Your Pantry Staples
The New Essentials
Photo: Con Poulos
Add these ingredients to your shelves, and you'll be ready to make the terrific recipes in this menu—plus countless variations.
1. Spanish or Italian Tuna
Packed in olive oil in cans or jars, it's outstanding in countless recipes.
How to use it: The Italian and Spanish varieties are the most flavorful—"nothing like tuna you find in the United States," says Tony Mantuano, chef and co-owner of the famed Chicago restaurant Spiaggia. Olive-oil–packed tuna is wonderful in salads, pastas, sandwiches, and more. (Since tuna can contain high mercury levels, it should be eaten a maximum of twice a week and less often during pregnancy.)
2. Passato di Pomodoro
Tangy-sweet Italian tomato puree for pasta and meat dishes.
How to use it: This Italian tomato puree, typically spiked with basil, can be used as a base for sauces to serve with meats or pasta. Look for passato made with San Marzano tomatoes, grown in Italy's Campania region and coveted for their sweet-and-tart flavor.
North African chili paste, for spicing up meat or fish.
How to use it: Mix this spicy North African chili paste—made with roasted or dried peppers, garlic, cumin, and other spices—into a wide range of seafood, meat, pasta, and couscous dishes to add smoky, fiery flavor. Or mash it with chickpeas or jarred tuna and spread on bread for a tasty open-faced sandwich.
4. Mediterranean Olives
Extra-briny, and available at grocery stores or olive bars.
How to use them: Greece, Spain, and Provence produce top-quality olives that, besides making perfect party snacks, lend extra juiciness and tang to pastas, stews, and seafood. If you buy olives from a grocery-store olive bar, you should keep them in the fridge.
5. Spanish Piquillo Peppers
Easy to stuff, for instant hors d'oeuvres, and great with seafood.
How to use them: Spain's signature roasted peppers make a spicy-sweet match for all kinds of seafood, from canned tuna or sardines to fresh fish.
Canned or jarred, they're endlessly versatile.
How to use them: The Mantuanos like the all-natural canned chickpeas from Spain. Delicious in salads, chickpeas (also known as ceci or garbanzo beans) can be tossed with olive oil, sherry vinegar, and sea salt for an easy, protein-filled snack.
7. Capers in Salt
These are more flavorful than basic grocery varieties.
How to use them: The best capers come from Italy and are packed in sea salt. Rinse them first, and use them to add a briny element to pasta sauces, seafood, or spreads.
...and don't forget these basics!