Sometime ago in England I was discussing the philosophy of Italian food with an old friend when she out of the blue asked me: ‘But what do you keep in your kitchen cupboard?’
It was a very interesting question because I had never thought about it. In fact wherever I have put roots down during my wanderings, I have recreated my ‘cupboard’ automatically in a few days without thinking, even if space was limited during my flat sharing days.
The beauty of Italian cooking is its simplicity and how with just a few ingredients you can make a great meal. This made me very popular when I was single and living abroad!
My mother’s store never lacked certain ingredients and a big deep saucepan for pasta and a large shallow pan for sauces are also essentials. A great Italian meal can be whisked up on nothing more than a two ring camping stove.
In a few words I will try to explain what I mean by a ‘cupboard’. It is not the food or the ingredients I have in my Kitchen, that’s actually the store/supply/stock or the ‘Cambusa’ as we Italian sailors call it. A cupboard is the basics that are required to produce most Italian dishes (which incidentally amount to a few thousand) with the addition of a few fresh ingredients. It is also possible with what is stored in it to cook everyday good food without the need of popping to a shop. Some ingredients like olive oil are more than essential, without them the list of dishes shrinks badly.
I grabbed an A4 sheet and a pencil, sat at the kitchen table, scribbled a list of items and handed it to her. Within this list I starred a few super essential ingredients without which one cannot produce an Italian meal. Herbs can be grown in small pots inside or out and also add to culinary feel of any kitchen.
This is my list (with the starred ingredients). Did I forget anything?
Extra Virgin Olive oil (*)
Tinned/bottled Tomatoes (*)
Pasta – long and short (pasta lunga and pasta corta) Spaghetti, penne etc. (*)
Rice: Long grain parboiled and risotto rice (Arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone nano)
Sage (fresh when possible)
Rosemary (fresh when possible)
Raisins and/or sultanas
Capers in salt
Vinegar (red wine and balsamic)
Sea salt (Coarse and fine , sale grosso and sale fino) (*)
Expresso coffee (beans or grinded) (*)
Sugar (Cane and/or white) (*)
Parmigiano Reggiano (*)
Pecorino Cheese (dry)
Dry cannellini beans
Tinned lentils, beans (Cannellini or Borlotti), chick peas
Tinned tuna in olive oil
Tinned sardines in olive oil
I think I listed everything I need and if I am tired and can’t be bother to buy food on the way home I can always make a great bowl of pasta from my cupboard and feed the family within 15 minutes!