10 of Our Favorite Ingredients for Italian Cooking

Do you cook with Italian flavors and ingredients? If so, how do you stock your pantry? Here are 10 pantry favorites for Italian cooking, with some no-brainers (uh, pasta) and other more exotic picks (ancient Roman fish sauce, anyone?), and with links back to some of our favorite brands.

10 Favorite Ingredients for Italian Cooking

  1. Pasta - Oh, pasta, where would we be without you? My (Calabrian, originally) husband would riot if we didn't eat pasta at least once week. My new favorite pasta shape is these hand-stamped croxetti discs. I also love the (temporarily?) discontinued anelletti pasta rings from Trader Joe's, and the little orecchiette (pictured above). Try one of these 22 fast, fresh pasta dishes from our archives.
  2. Olive Oil - Olive oil is such a staple; it spans Italian food and more. But a good finishing oil is really essential, and an affordable luxury, too. Here's a look back at yesterday's roundup of all things olive oil.
  3. Canned Tomatoes and Tomato Paste - While we all love fresh tomatoes, canned tomatoes are a pantry staple in months when good tomatoes aren't available. Lately we've been concerned with finding BPA-free tomato packaging. Also, we love this tomato paste in a tube.
  4. Garlic - We use heads of garlic in our Italian cooking — the more the better! You can prep it mince it with a fork. Here's another way to way to peel it, and tips for mincing it the old-fashioned way.
  5. Parmesan and Grana Padano - Parmesan is another essential, of course; we love the really old stuff, all dry and crumbly. Similar cheeses that can add a new dimension to your pasta dishes include Piave Vecchio and Grana Padano.
  6. Fresh Basil - Basil! Fresh basil and other fresh herbs are what give many of our pasta dishes their best flavor.
  7. Pesto - All you need, on a busy weeknight, is a tub of fresh pesto and some pasta for an easy, vegetarian meal. Basic pesto is easy to make, and you can even use other greens for it — like in this spring greens pesto and this sage pesto.
  8. Pancetta and Prosciutto - Just a little pancetta in a pasta dish puts it over the top, and a plate of simple prosciutto with fresh bread, or wrapped around a slice of melon, is a great summer lunch.
  9. Mascarpone and Ricotta - Soft cheeses and mascarpone and fresh ricotta are indispensable; they make easy pasta toppings and add some creaminess to pasta casseroles like lasagna.
  10. Garam Coloratura - This sauce of fermented anchovies sounds a little intimidating, but it's so delicious. Sprinkle a tablespoon of it over a dish of hot, fresh pasta, and it flavors it beautifully. It's pricey, but you really can just substitute Thai fish sauce.

How do you stock your pantry for cooking Italian? Anything really important we left off this list? (I'm sure there is!) What are your favorite quick weeknight Italian meals?

Related: What's Your Favorite Pasta Shape?

(Images: Faith Durand; Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan; Faith Durand; Emma Christensen)