basic, but a high-quality salt is a must-have in a French kitchen, and Eric Ripert, the chef and co-owner of Le Bernardin, calls this sea salt his essential pantry item. “I love La Baleine Fine Sea Salt because the delicacy and finesse of the salt itself allows me to be very precise with seasoning. I’ve been cooking with it all my life, and it’s just my favorite pantry staple to extract the essence and flavor of any ingredient.”

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Fleur de Sel de Guerande

For a sea salt that’s a little more coarse, executive chef Laëtitia Rouabah at Alain Ducasse’s Benoit calls Fleur de Sel de Guerande a must-have. “I use it every day as a finishing salt, or to flavor and season meat, fish, and vegetables.” It’s hand-harvested from Brittany and has a flakier texture than the La Baleine Fine Sea Salt.

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Bay Leaves

The sweet bay or bay laurel is a perennial evergreen tree which is the only form of laurel to be used in cooking.

Bay leaves can be used either dried or fresh to flavor sauces, stews or used in marinades. They are indispensable in a bouquet garni, or ‘the broth posy’ as it is also known, when used to flavor good cooking. Bay adds its spicy flavor to meat and vegetables, fish, soups and stews. You can store a leaf or two in a jar of rice or add it to your rice pudding for a delicious flavor.

 

 

Fresh Herbs

Fresh herbs also come in handy, like parsley and thyme for making bouquet garni. Grow these in little windowsill pots if you can.

 

Dried Herbs

Dried herbs are of course invaluable but in France they are only used when the fresh herbs are not available. You should buy dried herbs in small quantities and keep in an air tight container, in a dark cupboard.  

 

 

Chervil

Chervil is a delicate herb almost fern-like with a refreshing spicy flavor. It can be used generously. Its leaves resemble those of French parsley. The leaves have a delicate flavor and are used to enhance chicken, fish, veal, salads, egg dishes and tomatoes. It is a favorite one of the French herbs for giving flavor to soups, sauces and omelets.

 

 

Chives  

Chives are an important herb in the French kitchen and they have the most delicate onion flavor which make it a wonderful seasoning for many dishes. The grass-like leaves are used to garnish soups, egg dishes, fish, chicken and veal. They are delicious with salads and most vegetables.

 

Fennel  

Fennel is a beautiful tall and graceful perennial herb with fine feathery green leaves and bright yellow flowers. It looks very much like dill but the flavor is a sweet anise which is very different.. Fennel is most well known with fish and the seeds or leaves give an excellent flavor when added to the water for poached or boiled fish. The leaves give a wonderful flavor to fish sauces or will counteract the oiliness of rich fish. The leaves can also  be added to salads or raw or cooked vegetables. The seeds can also be used whole or ground to flavor bread, savory biscuits, soups and many sweet pickles.

The bulbous root used as a vegetable comes from Florentine variety but this is much more difficult to cultivate.

 

Marjoram

Marjoram is a relative to the mint family. You get the most flavor from Marjoram if you use the fresh leaves rather than dried marjoram. There are three types of marjoram but it is the sweet marjoram that has the best flavor for cooking. It is a compact and bushy plant with small flowers which look like little green knots. Sweet marjoram is grown from seed in the spring and the seedlings planted out in early summer.

The delicate, piney taste of marjoram complements many French beef, lamb, and veal dishes and is excellent with  vegetables such as marrow and potatoes.. It’s also a component of herbes de provence, the traditional Provençal mixture that also includes rosemary, thyme, oregano and lavender.  It is often included with other herbs in a bouquet garni. Although Marjoram is sweet and mild, it is also at the same time minty and has a hint of citrus. Marjoram blends very well with Bay Leaves, pepper, and Juniper.

 

Fresh Nutmeg

This warm spice adds a touch of nuttiness and fragrance to creamy sauces such as béchamel. French bakers also incorporate it into desserts, like pain d’épices, a spice cake.

 

Fresh Parsley

Persil plat or persil de Naples is flat parsley (sometimes it is called Italian Parsley), and persil frise or persil double is curly parsley. Both types of parsley are grown in different strains and both may be added to nearly every form of savory dish; sometimes for flavor, at times for color and often merely for decoration. The flat leaf parsley which undoubtedly has the better flavour. The chopped leaves can be added to green salads, soups, sauces and cooked vegetables. It is beautiful when fried in oil until crisp and added to accompany fish. Parsley added to dishes with garlic will soften the flavour.

