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Essential Ingredients for Italian Cooking and How to Use Them

If you want to embrace the art of cooking Italian like an Italian, you need to know the basics: what ingredients to use to cook Italian food? How to use them? Where to buy them?

We know it can be hard to find the best Italian ingredients and also use them correctly to cook Italian food, but thankfully nowadays it is possible to buy real Italian products online and also learn how to use properly.

One of the biggest mistakes people make is not using the right tomato sauce for their pizza, or the perfect oil for their food: Italian food is well known because the ingredients we use are first class, and this contributes to the overall quality of the food we eat… and make at home.

Following a huge demand and our inner knowledge of Italian food being Italians ourselves, we’ve decided to give you an overview of the best Italian products to use at home, how to use them and where to buy them.

10 Essential Ingredients for Italian Cooking and How to Use Them

Check out our essential ingredients for Italian cooking and how to use them properly to elevate your skills and bring your cooking game to the next level.

1. Olive Oil

Olive oil is a staple of Italian cuisine and it’s used both for cooking and as a raw condiment. The best one is definitely the extra virgin olive oil, also the most expensive olive oil available. Extra virgin olive oil contains a low presence of oleic acid, has a distinct olive flavor, and it’s a bit spicy. It’s the secret ingredient to boost Italian food, not so secret for us Italians but somehow underrated Worldwide. If you really want to master your Italian food, you need to use olive oil and, even better, extra virgin olive oil and you will soon notice the difference.

These are the best Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil you can buy online to cook like an Italian:

  • Colavita Extra Virgin Olive Oil, First Cold Pressed, (2 Liters) 68 Fl Oz (Pack of 1) – Check on Amazon
  • Colavita Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 34 Fl Oz (Pack of 1) – Check on Amazon
  • Colavita Extra Virgin Olive Oil, First Cold Pressed, 25.5 Fl Oz (Pack of 1), Glass Bottle – Check on Amazon
  • Colavita Premium Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Check on Amazon
  • Fattoria Bini | Medium IGP Toscano Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Check on Amazon
  • Partanna Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Check on Amazon
  • Frantoio Barbera, Sicilian Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Check on Amazon
  • De Cecco Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Check on Amazon

2. Pasta

When we talk about pasta, we could write a whole article just about this ingredient. Pasta for Italians is sacred and despite being “just” a mix of flour, eggs, olive oil, water, and salt, it’s one of the most rewarding food to eat and to cook. It goes without saying, that good quality (more expensive) pasta has to be preferred over low-cost pasta.

There are a few rules to follow in choosing the best Italian pasta, aside from how expensive it is (even if this gives an indication on how good the pasta is):

  • Always prefer pasta that’s been dried at low temperatures;
  • Always go for pasta that has a homogeneous surface and a color similar to wheat;
  • Always go for the “pasta trafilata al bronzo”, because its roughness absorbs the seasoning better and retains it, allowing to cook a perfect pasta al dente;
  • Always go for pasta with a percentage of protein between 12.5 and 15%

These are the brands we personally recommend (trusted and used by Italians):

3. Pasta sauce

Italians are crazy about pasta sauces and there are really thousands of variations one can try at home. Pesto is one of the most famous pasta sauces and despite foreigners use pesto also for salads or to season panini or mozzarella cheese, we only use this sauce for our pasta.

It’s rare for Italians to buy their pasta sauces: we make them at home, choosing the best ingredients and the best and most traditional recipes ever.

For example, to make carbonara sauce we never use bacon but we use “guanciale” or if we cannot find Italian pancetta.

For the amatriciana sauce, we use San Marzano tomatoes and pecorino cheese, because every other ingredient will ruin it.

4. Pizza and Pasta flour

Flour is fundamental in Italian cuisine: it’s used for everything and for this reason it has to be of very high quality. The flour we use for the pizza is peculiar and different from every other type of flour: you need a high-gluten or a whole-wheat flour that has about 14% protein to make sure your pizza will rise properly. Many countries are used to bleached flour but this won’t work to cook Italian and if you use it you’ll get very poor results.

  • Antimo Caputo Pizza Flour 55 LB Blue Bulk Bag – Italian Double Zero 00 – Check on Amazon
  • Antimo Caputo Semolina Flour – All Natural Dough for Fresh Pasta – Check on Amazon
  • Bob’s Red Mill Organic Whole Wheat Flour – Check on Amazon
  • Bob’s Red Mill Semolina Pasta Flour – Check on Amazon

5. Tomatoes

It is ok to use canned tomatoes for your Italian food but you need to use good tinned tomatoes if you want to succeed in your cooking. How to know if your tomatoes are of good quality? Hard to say, in complete honesty, but we can put our hands on fire and suggest always to use San Marzano tomatoes, which are the best canned tomatoes in the world.

