• Many Italian dishes can be made from a base of shelf-stable ingredients. (Cook like an Italian)Source: Cook like an Italian
Want to stock your pantry like a true Italian? Here’s where to start.
Caterina Hrysomallis

20 Oct 2020 - 5:45 PM  UPDATED 20 Oct 2020 - 5:45 PM

--- Watch Silvia Colloca share all the joys of Italian cooking weeknights in Made in Italy and Cook like an Italian episodes from 6pm on SBS Food through to 30 October ---

When it comes to dining out down under, Italian food is an undoubtable favourite. Spend a night in and you’ll find it easy to recreate entrees, mains and dessert with little fuss. Stock up on these pantry staples for cooking sessions of cucina instinctiva – instinctive cooking, in your very own home.

Australia is peppered with Italian food stores and delis, meeting the demand of migrants who came to Australia in the 1950s and missed the flavours of home, so there’s no shortage of places to pick up all the necessary staples. Alongside the obvious dried spaghetti and orecchiette, here’s what you’ll need:

Olive oil is a staple in any Italian kitchen for cooking and garnishing.

Olive oil

"Olive oil is, to me, the most staple ingredient in my pantry," says chef and owner of Melbourne's Rosa's Canteen, Rosa Mitchell. "What would we do without it? I finish most dishes with a drizzle of oil, I cook with it, I dress with it and I even use it as a moisturiser on my skin!"

Yoghurt, blackberry and olive oil loaf cake

Rich and moist don't have to mean heavy and unhealthy, and the olive oil and yoghurt power team achieve this perfectly to produce this berry loaf cake.

Preserved anchovies

Another of Mitchell's favourites is the humble anchovy. "Sometimes we add so many ingredients to a sauce dish that we lose the individual flavours. So, I use anchovies to enhance a pasta dish, add it to a salad dressing. If you salt and prepare them yourself you get a better, fresher tasting anchovy. Just top it on a piece of bread and eat."

Canned chickpeas

Chef and cookbook author Silvia Colloca says the typical Italian home cook is intrinsically frugal. "We want to spend less and get more, and one thing that is ever-present in an Italian pantry is pulses. Beans or chickpeas, they are so versatile, so packed full of nutrients and high in protein." She always keeps a few cans on hand to whip up a quick meal.

Pasta and chickpeas with Tuscan cabbage (pasta e ceci con cavolo nero) 

Using passata for the sauce gives it a thick, soup-like consistency and yields a richer bowl of pasta.


"When it comes to essential Italian pantry staples, having good flour for bread is probably the most indispensable ingredient of them all," says Colloca. "I love using traditional flour for bread, but I find that a gluten-free mixture, made from rice, potato and soy flours, kneads beautifully."

Colloca uses a gluten-free mixture to cater for her coeliac friends when making breads, like this schiacciata.

Gluten-free schiacciata

Resembling a focaccia, these yoghurt flatbreads are topped with vine tomatoes, chilli and ricotta on one loaf and potato and anchovy on the other.


Though it sounds a little fancy, semolina is quite a humble ingredient. The coarse, yellow flour made from durum wheat is an integral part of Italian cooking. Semolina finds its way into an array of dishes and desserts, including traditional pastas, gnocchi, pizza, bread, puddings and cookies. It's more aromatic and higher in protein compared to regular wheat flour.


Capers are the buds of a flower that are picked, dried and then preserved in rock salt or vinegar. "Capers are also used pretty much in the same way as anchovies," Mitchell says. "In salads, pasta and you can deep fry them for extra crunch."

Nonna Irene’s sausage stew with soft polenta

Dried porcini mushrooms

When revived from their dried state, porcini mushrooms provide an impressive earthiness, and add an almost meaty flavour to dishes. Use these beauties to create stocks, add to soups and stews, or flavour polenta.

Polenta + tomatoes
Nonna Irene’s sausage stew with soft polenta

If it's an Italian nona's recipe, you know that it shall be three things: delicious; comforting and served in a quantity that far exceeds the capacity of ones stomach. This stew served atop a bed of creamy polenta very much hits that mark!

Tinned tomatoes

What would an Italian do without a can of tinned tomatoes in the pantry? Tinned tomatoes are incredibly versatile, laying the foundation for a myriad of dishes from simple sauces like passata, napoletana and marinara to name a few. They are used to enhance soups, provide a base for pizzas, cover delectable meatballs and create a ragu…the list is almost endless.


Baked white fish with bread, cherry tomatoes, olives and capers

The fish fillets sit alongside sourdough bread in this one-pan bake and soaks up the sauce dishing up soft fish and crunchy bread.

Risotto with spring peas and prawns

Less is more with this risotto as a handful of simple ingredients bring together a bowl of steaming, costal Italian goodness.

Pizzelle (Italian stovetop waffles)

I like these served simply with a dust of icing sugar but they’re also perfect topped with a dollop of mascarpone and a cascade of fresh berries.

Pasta mista with potatoes, pancetta and provola

'Pasta mista' means mixed pasta and involves using the leftover bits of pasta from various packets, resulting in a variety of shapes and sizes, stirred through this cheesy sauce.

Apple, mascarpone and cinnamon cake

The mascarpone gives the cake a creamy density and moistness and a beautiful zest when mixed with the lemon.