 

 

Rosemary  

Rosemary is a relative to the mint family and the name is derived from its Latin origin to mean “dew of the sea.” Rosemary is very common in Mediterranean cuisine and has somewhat of a bitter astringent taste to it. Rosemary added to lamb is a classic favorite but is equally good with other meat dishes and with fish such as halibut. Try it with eggs and cheese , in biscuits/cookies, jams and jellies. It can also be added to fruit salads, wine and fruit cups for an unusual flavor.

 

 

 

Saffron

 

Saffron is a spice derived from the flower small purple flower known as the  Crocus sativus, commonly known as the “saffron crocus”. Saffron is believed to be native to the Mediterranean, Asia Minor, and Iran, although Spain, France, and Italy are also now primary cultivators of the spice. What we use for that distinctive yellow color, sweet-herb smell, and bitter taste is actually the vivid crimson red stigma (plural stigmata), called threads, are the pollen-germinating part—at the end of the red pistil, the female sex organ of the plant, are collected and dried for use mainly as a seasoning and colouring agent in food. 

Known as the most expensive spice in the world.  Its costliness has to do with its harvesting. Only a small amount of each saffron flower is used, and all harvesting must be done by hand. These bright red threads are used in Mediterranean seafood dishes of Southern n France, such as Bouillabaisse.

 

Sorrel

The true French variety of sorrel is the best to use for your cooking as it has the best flavour. Sorrel has lovely fleshy green leaves and has an astringent flavor. This is one of the French herbs often served as a purée or to give a good flavor to sauces, omelets or soups.

 

 

Tarragon

Tarragon is a licorice-flavored herb  with a distinctive flavor and one of the best culinary French herbs for savory cooking . No French cook would be without it! Tarragon leaves give a good flavour to green salads and raw vegetable salads. Steep the herb in white wine vinegar and you have a wonderfully flavored tarragon vinegar. Tarragon can be added to roast meats, poultry dishes and fish dishes. Use it in a light buttery sauce to accompany mild vegetables such as marrow or artichokes.

 

Thyme (fresh or dry)

Both fresh and dry thyme are used often in French cooking, either alone or in combination

Thyme has a strong flavour so should be used sparingly. It is added to meats, fish, soups, stews, and of course herb sauces.

 

Bouquet garni

Usually tied together with string or wrapped in a cheese cloth, the “garnished bouquet” is used to flavor soups and stocks. It usually consists of sage, parsley, thyme, bay leaf and peppercorns.

 

Fines herbes

These include tarragon, chives, chervil and parsley. They’re referred to as such due to their delicate flavors. As opposed to more robust French herbs, like oregano, marjoram, rosemary and thyme, their delicateness make them more suitable for seasoning at the end of a dish, rather than cooked within the dish.

 

Herbes de Provence

A Provençal mixture of  dried herbs that can include marjoram, rosemary, thyme, oregano, savory, and lavender. Every chef will have his/her own mix and may include other herbs. This combination is used for meat, fowl, fish, soups and stews.

 

Persillade

A mixture of chopped parsley and garlic (sometimes with oil and vinegar), cooked or added raw at the end of cooking. This is a classic addition to roasted potatoes.

 

 

Condiments

Cornichons

French cornichons add a nice piquant crunch to your terrine or pâté.

 

Dijon Mustard

Dijon mustard (French: Moutarde de Dijon) is a traditional mustard of France, named after the town of Dijon in Burgundy, France, which was the center of mustard making in the late Middle Ages and was granted exclusive rights in France in the 17th century. First used in 1336 for the table of King Philip VI it became popular in 1856, when Jean Naigeon of Dijon replaced the usual ingredient of vinegar in the recipe with verjuice, the acidic juice of unripe grapes.

The main ingredients of this condiment are brown mustard seeds (Brassica juncea) and white wine or a mix of wine vinegar, water and salt designed to imitate the original verjuice, It can be used as an accompaniment to all meats in its usual form as a paste, or it can be mixed with other ingredients to make a sauce.

