Real Simple Recipes Cooking Tips & Techniques Cooking Essential Ingredients for Italian Cooking Checklist Essential Ingredients for Italian Cooking Checklist Stock your pantry with a few basic ingredients to create an authentic Italian meal. Advertisement Save FB Tweet ellipsis More Pinterest Mail Email iphone Send Text Message Print Image zoom Ann Stratton/Getty Images Checklist Canned tomatoes Opt for whole, peeled tomatoes as opposed to crushed or diced for pungent flavor in everything from sauces to soup. Dried pasta A combination of flour, water, and salt, dried pasta is a quintessential comfort food and the basis of many Italian dishes. Arborio rice A short-grained rice with high starch content, Arborio releases starch and thickens when cooked at length over low heat, making it ideal for creamy risottos. Flour Semolina and double 00 are two high-quality flours often preferred for making homemade pasta, but all-purpose flour will suffice for making fresh pasta and pizza dough. Cannellini beans These large, rosy beige legumes are popular in salads, soups, and stews. For the most affordable (but slightly more labor-intensive) option, choose dried beans, which require overnight soaking. If dinner needs to be on the table in 20 minutes, select canned beans. Bread crumbs Ideal for breading cutlets before pan-frying or incorporating into meatballs, seasoned bread crumbs add bulk, texture, and flavor. Artichokes Jarred artichoke hearts add delicate flavor when tossed with pasta, salads, or topped on pizza. Olives Olives are tiny fruits that have been cured in salt, water, or lye to offset their bitterness. Used in everything from antipasti to pastas, they’re packed with cholesterol-lowering monounsaturated fats, vitamin E, and antioxidants. Pine nuts These small, teardrop-shaped nuts are harvested from pine cones. Their delicate, piney flavor is delicious in everything from pesto to cookies. Capers These tiny flower buds, typically pickled, add bold, salty flavor to sauces and meat and vegetable dishes. Garlic Famous (or infamous) for its pungent flavor, garlic is an indispensable ingredient in Italian cuisine. Select heads that are hard, firm, and tight (no broken skin) and that haven’t sprouted. Prosciutto Ham that has been cured and air-dried for long periods of time for tenderness and a more complex flavor, prosciutto is typically sliced paper-thin and consumed uncooked. It’s also a key ingredient in a classic Italian dish, Chicken Saltimbocca. Fresh basil This sweet, aromatic herb is a staple for topping pastas and pizzas. Mozzarella Traditionally made in Italy from the milk of water buffaloes, mozzarella is now made mainly from cow’s milk. It melts beautifully, making it the cheese of choice for pizza. Extra-virgin olive oil Olive oil adds fruity flavor and is high in healthy monounsaturated fat and antioxidants. Of the various classes of olive oil, extra-virgin is the most prized but is also the most expensive; reserve it for dressings and drizzling on finished dishes, not cooking. Balsamic vinegar Used in marinades, dressings, and fruit-based desserts, balsamic vinegar is generally darker, thicker, sweeter, and more complex than red or white wine vinegar. Syrupy, highly concentrated traditional Italian balsamics, aged for a minimum of 12 years in oak barrels, are best reserved for undiluted uses; drizzle over fruit or vegetables to appreciate the intense flavor. Wine Marsala and dry red and white wines add depth to sauces and popular Italian dishes, such as Chicken Marsala. Parmesan This highly flavorful aged hard cheese (most often used grated) adds a nutty flavor and granular texture to Italian dishes, particularly pastas. Dried herbs and seasonings Keep dried oregano, sage, and thyme on hand to lend earthy flavor and aroma. Red pepper flakes add heat to pastas and pizza.