Stock the pantry with a few simple ingredients, and you can add "international chef" to your list of achievements. Essentials for Italian, Spanish, Mediterranean, Indian, Asian and good-ole Southwestern cooking include:
The Italian Pantry
Throw together a simple yet effective Italian dinner with the following ingredients:
- Fresh basil
- Canned whole San Marzano tomatoes
- Pine nuts
- Fresh mozzarella
- Balsamic vinegar (aged)
- Pasta (penne, spaghetti)
Quick Fix: Arrange a piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano on a cheese board, drizzle with balsamic vinegar as a starter and then serve a simple tomato sauce made with San Marzano tomatoes over pasta. Scoop gelato for dessert. Yes, it's that easy.
The Spanish Pantry
Spanish tapas (little plates that make up a meal) are the ideal party food, allowing guests to sample lots of dishes without overindulging. What to pour: Try Amontillado, Oloroso or another sherry; Rioja wine is also great with tapas.
- Pimentón de la Vera (Spanish smoked paprika)
- Spicy chorizo or serrano ham
- Manchego cheese
- Marcona almonds (great with a little quince paste too)
- Piquillo peppers
The Mediterranean Pantry
Many countries surround the Mediterranean Sea, including France, Italy, Portugal and Greece. Each of these regions has a distinct flavor profile that uses the same (or similar) ingredients in a unique way. Here are a few:
- Flavorful extra-virgin olive oil
- Fresh oregano
- Roasted red peppers
- Canned chickpeas
- Fresh parsley
Quick Fix: With extra-virgin olive oil you can make a French vinaigrette, an Italian pasta dish, a simple Portuguese grilled langoustine (or shrimp) drizzled with olive oil and lemon or Greek-style hummus, made with olive oil, chickpeas and parsley. Oregano brings an edge to chicken and lamb dishes.
The Indian Pantry
Indian food has lots of different flavor profiles, depending on the subcontinent. For basic dishes, the following ingredients are good to have on hand:
- Onions, garlic and fresh ginger
- Mustard seeds
- Garam masala
Quick Fix: Indian cooking features onions, garlic and fresh ginger, ground together to make a paste, then sautéed to release the aromas. Garam masala (literally "hot spices") is a common Indian blend; it's actually the authentic version of curry powder (which Indians don't use). Try frozen samosas for a short-order snack; buy them in specialty supermarkets and fry them straight out of the freezer.
The Southeast Asian Pantry
Cooking in this region (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, etc.) involves lots of fresh vegetables, rice and of course fish sauce. For some, it's a bright and energetic alternative to Chinese and Japanese.
- Fish sauce
- Chili sauce (like Sriracha)
- Coconut milk
- Black (sweet) soy sauce
- Jasmine rice
The Southwestern Pantry
American cuisine has many flavor profiles — California, Deep South, Mid-Atlantic — but Southwestern is the one that gets everybody all excited.
- Canned chipotles in adobo
- Red onion
- Fresh cilantro and dried coriander
- Canned black beans