Available both in a smooth or whole grain form, Dijon mustard is a key ingredient for a classically peppy French vinaigrette. It can also add depth and tang to tons of sauces, be used as a rub on a big piece of meat before it’s roasted, or even be mixed with mayonnaise for sandwiches—when it can then be referred to as Dijonnaise, your new favorite word.

You can also find a variety of Dijon mustards that are made with tarragon, such as Clovis,  which is excellent  when cooking a  fish and chicken dish.

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Olives

Picholine olives are common in France and have a nice nutty flavor that’s worth seeking out

 

 

 

Red and White Wine Vinegars

French wines are some of the finest in the world, and great winemaking regions also happen to produce—not surprisingly—great wine vinegars.  For an authentic taste for your dishes, always opt for a really nice red and white wine vinegars and use them to make salad dressings or cut the richness of a braise. For more on vinegars, check out  this complete guide to vinegars.

 

 

Melfor Vinegar

Antoine Westermann, the chef and owner of Le Coq Rico, has fond childhood memories — “What we call la Madeleine de Proust,” he says, “the memory of a taste that opens your senses and mind and stays forever a part of you” — of one specific vinegar from Alsace, the region on the border of Germany where he’s from. This honey-and-herb vinegar, called Melfor, is less acidic than traditional vinegars and makes a great base for a salad dressing.

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Huilerie Beaujolaise Vinaigre De Cider (Apple Vinegar)

For another hit of acid, Nicholas Elmi, chef and partner at Royal Boucherie and Laurel in Philadelphia, recommends any of the fruit vinegars from Huilerie Beaujolaise. “From quince to blueberry to Calamansi, these fruit vinegars are all really well-rounded and have a lot of pop. They add a subtle nuance to sauces — both savory and sweet.”

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Fruit Jams

 

Christine Ferber Jam

Several of the chefs cited preserves, jams, jellies, and marmalades as their must-have pantry items. Chef Alessandra Altieri, director of Bouchon Bakeries, calls confiture, or preserves, “a staple in every pastry kitchen,” to be used at the bottom of tarts or simply spread on a warm baguette with rich butter. As for brands, Altieri recommends Christine Ferber, noting that it “can be hard to find,” though it is available online.

 

 

Bonne Maman Blackberry Preserves

For a more readily available (and less expensive) option, Altieri likes Bonne Maman, calling it, “super classic” and  the 13-ounce jar is easily found in many markets.

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Sengana Strawberry Extra Jam by Alain Milliat

Ben Sormonte, founding partner at Maman, loves Alain Milliat’s jams and marmalades. “I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Alain’s farm and saw firsthand how they carefully select their fruits for their juices, jams, and marmalades. You can really tell how they’ve been naturally vine-ripened and how his products really honor the integrity and flavor profiles of the fruits and vegetables he grows.” The strawberry jam, which is used in their cafés, is a notable favorite, though more floral-minded eaters might want the violet-fig jam.

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Oils

Oil (peanut, sunflower or grapeseed)

 

Nyons Extra Virgin Olive Oil AOC

Though butter is a staple in French cooking, olive oil has its place, too, especially in those aforementioned vinaigrettes. Chef Westermann likes olive oil from Provence, specifically from the town of Nyons.

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Beverages, Wines and Liquors

Wines

Obviously, wine is a must. Keep your favorite reds and whites on hand for sipping, but for cooking too, because you don’t want to make a dish you’ll eat with wine you wouldn’t drink.

For both cooking and drinking, it’s never a real French kitchen without some wine. Dry whites and dry reds can swing to your glass or the pot, but the rule of thumb for which ones to have around? The ones you like to drink!

  • Red wine: cote du Rhone or Bordeaux style
  • White wine: chardonnay, sauvignon, Riesling or Chablis

 

Cognac

French cognac is great splashed into pan sauce, and can be flambéed for crepes Suzette.

