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Italian Kitchen Pantry

In a few short weeks, the thanksgiving holiday will be upon us. 2020 has challenged nearly every holiday tradition and event in our lives. Weddings without dancing, funerals with less than ten people, and now, there will be no Thanksgiving Day parade, Santa Claus is staying up North, and there will be no New Year’s Eve midnight kiss.

All true and, all unchangeable. Now is the time to take control of the things that you can control: your home, your circle, your family.

While basking in the glory of the cheese department at Wegman’s this weekend, I thought about the few things I should have on hand that I can assemble as a base to build a meal or two. Italians always have food on hand so that at a moment’s notice, you can feed an extra two, three, or nine people.

Keep your kitchen stocked with these five items.

These few items are in no way meant to sustain you when marooned during a December blizzard, nor am I condoning any form of hoarding. If you have these few items always on hand, you can build a meal from just about any left-over veggie, meat, or condiment in your fridge or freezer.

Arborio rice

A true hearty staple for winter meals. Arborio is the heart and soul of risotto. I always have at minimum a 2-pound bag on hand. No, you cannot substitute rice or macaroni of any type. Risotto is more than a meal. It is a cooking event, meant to be performed with wine in one hand and a kitchen tool in the other. Relax, turn on the music, and cook….as a family.

Risotto!

Broth

I always stock three different types of broth: vegetable, seafood, and chicken. Have on hand a minimum of 2-3 quarts of your favorite. Stock or broth can be used for risotto, soups, or a bath for fish with spinach and olives. Add beans and some ditalini, and you have Pasta-fa-Zool.

San Marzano tomatoes

These beautiful, canned tomatoes can be used in almost every meal, from baked fish to pasta topped with burrata. Steak pizzaiola, Italian chili, or chicken & tomatoes over linguini, these tomatoes are worth the extra dollar or two.

a can of whole peeled tomatoes on a white background

Cheese

You didn’t think I’d leave this off, did you? Cheese can be used to stuff chicken or butterflied shrimp, add to pasta, or serve to nosh with guests while cooking. Cheese indeed heals all wounds, and wrapping dough around a cube of cheese makes for a lovely appetizer too!

pasta on the floor recipes
grated parmesan cheese on wooden cutting board

Frozen shrimp

Again, have a few bags on hand. Shrimp can be used on pizza, added to pasta, salads, or served as an appetizer in many ways. Not a shellfish fan? Keep a bag of calamari or smelts.

Do not overthink it.

As I have said before, cooking is super easy compared to baking. Notice I did not give you any recipes, just the faint hint of what could be designed and concocted from these five simple staples.

Holiday time is family and friend’s time, and I would venture to guess that they do not care about what you make so long as they are there with you. COVID is challenging this ritual of fun-filled family time. Zoom cannot accurately convey the smell of simmering risotto or the scent of warm baked goods, but you can see everyone’s face and hear their voices. That may be just the way it is for this 2020 holiday season.

Chip and I put up the Christmas lights outside this weekend and took advantage of the 70-degree weather. Stop by, and we can chat at an acceptable distance and revel in the beautiful holiday lights. No law says we can’t share a hot mulled wine and a block of cheese. Is there?

hot mulled wine in Schenectady NY

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