Invaluable Ingredients

January 5, 2011 § 1 Comment

Eeek! The holidays plus a new job have made me quite the negligent blogger over the last month or so. Hence in the spirit of New Years Resolutions and just because I’ve missed it, I’m back!  Over the last few weeks, one recurring theme in my meals (apart from those at celebrations, etc) has been convenience. While I’m all for a quick and easy throw together dinner, I never like to sacrifice delicious results. With that in mind, I thought I would share a few favorite ingredients that I try to keep on hand that make even the most basic meals more inspiring. All of these boast a good shelf/fridge life and most are inexpensive with the exception of a few splurges.

Leeks

Whether it be pasta, quiche or pizza, leeks time and time again prove to be a delicious addition. Just thinly slice the white and light green part of the leek. separate the rings and rinse well to remove any mud or dirt . Then throw the leeks in along with any other ingredients you are using. Here are a few of my favorite combinations:

– Spaghetti with Leeks and Italian Sausage
– Leek and goat cheese quiche
– Pizza with leeks, cherry tomatoes and mozzarella

Black Truffle Salt

While truffle salt is certainly considered investment, the tiniest sprinkle will dress up any dish. Based on my estimate, you would probably spend less around 50 cents to a dollar per use depending on how many servings you are seasoning, which seems like a much better deal. I prefer this brand, the best price for which I’ve found on Frenchy Bee. As a salt lover and a truffle lover, there are few things I like more! I made truffle salt twice baked potatoes for Christmas Eve this year when I thought of it as a last minute addition and our guests were completely wowed.

– Roasted Fingerling Potatoes (toss with olive oil and truffle salt before roasting)
– Sprinkled on omlettes and scrambled eggs
– Mixed into a twice baked potato filling (top with gruyere cheese before broiling)

Pancetta

I keep a package of diced pancetta from Trader Joe’s in my fridge at all times. A small amount of pancetta will add a lot of porky richness to a dish and a little goes a long way. I enjoy adding it to sauteed cauliflower or green beans just to ensure no vegetable in my house remains entirely healthy. Of course, it’s also wonderful in pastas and on pizza as well.

Cream of Balsamic Vinegar

I purchased a bottle of this thick, sweet balsamic reduction a while ago at Chelsea Market’s Buon Italia. If you visit New York, I can think of no cooler place to explore, especially in rainy or cold weather as it is indoors. Since it’s purchase, I’ve drizzled this on everything I can imagine that would be enhanced by a sweet yet tangy kick. Like the truffle salt, a little goes a long way. Here is a very similar product to the brand I purchased that can be ordered online.

– Drizzle over flatbread or pizza topped with prosciutto, fig and arugula
– Toss with a salad of arugula, parmesan and a sprinkle of lemon juice and olive oil
– Top off a bowl of sliced strawberries and fresh whipped cream

Parmesan Cheese

This is a no-brainer but don’t underestimate good quality, freshly grated parmesan cheese. I grate it over everything – soups, pastas, pizzas, risotto, eggs – and keep it permanently stocked in my fridge.

Chili Flakes

For those who like a little spice, good quality chili flakes are a great thing to have on hand. In addition to the typical pizza topping, I enjoy using them in almost any pasta for an extra flavor dimension. For a special appetizer, pour a nice quality olive oil into a shallow bowl and sprinkle in freshly grated parmesan and chili flakes and serve with a baguette or focaccia.

Frozen Pizza Dough

I find the Whole Foods frozen pizza dough to be a lifesaver on nights when I know cooking time will be scarce. It is a blank slate for creativity based on your own pizza predilections and what you find on hand in your fridge. Sweet and Breakfast Pizzas are also fun options with this as your base. If placed in the fridge in the morning or the night before, it should be perfectly thawed by dinner time. In a real pinch, I have even found that many NYC pizzerias will sell a pound of their dough for a few bucks which is cheaper and healthier than buying a whole pie.

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