 

Armagnac

Armagnac (French pronunciation: [aʁmaɲak])  is a distinctive kind of brandy produced in the Armagnac region in Gascony, southwest France. It is the oldest brandy (and liquor) recorded to be still distilled in the world : in 1310, Prior Vital du Four, a cardinal, wrote its 40 virtues. In the past it was consumed as other liquors for its therapeutic benefits. Because the overall volume of production is far smaller than cognac production and therefore is less known outside Europe.

Armagnac is distilled from wine usually made from a blend of grapes including Baco 22A, Colombard, Folle blanche and Ugni blanc, traditionally using column stills rather than the pot stills used in the production of cognac, which is made only from ugni blanc grapes. The resulting spirit is then aged in oak barrels before release. Production is overseen by the Institut national de l’origine et de la qualité (INAO) and the Bureau National Interprofessionel de l’Armagnac (BNIA).

The traditional French gourmet dish ortolan has traditionally been prepared by force-feeding an ortolan bunting before drowning it in Armagnac and roasting it. The dish is now legally prohibited due to laws protecting the bird

Armagnac is generally enjoyed as after-dinner liqueur, at the end of a meal, served neat. It is best to enjoy it at room temperature, preferably in small glasses with a rather narrow rim to ensure aromas are concentrated. You can also warm the glass in your hand, to ensure this.

 

Grand Marnier

Grand Marnier (French pronunciation: ​[ɡʁɑ̃ maʁnje]) is a French brand of liqueurs. The brand’s best-known product is Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge, an orange-flavored liqueur created in 1880 by Alexandre Marnier-Lapostolle. It is made from a blend of Cognac brandy, distilled essence of bitter orange, and sugar

Aside from Cordon Rouge, the Grand Marnier line includes other liqueurs, most of which can be consumed “neat” as a cordial or a digestif, and can be used in mixed drinks and desserts. In France, this kind of use is the most popular, especially with crêpes Suzette and crêpes au Grand Marnier.

 

 

Champagne

Why not keep a bottle of real French champagne on hand for impromptu celebrations, or just whenever you’re feeling bubbly?

Champagne (/ʃæmˈpeɪn/, French pronounciation: [ʃɑ̃paɲ]) is a French sparkling wine. The term Champagne can be used as a generic term for sparkling wine, but in the EU and some countries it is illegal to label any product Champagne unless it came from the Champagne wine region of France and is produced under the rules of the appellation.This alcoholic drink is produced from specific types of grapes grown in the Champagne region following rules that demand, among other things, specific vineyard practices, sourcing of grapes exclusively from designated places within the Champagne region, specific grape-pressing methods and secondary fermentation of the wine in the bottle to cause carbonation.

The grapes Pinot noir, Pinot meunier, and Chardonnay are primarily used to produce almost all Champagne.

Champagne became associated with royalty in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. The leading manufacturers made efforts to associate their Champagnes with nobility and royalty through advertising and packaging, which led to its popularity among the emerging middle class.

 

$ Dom Pérignon Vintage Champagne

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Moët & Chandon Impérial Brut Champagne

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Which of the above ingredients would we find already stocked in your pantry? Have more questions about the French pantry? Let us know in the comments below.

 

 

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Italian Cooking Essentials

 

Ingredients for a well-stocked Italian pantry will make an awesome Italian meal in minutes. And its no secret that most Americans love Italian food, whether its a pizza slice from the food court, a big plate of spaghetti and meatballs at a red-checkered tablecloth joint, or a high end meal featuring pastas lovingly made by hand paired with just the right glass of wine. But Italian food is at its heart a rustic cuisine, honed lovingly at home by generations of men and women who make the most of simple, seasonal ingredients. If you’re looking to follow in that tradition, starting with some high-quality basic ingredients will instantly improve your favorite Italian recipes at home. Read on for the must-have pantry essentials, and what to look for when purchasing them. Buon Appetito!

 

San Marzano Tomatoes

San Marzano Tomatoes are prized by Italian cooks for their sweet profile and exceptionally low concentration of water, which means they make for some ultra flavorful sauce. This is thanks in large part to the volcanic ash soil they’re grown in high up in the San Marzano region as well as the breed itself, also called San Marzano (confusing, we know). Due to their popularity in Italy, most canned San Marzano tomatoes you find on the market in the U.S. are grown domestically. That’s not to say they can’t be just as great (in fact, some taste testers can’t tell the difference between domestic and imported) but just know that if you’re looking for the real deal, you’ll pay a premium and will definitely want to check the can for a D.O.P. certification before tossing it in your cart.

