The Essentials of the Italian Pantry

By Liz Warton

From pasta to produce, we learned which ingredients chefs deem the most important in the Italian pantry.

67% of the total respondents were chefs in the restaurant industry. Executive Chefs and Chefs were the largest categories to respond. By cuisine, 23% of the responses came from Italian chefs while 33% specialized in American cuisine.



The survey separated ingredients into five categories: canned and dried goods, condiments, herbs, meat and produce. According to our respondents, pasta is rated the number one essential ingredient in the canned and dried goods pantry, with flour, canned tomatoes and rice closely following. Canned tomatoes and dried porcini mushrooms also rate high for Italian chefs. We discovered that penne, fettuccine and linguine are the most popular, and radiatore, mostaccioli and elbow shapes were the least.

Canned & Dried Goods

Canned Tomatoes and Dried Porcini

Pasta Shapes

Olive oil is the top rated condiment with red and white wine following closely behind. Italian chefs rate wine and balsamic vinegar higher on their list than non-Italian chefs, who name olives as one of the more important condiments. Capers and anchovies are considered the least essential of the group.

There was no contest with herbs: fresh basil and fresh parsley came out on top. Black peppercorns and Kosher salt are also considered indispensable ingredients in the kitchen, while garlic powder ranks least important. Italian chefs cite fresh rosemary as high in importance but non-Italian chefs favor fresh oregano.


In the protein category, fish beat prosciutto by a slight margin, with pork and chicken trailing not far behind. Italian chefs rate beef and lamb much higher than other chefs.

Lamb and Beef

Tomatoes, garlic and onions are considered extremely important in the produce department; broccoli, green beans, and squash are not.


Purchasing Decisions
Over half of our respondents rate quality as the most important factor in purchasing products with freshness, availability and seasonality also factoring in purchasing decisions. Price and brand name are considered to be the least important.

We asked respondents to offer tips for cooking Italian food at home as well as in a restaurant. A large majority suggested keeping it simple, respecting ingredients and using the freshest quality products you can find. In cooking pasta, always salt the water and make sure to cook the pasta al dente, using the pasta water to flavor or moisten sauces. The consensus names slow cooking, integrity of ingredients, passion and love as the most essential components in the Italian kitchen.



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   Published: February 2006