10 Must-Have Italian Pantry Staples

Stock your pantry with these ten Italian ingredients and you'll be ready to cook the best Italian recipes any time. From pasta to, of course, EVOO, you'll have all the Italian cooking essentials.

The first step to making Italian food that people will rave about: the right ingredients. Luckily, they're all easily found in your grocery store. Take this top-10 shopping list and get ready to mangia!

Italian Pantry

Why pick just one? Keep a few different cheeses on hand for different dishes. Parmigiano- reggiano, made from cow's milk and aged for at least 10 months, has a complex salty-nutty flavor that pairs well with everything. Grana padano (a tad less expensive) is similarly nutty but has a milkier taste. Pecorino-romano is a sharp, salty sheep's-milk cheese that's perfect for zesty, hearty sauces.

Rare is the Italian fridge that doesn't stock a ball of this soft, fresh cow's-milk cheese, used for everything from pizza to panini. You can find it in plastic wrap or brine-filled containers in the deli section. Its flavor and texture are best in uncooked appetizers; when it comes to super- melty dishes like lasagna, go for the low-moisture mozzarella sold shredded or in blocks.

There's the real deal: the rich, thick, sweet-tart aged syrup from Modena labeled "Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale" and sold in specialty stores. Then there's what most people (even in Italy) use: inexpensive versions that don't have to meet the same strict standards. They're thinner and tangier -- great for salad dressings or sauces.

Extra-virgin olive oil has a strong, fruity aroma and taste. It is essential to cooking in Italy: The country consumes one-fifth of the olive oil produced globally. In order to qualify as "extra-virgin," minimal heat and no chemicals are used to extract the oil from the olives. The oil must also be low in acidity and pass a basic taste test mandated by the International Olive Council.

Also known as Italian bacon, this raw, salt- cured pork crisps up like its American counterpart, but because it's not smoked, it has a more subtle flavor. Order it in a chunk from the deli counter so you can slice and use it as needed.

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