 

 

Herbs & Spices

Herbs and spice play an important role in Italian cooking. Simple dishes are pointed with an herb to make a dish come alive. Raviolo with Butter Sage Sauce, Tomato and Mozzarella with Basil. Pasta and Pecorino Cheese with Black Peppercorns – dishes so simple, yet become so fantastic with a simple herb or spice.

  • Dried Oregano:  You can use oregano in a ton of sauces, choosing a good one makes such a difference. Buy a bunch of dried oregano that you can often find in Italian specialty stores rather than in jars but if you can’t find that go for organic.

  • Crushed Red Pepper Flakes: Using crush red pepper flakes to taste in some of your dishes, can spice up sauces and add some heat.

  • Fennel Seeds:  Fennel is often found in a lot of seasonings for sausages and pork roasts. It can be used pasta sauces too, as it adds a really special flavor.

Other Pantry Basics:: Basil, oregano, sage, parsley, saffron, rosemary, chili peppers, black peppercorns

 

Flour, Polenta & Rice

  • Flour: When it comes to flour always have type 00 on hand. Why? Because it makes the most amazing pizza bases! You can also use the same flour for making focaccia.

  • Polenta: When it comes to polenta you can get two types fast cook polenta that’s ready in 5 minutes or traditional polenta that takes around 30 minutes to cook. You can serve polenta with stews and sauces dishes such as meatballs. You can also let it set and use it to build lasagna type dishes, gnocchi or top bakes with it.

  • Rice: Without a doubt, there is always rice in my cupboards because risotto is such an easy weekday dinner to whip up when you’re hungry. It takes around 20 minutes to make and can be made with anything you like BUT the most important thing to remember is to use arborio rice. It’s extra creamy and gives the perfect texture to risottos. Favoured in Venetian cooking, Vialone Nano is a semi-fino rice with an unpolished oval-shaped grain. Its starchy exterior helps to create risotto’s creamy texture.

  • Semolina: This is something you can use to dust baking sheets or baking stones when cooking homemade pizzas. It keeps the base nice and crispy and stops the base sticking so always have it on hand.

     

Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese

Literally translating to ‘The King of Cheeses’ in Italian, Parmigiano-Reggiano is the one cheese we think every home cook should have on hand. Like San Marzano tomatoes, real-deal Parmesan cheese enjoys protected designation of origin status, and you’ll know you’re holding a wedge of the stuff thanks to its pedigree being stamped right on the rind. It costs considerably more ounce per ounce than the stuff you get in the green shaky jar (c’mon, you know the one) but the difference in flavor it brings to your cooking is thanks in large part to the abundance of glutamates in its chemical structure. In other words? Umami-central. Pro tip: Don’t discard your rinds! Instead, freeze them and add them to your next pot of Minestrone for a depth of flavor that will have everyone asking you what that special something extra is.

 

 

 

Cold-Pressed Olive Oil

These days olive oil comes in all price points and from a dizzying array of destinations – not to mention blends, filtered and unfiltered, and light versions (just say no to that last one). While it isn’t necessarily true that the best olive oil comes from Italy (sorry, Nonna!) exceptional olive oil is a must for the Italian pantry. Like wine grapes, olives grown in a specific area will carry the flavor of the land to the finished bottle, a flavor profile also known as terroir. Look for single-origin varieties when your budget allows, and don’t buy more than you think you can use in six months’ time, as unlike wine, olive oil does not get better with age. If nothing else, follow olive oil expert Nancy Harmon Jenkins’ advice and always go with extra virgin cold-pressed oil: It’s not a guarantee that the oil will be the best, but at least it will probably not be among the worst.

