The Secret to Good Food
To make great meals, make sure your pantry is stocked with great staples.
Extra-Virgin Olive OilIt is, of course, essential to a great vinaigrette, but you can also use it as a sauce (as the Italians do) or drizzle it over simply prepared foods, such as raw or roasted vegetables, grilled fish and meats, cooked beans, pasta and polenta, and even soups.
The term "extra virgin" means the oil is pressed from premium-quality olives and has a very low acidity, a key to fine flavor. These oils can vary in taste and intensity, from buttery to fruity to nutty, and in color, from golden yellow to deep green, depending on the olives. Color is not an indicator of flavor or quality.
Labels on the best extra-virgin olive oils tell you exactly where the olives were grown. Italy, Spain, Greece, France, Portugal, Morocco, Turkey, Tunisia, and California all offer high-quality varieties. Another rule of thumb: The more information on the label (how the oil was made, the kind of olives used, the date of harvest), the more likely the oil is to be superior.
This sweetly pungent and piquant cheese that's handmade in Italy's Emilia-Romagna region is the cheese no cook should be without. Its flavor magically complements just about everything savory―pasta, risotto, soups, polenta, vegetables, seafood―as well as many fruits. (It's also a fine eating cheese in its own right.) Long, thin, irregular shavings of Parmigiano are dramatic embellishments that turn any number of simple foods, from salads to focaccia, into perfect fast hors d'oeuvres.
It's usually sold in chunks cut from a huge wheel. Look for firm, moist cheese―it shouldn't be cracked or dry―with the name "Parmigiano-Reggiano" stamped on the rind. To store, keep it refrigerated, wrapped in parchment paper and foil. (Never use plastic―it doesn't allow the cheese to "breathe," inviting spoilage.)
RS pick: Available at Zingerman's, $26 a pound, zingermans.com or 888-636-8162.