Curating and stocking a kitchen is the key to enjoying the art of cooking. If your kitchen is currently your happy place, you know this already. If cooking stresses you out, however, then I’m happy to share with you this guide to stocking your kitchen – the Mediterranean way. This guide outlines the staple ingredients you should always have on hand to make delicious Mediterranean-inspired recipes at a moments notice.
The Importance of Having a Stocked Kitchen
Have you ever been halfway through a recipe just to realize you are missing that key ingredient in the next step? Pots boiling, oven pre-heated, you can’t just run to a store in that moment to pick it up. It can be a punch in the gut. Suddenly you’re scrambling to improvise. What was supposed to be a relaxing time in the kitchen is now a stressful, unpleasant experience.
Have you ever been excited by perfectly in-season produce at a farmers market (which you then buy with no plan in mind for how to prepare it), and sadly watch it rot away as you have no clue what to do with it? You lose money as well as an opportunity to enjoy the best produce of the season.
Whatever your disappointing experiences have been in the kitchen, I want to share one obvious, yet often overlooked, solution with you: always have your kitchen essentials stocked.
Discovering Your Kitchen Essentials
Particularly in this period of change for myself, I have found this rule of keeping my kitchen stocked to be key. I’ve now found myself living in three countries (US, Italy, and France) in just one year. Each move calls for a kitchen reset. There are certain staples I always have on hand regardless of where I am living. As I move across borders, however, there will be changes to what ingredients are available – especially in Europe where the focus on seasonality is much greater. These little shifts will influence your cooking and you may find that instead of always having a jar of peanut butter on hand in one chapter of your life, you now always have tahini.
That being said, this guide is as much for you as it is for me. A reminder, a lasting reference, a checklist of what to always have on hand as I break in yet another new kitchen. For me, a house is not a home until I’ve cooked my first meal in my new kitchen. Having everything I need on hand allows me to enjoy the flow that I love about cooking and I have peace of mind knowing I’ll (almost) never run into the problem of a missing ingredient or not having a plan. In fact, this foundation of essentials allows me to not always need “a plan”. Building your épicerie of kitchen essentials allows you to introduce some spontaneity into your cooking, which is what can make it an everyday pleasure.
The guide below outlines essentials for a Mediterranean-style of cooking. If your style is more influenced by other cultures and ingredients, don’t hesitate to swap things out to match your needs! For example, you may be inclined to switch dry pasta for dry rice.
Your Comprehensive List of Kitchen Essentials and Staple Ingredients for Mediterranean Cooking
In the pantry
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
When I can, I like to have two EVOOs on hand. The first, and most essential, is an all-purpose olive oil for roasting, sautéing and so on. The second is an ultra-high quality bottle that is best used for dressings or dunking fresh bread in. The first I use liberally, while the second I enjoy as more of a luxury. I typically buy Carapelli. While in Europe, if I find myself on a vineyard that happens to also produce really special olive oil, I will typically buy a bottle as my “luxury” extra high quality option.
Canned Peeled Plum Tomatoes
A can of peeled plum tomatoes might just be my number one pantry staple. Dirt cheap yet a critical base for so many recipes, I always have multiple cans of tomatoes in my cupboard. If you’re still buying jarred tomato sauces, stop! It’s so easy to make your own using just a can of tomatoes and a handful of other ingredients that – you guessed it – are going to be readily found in your kitchen once you have it stocked with the essentials. With these on hand, you know you always have a solid, delicious fallback recipe for a homecooked meal.
On the note of tomato sauce, it’s also a good idea to always have dry pasta on hand. Everyone can cook pasta and it’s a simple crowd pleaser. Most people are delighted to have a plate of delicious pasta, and having dry pasta stocked means you can put your mind at ease knowing you are ready to cook a satisfying meal on a whim. Or, if you’re just feeling a little lazy and want to have dinner ready in a matter of minutes, pasta is an excellent option to have on standby. As far as brands go, I prefer De Cecco.
Any variety of canned beans is great to have on hand. I always have cannellini beans and chickpeas stocked since I opt for these varieties for most of my recipes, but black beans and pinto beans of course make their way into my kitchen as well. Another inexpensive staple that provides so much nutrition and flavor, beans are an absolute must. Figure out what your favorites are or which you choose to cook with the most and always have them in your cupboard to add some extra protein, fiber, and flavor.
Similarly to canned beans, I love having lentils on hand for adding heft, protein, and fiber to my primarily vegetarian meals. Lentils are inexpensive, filling, and just as easy to prepare as pasta.