 

 

Aged Balsamic Vinegar

As with Parmegiano-Reggiano Cheese and San Marzano Tomatoes, there’s a lot of imitators on the market vying for your dollar (sensing a theme here?). According to Michael Harlan Turkell, author of Acid Trip: Travels in the World of Vinegar, if one of the following three words appears on a bottle of Balsamic Vinegar, you’re making a decent choice: D.O.P., Condimento, and IGP. These terms are akin to quality tiers, with D.O.P. indicating the finest and longest aged Balsamic vinegar coming from Modena, Italy and Condimento ensuring at least a few years of aging, albeit less supervision. But like San Marzano tomatoes, there realistically just isn’t enough top-tier stuff to fill the world’s appetite for this sweet, syrupy vinegar. Because of that, he recommends that you be on the lookout for IGP, which indicates that some quality standards like ideal grape varieties and a marginal amount of aging have been met before the bottle hit the shelves. Drizzle it on roasted vegetables, whisk it into the perfect salad dressing, and whatever you do, just promise us you’ll try it with strawberries and vanilla ice cream.

 

 

Beans

Beans are an important, but often less celebrated, staple of the Italian diet. Whether it’s a hearty bean dish like the well known Pasta Fagole from the Veneto region, or chickpeas and fava beans used in antipasto in the South – don’t overlook bean dishes from Italy. These two varieties are the bare minimum for an Italian pantry.

Pantry Basics: Lentils, Garbanzo beans, Cannellini beans , Red Kidney beans

 

Canned Anchovies, Sardines and Tuna

You can put together some terrific, quick weeknight pasta dishes with canned tuna, sardines or anchovies. If you can find it, imported tuna packed in olive oil has the best flavor. The best-quality anchovies are those that are packed in salt; they must be rinsed very well before using, and may need to be deboned. If salt-packed are not available, look for oil-packed anchovies packaged in glass jars.

 

 

Olives

three kinds of olives in bowls, fresh rosemary and olive oil on a white background, horizontal

There are many varieties of good-quality olives to choose from. Look for imported olives in jars or in the deli section of the supermarket, but for best flavor, skip the domestic canned variety. Olives are easily pitted by quickly smashing with a large knife and pulling the pit away from the flesh.

For a taste of authentic Italy, nothing quite smacks of Sicily like the salty and sweet flavors of cured or marinated olives. Here’s how you can tell the types of olives apart.

  • Curing vs. Marinating: Brine-cured olives have smooth, plump skin while salt-cured olives (sometimes called oil-cured) are lightly coated in oil and have wrinkled skin.

  • Baresane: These brine-cured olives from Puglia range in color from yellow to green to light purple. Delicate, fresh flavor.

  • Bella di Cerignola: Also known as Cerignola olives, this brine-cured Puglian variety can be green, red or black. Large, mild and buttery.

  • Castelvetrano: A vibrant green Sicilian olive also called Nocellara del Belice. Instead of brining or salt-curing, these are treated with lye before rinsing and storing. The result: very mild olives with a salty-sweet flavor and buttery texture.

  • Gaeta: These popular black or dark purple table olives from the Lazio region are typically brined before storing in oil. Tart, citrusy flavor.

  • Saracena: An ancient olive cultivar from Sicily, also called Minuta. These small black olives are brined or salt cured.

  • Taggiasca: Grown on the rocky slopes along the sea in Liguria, these small, deep reddish-black olives have a sweet, fruity flavor.

 

 

Capers

 The best-quality capers are packed in salt, but you’re more likely to find them brined and bottled. Before using, rinse under cold water to remove some of the salt (salt-packed must be rinsed very well). Refrigerate both; brined have a much longer shelf life.

 

 

Nuts and Dried Goods

There are so many things could be include here, but consider these the must-haves. Pine nuts will make sure you can always make a traditional pesto, and porcini mushrooms will make sure you’ve always got a beautiful risotto within reach.  Dried porcini mushrooms add an earthy, woodsy flavor to soups, pastas, risotti and sauces; they’ll last practically forever in a well-sealed container in the refrigerator. To use, soak dried mushrooms in warm water for 30 minutes to soften. Drain; strain and reserve the soaking liquid. Add liquid to foods along with mushrooms — much of the intense flavor of the mushroom is in that liquid.

