Get a basic list of ingredients for the beginner Italian-American cook so you can start your Italian cooking journey now. With the right ingredients and authentic Italian recipes, you can start cooking like your Italian nona (grandma) in no time!
Who will benefit from this article? This article is specifically written for Italian-Americans and Americans who want to learn how to cook basic, yet absolutely delicious, Italian recipes.
In short, it’s mostly for the beginner cook or cooks who want to learn how to cook better Italian food.
You can use this pantry list as a foundation for Italian cooking. It’ll ELEVATE your cooking experience if you’re a novice to Italian cooking.
12 Commonly Used Ingredients in Italian Cuisine
My Italian immigrant mother was an excellent Italian home cook envied by her friends for her cooking talents. She made the “gravy” for Sunday dinner.
It was comprised of a pasta dish, with the gravy of course, fried veal cutlets, Roasted Red Peppers, broccoli rabe, fresh Italian bread and dry red wine.
That dinner was the BEST meal of the week! I always looked forward to it as a young child.
You can make a delicious Italian Sunday dinner or any great Italian recipes too but, first you need to have the right ingredients. I also will tell you why you need them.
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What ingredients are used in Italian Cooking?
Although there are many ingredients used in Italian cooking, there are some basics to get you started quickly. Different regions of Italy use different ingredients so if you don’t see something listed here, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a basic ingredient. Northern Italy uses more white sauces than say southern Italy or Sicily.
- Pasta– You need lots of varieties of pasta for Italian cooking. I have at least 15 boxes at any one time and have to put my stash in my basement because it’d fill up half of my pantry. This just goes without saying but, I have to say it for the purpose of emphasis. Pasta dishes are my go to dinner when I have nothing planned. It’s quick and easy. Plus they can serve as a vegan dish for vegan guests. My Baked Ziti with Ricotta Cheese was aired in a pasta contest on a Philly radio station!
- Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) This is a staple in Italian cooking and you must use “extra virgin” olive oil not just olive oil. Extra virgin is the first olive press and thereby the most flavorful. That’s why it’s a dark green color. It’s also the most expensive olive oil but, don’t skimp on it. The robust EVOO is really good for dipping and to use in salads! EVOO is the best and it’ll elevate your cooking experience not only in Italian cooking but, cooking in general. It’s also one of the healthier oils and is a staple in the Mediterranean diet.
- Balsamic Vinegar– Balsamic vinegar is widely used in Italian cooking for salads, marinades or used to make balsamic reduction to drizzle on caprese or bruschetta. Don’t think you need to spend $40 on a bottle of vinegar either. After all, it’s just vinegar! However, if balsamic vinegar isn’t your thing, replace it with white wine or red wine vinegar.
- Fresh garlic Garlic is a staple in Italian cooking. It’s in so many dishes that you couldn’t make them without it. It will not work, so don’t even try making anything that calls for garlic, without it. Please, just don’t! Enough said.
- Onions Onions and garlic go together in Italian cooking like peanut butter and jelly. I always have fresh onions in my refrigerator because they’re one of the best flavorings you can give your food. They’re an aromatic. Cooking them in EVOO with or without garlic gives a wonderful flavor to many Italian dishes. Never be without onions.
- Garlic powder I find that garlic powder covers meat, like for my meatballs, better than fresh minced garlic but, often I use both. I use plain garlic powder in so many dishes, I can’t list them all here. When a dish lacks flavor it’s often because it needs more garlic powder. It’s a staple seasoning in my kitchen that I never allow myself to run out…never! I have a HUGE bottle.
- Italian seasoning It’s good to have a container of dried Italian seasoning on hand. You probably already have it but, it’s worth mentioning. Use it for tomato sauce, pizza sauce and many pasta dishes.
- Canned tomatoes- puree and diced Canned tomatoes are a staple in Italian cooking. I always have cans in my pantry. I buy the basil and oregano seasoned diced tomatoes, petite diced tomatoes and puree to make my homemade tomato sauce. Also, canned tomatoes are often used for non-Italian cooking too, like my popular loaded slow cooker chili!
- Tomato paste You’ll need tomato paste to add to the pot to thicken tomato pasted sauces. It’s good to have a tube or small can on hand. You may want to add it to your tomato sauce but, it isn’t necessary.
- Lemons Lemon zest, rind and juice add a lot of flavor not only to cakes and cookies but, also to savory dishes such as pasta chicken, broccoli rabe, etc. You should have lemon juice, at a minimum, on hand.
- All-purpose flour Obviously, you’ll need flour to make bread, pizza crust, but, you’ll also need it to make cakes, biscotti, cookies, etc.
- Yeast You’ll need active dry yeast to make Italian bread and pizza crust. It’s also used to make zepole (fried dough) and nearly anything that needs to be leavened. It’s good to have at least a packet in your refrigerator.
Now you have the 12 Commonly Used Ingredients Used in Italian Cuisine, you can buy what you need and get started with making your own homemade tomato sauce (gravy as my mom called it.) Browse our Italian recipes and start cooking Italian.