It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon. You’re hungry, and ready to spend the afternoon mastering the art of making the best Italian food. So where do you start? With the ingredients, of course! Here are the top five most common ingredients to get your Italian dish started off right!
1. Olive Oil
With the exception of food from northern Italy, olive oil is the most basic starter ingredient in any Italian dish. Making meatballs? Start with olive oil in the pan. Searing a big piece of branzino? Olive Oil is your first step. No matter what you’re in the mood for, starting with a base of that creamy smooth extra-virgin olive oil right from the homeland is the best idea. It has been used as a base for Italian cuisine for almost a thousand years, so join the tradition, set the butter aside, and grab your bottle of extra-virgin olive oil to get rolling!
2. SaltSalt is one of the most critical elements in any cooking, but especially in Italian dining. From salty and savory sausages, to delicious slabs of beef and pork, salt is just core to good Italian cooking. Don’t be afraid to salt pasta water liberally, and generously salt and pepper every meat before preparation. This ancient mineral is your friend, and in Italian cooking, there’s positively no shortage of it.
While something that everyone immediately associates with Italian food, Garlic actually is used sparingly in real Italian dining. Garlic is a delicate flavor, easily burned, and then bitter, and so if used carefully and selectively, it can help make the other ingredients just sing. Try using a little bit of garlic in with your olive oil before searing meatballs, or when preparing a tomato sauce. Always be sure to under-do it though, better to let your guests enjoy a subtle hint of the bulb-shaped spice than a mouthful of it.
No list of common ingredients used in Italian cooking would be complete without mentioning the most basic of vegetables (or is it a fruit?) that forms the basis of so many Italian meals. That’s right, we’re talking about tomatoes. No matter which variety you select, from crisp little cherry tomatoes to big plump San Marzanos, these juicy red vegetables are versatile and useful in so many dishes, from sauces to sautés, to soups and stews. Tossing in some fresh chopped tomatoes is an easy way to kick up the flavor with their tart crispness, while staying true to form with Italian cooking. Try roasting cherry tomatoes alongside a thick slice of fish, or with peppers, onions and sausage, once roasted, these little joys will burst in your mouth like a flash of sweetness, just perfect!
Lastly, you can’t leave out fresh basil. While peppery and bitter in its raw form, this fresh Italian ingredient turns up the flavor in any recipe where you use it. Try throwing in a full stem and leaves of fresh basil onto the surface of your bubbling tomato sauce. As the leaves wilt, their flavor seeps in, and truly helps make the tomatoes and garlic perform magic. Your guests will be positively astonished. Basil is also easy enough to grow at home, too! Pick up some basil seeds, plant them, keep them watered, and watch these thick leafy green herbs rise up out of the soil in just a few weeks.
So on your mission to make Sunday dinner, don’t despair! Just combine these ingredients along with a protein or some pasta for an affordable Italian meal that will impress even the pickiest of eaters.