Basic Pantry Items: Pine nuts, hazelnuts, dried figs, dried porcini mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes

 

 

Poultry & Meat

Pork is an important staple of the Italian diet. Make sure to always have cured pork on hand. It’s a flavouring and also perfect for any charcuterie board. Beef and different cuts (whether making a Bolognese sauce or an ossobuco) is important. If possible, keep a cut of beef in the refrigerator that you can then grind or cut depending on the dish.

Basic Pantry Items: Cured Italian pork, Genoa or Tuscan salami, Beef

 

 

Seafood

Visit the coasts or the South of Italy, and you’ll taste some of the freshest seafood of your life. Fruitti di mare – or fruits of the sea, are plentiful in Italy, as well as in the United States. Lean how to make a traditional Fruitti di Mare also known as Seafood Pasta by following this link. from Olio & Formaggio.

Basic Pantry Items: Shrimp, squid – mussels when in season, fresh anchovies if you can find them.

 

 

Dried Pasta

And then there is pasta, glorious pasta! You could probably make a wonderful sauce out of some of the previous ingredients and toss it with just about any pasta out there and be pretty happy – but why not go for the gold? It’s a misunderstood notion that any self respecting Italian cook would never use dried pasta. In fact, only certain types of pasta are made and eaten fresh on a regular basis, namely those with egg traditionally in the dough. So rest assured that by starting with dry, you’re not at a disadvantage. There’s a huge quantity of varying quality pastas on the market, not to mention shapes – but what you want to look for is pasta that’s been extruded from a bronze-cut die. This artisanal method produces pasta with a rough surface you can easily see through the packaging, and what it means for you is that once it’s boiled up (al dente, of course), the sauce you so lovingly simmered will actually cling to each noodle. As far as shapes go, it’s up to you! There’s tons of advice on how to pair pasta shapes and sauces out there, but when it comes to short shapes, we recommend looking for rigate (ridged) on the label. This will ensure better sauce cling than lisce (smooth) varieties.

 

 

Wine

And last, but certainly not least – wine. Aside from wine being critical to several Italian dishes, it’s just as important on the dinner table. Make sure to keep a variety of beautiful Italian wines in your cellar. They don’t have to be expensive. Very good Italian wines are plentiful. Some varieties to keep in mind include Chianti Classico, Pinot Grigio, Lambrusco, Gavi, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, and Brunello for a special treat.

 


Greek Cooking Essentials

The Global Pantry Series: Greek Cooking Essentials

The Table Home Chef Blog
July

Taking our pantry series back to the Mediterranean, it’s no surprise that Greek cooks work with a small foundation of ultra flavorful, often healthful ingredients. The country’s cuisine is popular all around the world, and the Greek diet is often hailed as the most healthy way of eating out there thanks to its reliance on heart-healthy olive oil, seafood, legumes, and fresh produce. Due to its well-earned popularity among home cooks and diners alike, these must-have ingredients can be sourced at most grocery stores these days. If you’ve already got most of the ingredients on our list and are looking to expand your horizons, we encourage you to seek out a Greek speciality market. They’ll have a treasure trove of ingredients like house brined feta, a dizzying array of marinated olives, and freshly baked pita. Plus, they typically serve up dishes that are native to the Greek isles like Dolma, Baklava, and Spanakopita right there while you shop!

Extra Virgin Greek Olive Oil

Olive Oil, like wine, varies in flavor by geography. The hotter the climate, the bolder the flavor. Plus, each country uses grapes native to their region. Different grapes = different flavors. Greek Olive Oil has a mild green coloring, low acidity, and strong flavor while Italian Olive Oil is a darker green with nuttier, herbal notes. Spanish, on the other hand, is golden in color. So you see…not all olive oils are made equal. Olive Oil is a staple in Mediterranean cooking in general. While shopping for olive oil, it’s important to look at the origin of the olives. Many bottles bought in America are a blend of Spanish, Italian, and Greek olives and not authentically Greek.

Red Wine Vinegar

They say oil and vinegar don’t mix – but we can’t imagine a Greek kitchen without these star ingredients! Greeks use predominantly balsamic and red wine vinegar but it’s helpful to have white wine vinegar on hand as well. Vinegar is a main ingredient for salads, especially since Greek recipes are simple. The oil and vinegar dressing gives it an extra boost of flavor that takes a salad from fresh and tasty to mind-blowing. There are, of course, many other purposes for vinegar like sauces and soups but salads are where they really get to shine.

