Fellow blogger Vince Scordo published this great article about what food ingredients are really required to have a complete kitchen, and to keep those of us of Italian American descent happy and content.
Although I loved Vince’s post, I wanted to add my two cents on some of these required ingredients and what they mean in my kitchen. My kitchen, and what it holds, was strongly influenced by what my grandmother taught me, as you will see in the following…
Garlic – One of two main ingredients in my gram’s kitchen, it was mandatory that there was an abundant supply ready for peeling and chopping. She used it to cook just about everything, and I have carried on that tradition. As far as rituals go, the preparation of the garlic may have been second only to the cleaning of the green beans.
Olive Oil – The other main ingredient. The kitchen was never without a shiny gold and black can of Filippo Berio, and Gram used it liberally for cooking, as well as dressing salads, bread dip, and general illness prevention. Although my wife and I will occasionally enjoy a nice extra virgin oil drizzled on a tomato & mozzarella salad, I always fall back on the Berio product for its flavor and friendly price point.
Tomatoes – I use 28 oz. cans of store bought crushed tomatoes as a rule, flipping back and forth between some different brands. Gram, however, canned her own, using hundreds of roma tomatoes from a local farmer. The sauce that she made with them is something I could not duplicate if I tried.
It took an amazing amount of back breaking work for her (and anyone that helped) to prepare the tomatoes for storage, and she would make a year’s supply. If you’re not into that kind of manual labor I recommend a nice canned product off the store shelf such as Red Pack or Tuttorosso, which is frequently on sale in my area.
Imported Tuna – All you lovers of the Bumblebee and Starkist brands, fair warning: one try at a high quality, Italian tuna packed in olive oil in a salad or on a sandwich, and it’s highly unlikely you’ll go back to the other brands. Yes, they are a little more pricey, but it is well worth the extra change that you’ll spend!
Cheese – My gram’s favorite road trip was to go to our local import store to buy some olives, mortadella, and a couple of pounds of asiago or imported parmigiano cheese. Sometimes it was more than a couple pounds. When we got back from the store, we’d sit at the kitchen table and have lunch (sandwich and coffee), and then I’d grate some cheese for that night’s dinner or for future use.
Fruit – A terrific memory that I have is the fruit bowl that was always present on the counter at my Gram’s house. It was always filled with apples, grapes, and especially pears, which we loved to peel and eat at the kitchen table.
In addition to the bowl, the yard around the house was filled with fruit trees that yielded pears, cherries, and peaches. And the grapes. Not one, but two arbors dense with the sweetest concord grapes that my wife and I, to this day, make grape jelly with.
If you’ve never had Italian bread toasted with peanut butter (or plain butter) and homemade jelly, you have not lived.
Wine – My grandmother, as well as the rest of her family, was no wine snob. The wine that was at table was usually a full bodied red that came in a very large bottle. Read: gallon jug, usually something like Carlo Rossi. It tasted great along side a dish of macaroni with my gram’s sauce, salad, and Italian bread.
Although I tend to enjoy a variety of white and red wines from Italy, France, and California, more often than not my wife or I will go to the store and pick up a gallon size bottle of red to enjoy with a favorite Italian meal…and we love it!
And in the end, isn’t that what food is about?…love!