Jason's Bistro

Cuisine Italian
Description Italian cooking probably needs no introduction, as the country's pastas, breads, rice dishes, various antipasti, and desserts have been introduced around the world.
Vegetarian Appeal Italian cuisine is very flexible for vegetarian needs, although vegans have more limited options.
Basic Ingredients Your pantry should feature:
  1. Herbs. Basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary. I try to keep a supply of fresh herbs, keeping the amount I can't use immediately in airtight containers in the freezer. Dried herbs also work for most purposes, but remember that they also don't have an indefinite lifespan; for ideal flavor, use within 6 months and store in an airtight glass jar.
  2. Hard cheeses. Parmesan, pecorino romano, and asiago cheeses add a lot of flavor and can be used for many dishes.
  3. Garlic, onions.
  4. It's heresy, but I keep unsalted canned tomatoes (and sometimes canned stewed tomatoes) in my cupboard for out-of-season tomato sauces. It's easy to make a very nice tomato sauce that far exceeds the quality of the manufactured marinara sauces available at your supermarket.

Other frequently used ingredients include:

  1. Mushrooms. I especially like to use yummy local mushrooms (chanterelles are seasonally available in Seattle), but ordinary crimini mushrooms and their overgrown cousin, the portabella, can be used to make great pasta dishes or antipasti.
  2. Marinated vegetables. Sure, you can make them yourself, but admit it--you probably won't. Marinated artichoke hearts and very tender marinated artichoke crowns can be featured in antipasti, in pasta dishes, or, as I enjoy them frequently, on focaccia or pizza. You may be able to find marinated mushrooms, marinated bell peppers, and other treats at your specialty grocer. I also like to keep a supply of olive-oil marinated sun dried tomatoes on hand.
  3. Fresh in-season vegetables. Almost any vegetable can be introduced into Italian-style cooking. Asparagus, carrots, rutabagas, even fiddlehead fern tops can find themselves in antipasti, pastas, on top of foccacia or pizza.
Unusual ingredients Fresh buffalo mozzarella puts the generously labeled "mozzarella" sold in vacuum packs at most U.S. grocery stores to shame. In major cities, you should be able to find it, but the pricing may not be to your liking.
A Typical Meal Salads, marinated vegetables, and other small dishes with a minimum starch content are called "antipasti" and can be served before a meal. Some fresh Italian bread like ciabatta or a biga (sourdough) dipped in herb-infused olive oil is a comforting starter. A generous serving of minestrone or other soup followed by a small pasta dish or soupy risotto complete a fundamental meal.
A Jagaimo.com Feature

© 2000 Jason Truesdell.
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