Olives & Capers

Olives are found widely throughout Greek cooking, and both lend briny, salty flavor to a variety of dishes. Marinated olives are a pantry staple on their own for easy appetizers and roasted olives are found throughout the country in different dishes. Greek cuisine relies heavily on Kalamata and Green Olives, but there are over 100 different types – so don’t be surprised if you see recipes that call for other specific varieties!

Capers are immature flower buds native to the Mediterranean. They are mostly preserved through brining or salt curing, giving them a very pungent profile. Capers provide a unique flavor in dishes throughout the Mediterranean region. In Greek cuisine specifically, they’re traditionally used in salads as well as dishes with cooked tomatoes or fish. Capers can often be found in the Italian aisle of the grocery store since they’re a popular ingredient among Southern Italian dishes as well.

Honey

Fun Fact: Greece has the most bee hives in Europe! Greek honey is incredibly nutritious with anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal properties. There are multiple kinds of honey but the most popular for Greek cooking is Thyme. Others include Pine, Blossom or Wildflower, Heather, Chestnut, and Fir. Honey is used in sweet and savory dishes throughout Greek cuisine. A simple use that we absolutely love for snacking is baked goat cheese with honey. Because a lot of Greek flavors are so strong with often tangy or pungent aspects, honey is a great balancing ingredient. Other popular dishes you’ll see it used include Greek Honey Cake (Melopita), Loukoumades (Greek Honey Fritters), and Pasteli. Honey is used in a lot of pastries that use Phyllo Dough.

Phyllo Pastry

Phyllo Pastry (or Phyllo Dough) is a very delicate type of pastry dough rolled almost paper-thin. Make some on your own or buy sheets in the freezer section of the grocery store. Phyllo Pastry is used in popular Greek dishes like Spanakopita and Baklava. Spanakopita is a savory spinach and cheese pie that can be traced back to the days of Ancient Greece. Baklava also has ancient roots but is much more of a treat with flaky layers of phyllo and a honey-nut mixture. Phyllo is used in more recipes than just these two but they’re the ones its best known for.

Almonds, Figs & Currants

Nuts and dried fruits are common ingredients in Mediterranean cuisine. Almonds are much more popular in Greek cooking than most people realize. Greece is, in fact, one of the foremost almond producers in the world. Almonds are often roasted and candied for a sweet treat, used in Baklava in place of walnuts, or ground into flour for baking. Kourabiethes, Greek shortbread cookies, are a common Christmas treat similar to a biscuit and often found in crescent moon shapes or round balls.

Figs & Currants are both high in nutritional value and found in many Greek kitchens. Figs, in particular, are most popular dried when their nutritional value increases. It’s also the ideal way of storing the fruit long term. Currants, otherwise known as black raisins, have a bit more intense flavor compared to the average raisin. Both Currants and Figs are added into baking and sometimes as a finishing touch to savory dishes as well. They pair best with big flavors.

Herbs & Spices

If you enjoyed Greek food regularly, it’s no surprise that the most popular herbs found in this Mediterannean cuisine are Greek Oregano, Dill, and Mint. These three herbs are found fresh and dried throughout most savory Greek dishes and even some sweet. Other popular spices and herbs in Greek culture include Bay Leaves, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Cloves, and Parsley. Greek Oregano, while more pungent than Mexican Oregano, is still a bit more earthy and mild compared to Italian which is the most pungent of them all.

Dill and Mint are the other two most popular savory herbs found in Greek cooking. Dill is most popular for Tzatziki, a dip or sauce with yogurt and cucumber. Dill is also found in Spanakorizo, Greek Spinach and Rice with a healthy addition of the feathery herb. Cinnamon, Nutmeg, and Cloves are popular for sweets and baked goods. Cinnamon and Nutmeg are often used together and can also be found in a lot of lamb dishes to add warmth. Cloves are popular to use in their whole form, especially with winter dishes like stews, broths, and heartier recipes.

About the Author:

Christine Rosko is a Chicago native with a passion for food, especially pasta. Growing up in an Italian family, the…read more about: Christine Rosko