I stopped buying salad dressing years and years ago in favor of whisking together EVOO and whatever vinegar (or fresh lemon juice) I have on hand and whatever other seasonings I’m in the mood for. Balsamic has always been a classic choice. It’s especially important to have on hand in the summer months when caprese salad is on the menu almost daily. Whether you love balsamic or have some other vinegar preference (apple cider, red wine or white wine vinegar and so on), having this acidic ingredient comes in handy for all matter of sauces and dressings. Balsamic glaze is also a nice option to keep on hand.
Dijon serves as the foundation of most of my salad dressings. It’s also great for marinades and dips.
Jarred Marinated Artichokes
Seasoned marinated artichokes may not have crossed your radar yet and you may be wondering why I consider these to be a staple. However, they are so delicious and all you have to do is drain them from the jar then roast them at a high temperature until crisp and golden. In a matter of minutes, you have a super flavorful add-in for salads or an accoutrement for an appetizer. Consider your preferences and maybe your version of this staple is a jar of roasted red peppers or olives. Whatever you choose, having a jar of a marinated veg (or technically a fruit in the case of peppers and olives) is a simply way to add powerful flavor fast.
For making fresh pasta or baking, or even as a thickening agent for sauces, a standard “double zero” flour is always useful to have.
Another one of my staples that may or may not resonate with you, popcorn kernels are essential for me. Popcorn is one of my all-time favorite snacks and using kernels to make stovetop popcorn is one of the cheapest ways to enjoy it. You can always have a warm, fresh bowl of popcorn in just a handful of minutes. No more stale popcorn from a bag!
In the Spice Rack
A given, I hope. A simple, fine salt is all you need as a foundation. With more cooking experience, you may find it nice to also have on hand a Maldon sea salt or other interesting textured varieties that have slightly different impacts. I also often have Himalayan pink sea salt on hand.
Whole Black Pepper
A simple spice but one of my favorites, black pepper is never missing from my kitchen. Freshly cracked pepper is a must – I hereby forbid you to use that foul excuse for pepper that is already ground up into a fine gray dust.
The easiest way to liven up any recipe is with a little spice from chili flakes. I always have some on hand for sauces or sprinkling liberally over pizza (whether homemade made or take-out). Occasionally infusing some olive oil with chili flakes is a great way to use two pantry staples to elevate a dish.
This spice may not be a staple for everyone, but I enjoy adding it to eggs and dressings and sauces when the mood strikes.
I will always favor fresh garlic, but garlic powder is great to have especially if you don’t have any whole cloves on hand. On the flip side, I personally do not condone pre-minced garlic you find in jars. Compared to fresh or powdered garlic, the flavor is simply bad. Not to mention there are other added preservatives that we just don’t need when superior alternatives exist.
Dried Rosemary and Oregano
Both of these Italian herbs are essential for my style of cooking. Having fresh plants of each is also great, but if you don’t have the capacity for an herb garden then it’s great to always have dried rosemary and oregano in your spice rack.
In the Fridge
Some of these items listed below may not actually be stored in the fridge, but they are the fresh items that I pick up on a weekly-ish basis.
No matter what, there is always a chunk of parmesan in my fridge. Always. You can top everything with some freshly grated parmesan. As well, I love to freeze the rinds when they are finished and incorporate them into homemade vegetable stock. Other cheeses that I keep on hand tend to shift with the seasons. Mozzarella di buffala specifically has a spot reserved in my fridge in the summer, for one example.
Always opt for eggs from the most local, organic, free-range source you can. It’s not a gimmick – the flavor and nutrition are both drastically superior. Not to mention the color of the yolks are brighter and more visually pleasing!
My bread habits have changed based on the country I’m living in. Now that I’m in France, there’s always a baguette around.
Another staple that shifts with my location, I rarely used butter in Italy but since moving to France, a quality butter has had a stronger pull on me. As with any animal products, always pay attention to the source to ensure the best flavor (and to minimize your impact on the environment while being considerate of animal welfare!).
Fresh fruits and vegetables are picked up on a weekly (or sometimes daily) basis depending on what I plan to make that week and what is in season. Yet again, France has been kind to me in presenting plenty of options for markets on the weekends where everything is local and seasonal. Seek inspiration from what is available rather than forcing a recipe to come together.
Keep Your Kitchen Essentials Stocked for Enjoyable, Easy Cooking
Use this comprehensive guide as inspiration for cultivating your own list of kitchen essentials that caters to your cooking style. Allow your location to influence your ingredients by finding the best ingredients locally where possible. You’ll find that cooking is more enjoyable and stress-free (and likely more economical!).
Do you have any staple ingredients or kitchen essentials that you can’t live without? Share them in the comments!