There are a lot of companies in the San Marzano’s business, and fake products are all around us.

That’s why we recommend using the following brands, straight from Italy:

6. Mozzarella cheese

You cannot make a proper Italian pizza if you don’t use proper mozzarella cheese. Mozzarella substitutes, stringy cheeses reminiscent of mozzarella and anything that pretends to be a mozzarella but it is not will ruin your pizza and, above all, they will not really allow you to prepare a real Italian pizza at home. Mozzarella gives the pizza a peculiar flavor, and when melted it creates bubbles; these bubbles will elasticity, moisture, and oil content, and all of these three things will make your Italian pizza a success.

If you don’t use mozzarella, you won’t be able to recreate a perfect Italian pizza at home.

7. Parmesan cheese

Parmesan cheese is one of the most counterfeited Italian products ever. But if you know Parmesan cheese, you also are able to notice how different the fake ones are in terms of flavor, color, and texture. Well, Parmesan cheese is the king of the Italian cuisine, something we use on red pasta, for example, or to make the famous parmigiana di melanzane.

We don’t use it for “chicken parmesan” because this dish doesn’t exist in Italy but trust us, only an original Parmesan cheese can boost your food.

8. Wine

Italian cuisine goes hands in hands with wine and adding a little wine in cooking, perhaps making it fade, is typical of Italian cuisine. When using it, one thing must be taken into account: the alcoholic part of the wine, when cooking, gives a completely unpleasant acidic and bitter base.

Also, each dish can be paired with spectacular Italian wine. How do you pair food and wine at home? By choosing the best Italian wines at first, and then always remember this golden rule:

  • Red wine goes with meat, charcuterie, pasta with meat.
  • White wine goes with white meat, vegetables, fish.

Pizza is usually not served with wine, always with beer.

WineLibrary has a great selection of Italian wines and it delivers everywhere in the US. Click here and start exploring the incredible range of Italian wines available.

9. Garlic and Onion

Despite common thinking, we never use garlic or onion to make garlic bread. Garlic and onion are used to prepare “soffritto”, the basis for a tomato sauce, and to give flavors to a whole range of dishes. Garlic and onion are always used fresh, but dried ones are common and they work exactly like the fresh ones.

If you want to embrace the Italian way to use garlic and onion, make sure you don’t exaggerate with them: their flavor has to be subtle, never invasive (except for some traditional dishes) and it doesn’t have to cover the other ingredients.

10. Dried Mushrooms

Dried mushrooms are another ubiquitous ingredient in Italian cuisine, and that’s good. They are mainly porcini mushrooms, sold whole (preferable), or chopped. To use them, you have to soak them in warm water for about 1 hour.

When they’re ready, just drain, squeeze and cut them into julienne strips. It’s hard to find Italian dried mushrooms abroad, but it’s a joy to use them in your food.

11. Olives

They are another great cornerstone of our kitchen. They can be green, i.e. young, or black, i.e. ripe. The green ones can be “sweet”, preserved in slightly salted water or in brine: rinse them before using for your food, and they will bring a great flavor to everything Italian. The black ones are almost always in brine and variously flavored.

Where to buy Italian food online?

If you’re looking to buy Italian ingredients to cook Italian recipes at home, we recommend you check the following stores on Amazon.com:

Alma Gourmet
Tutto Calabria
iGourmet

If you’re looking for the best Italian wines to buy online, WineLibrary is our choice!

We hope to have inspired you with our list of some of the best Italian ingredients and how to use them! Now get ready to start cooking like an Italian and to practice your Italian skills, have a look at these online courses:

The Art of Pizza Making – Learn how to make the dough in 4 steps and how to cook pizza in your home oven in just 100 seconds.
Basic Italian Cooking Skills – Learn how to make some of the most famous Italian dishes including pasta, vegetables, seafood, meat, and fish.
How to Make the Best Homemade Italian Pasta – Learn how to make pasta dough with and without eggs.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means that we may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link.

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About the author
Veruska Anconitano
Veruska is a freelance content marketer and digital strategist. She's an accredited journalist, a member of the British Guild of Travel Writer, and a certified sommelier. She's the co-owner of TheFoodellers and a bunch of other websites.
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