Most people, including kids, love Italian food. The vast number of Italian restaurants in our neighborhoods attest to that. Italian food tastes good and it is believed to be more healthy than some of the traditional foods we, non- Italians, eat. Many of these foods are simple to prepare. But if you want to prepare some of the Italian foods including pastas and sauces at home, you need to know the most basic ingredients for Italian recipes. Armed with that knowledge you can experiment with the flavors and get that exact taste you are looking for.
Many Italian recipes come from the Mediterranean region. Mediterranean diet is very unique and extremely healthy. There is much on this subject on The Diet Chat, and you may want to have peek at it. If you are interested, you may want to start with the introduction to Mediterranean diet here…
Favorite Ingredients For Italian Cooking
Pasta – Who does not love pasta. Because most of the Italian cuisine does not include rice, pasta (apart from the delicious Italian bread) is the main source of carbohydrates. There are a number of varieties of pasta, most of which you can find on your supermarket shelves. There is spaghetti, macaroni, rotini (my favorite), fettuccini and so on.
Many dieters who are trying to reduce their carbohydrate diets prepare pasta, namely spaghetti, from squash. This may not look so very enticing to you, but I have eaten squash spaghetti and they are delicious.
Olive oil – Italians love their olive oil and you should too. It is a must have ingredient in any Italian (and for that matter Mediterranean) kitchen. Olive oil is much healthier than other oils we commonly use in North America. In addition, it ads flavor and richness to Italian recipes.
Garlic – Garlic is one of the healthiest herbs and it is a common ingredients in many Italian dishes, particularly sauces. When added to the food, garlic is minced in order to get the most flavor and healthy nutrients from it. Italians are not shy when it comes to garlic use. The more they use, the better the flavor is.
Basil – I cannot imagine Italian sauces without basil. I love the flavor this herb imparts to food. You should always have fresh basil in your kitchen (but dried basil does work well too). Basil in Italian recipes is commonly used with thyme, oregano and rosemary. Although I find that I can be “very free and generous” with basil in my cooking, I learned that I have to watch the other three spices because too much of them may quite overpower your dish. When I first started cooking on a larger scale (like my family), I used to use a mix of dried Italian spices that I bought in a supermarket. I liked using them. The proportion of the four spices was just right for my sauces.
Tomato – Tomatoes are pretty well a standard ingredient in many of the Italian recipes. Italians love to preserve their tomato sauces in the fall when fresh tomatoes are very flavorful and abundant. The best tomatoes for preserving are the Italian variety which are very fleshy. And, the best place to get deliciously tasting tomatoes in the fall is at a farmers market, where the tomatoes arrive fresh from the field. If you do not prepare your own sauces, you can get canned tomatoes and tomato pastes (without any additives) to use when making tomato based sauces.
Parmesan cheese – Parmesan cheese is sprinkled on most Italian dishes. I can hardly imagine eating pasta without it. You can find it in most supermarkets, but rather than getting the dried stuff sold in the shakers, try to get freshly ground Prmesan in the cheese section. What I do with Parmesan cheese when I get it freshly ground (in a larger quantity), I stick it in the freezer to prevent molding that sometimes happens in the fridge.
Note: Parmesan cheese tastes delicious, but like most cheeses it adds calories to your food, so make sure to go easy when sprinkling it on your food.
Pesto – Most non-Italians, are not very familiar with Pesto, typically served with pasta. Maybe you heard of it as a sauce of crushed basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil. But the basic pesto only includes garlic, salt, extra virgin olive oil, basil and Pecorino Sardo cheese (Parmesan often replaces this cheese or is mixed with this cheese when available).
Mascarpone – It is a triple cream, soft cheese used as a pasta topping. Mascarpone is often used with riccotta when cooking lasagna, placed between the layers of noodles.
I have provided you with a few basic ingredients for Italian recipes. These should give you a head start. If your family really likes Italian meals when eating out, by having these ingredients in your kitchen you can whip up an Italian dish quickly and easily. You’ll have a delicious and a healthy dish, and you’ll save yourself a ton of money you’d have to “dish” out at an Italian restaurant.
Make sure to check out our International Recipes category often, where you will find a bounty of international recipes, including Italian recipes, we add regularly. What is your favorite Italian recipe? Please let us know in the comment section, below.