Craving falafel, souvlaki, paella? How about pasta tossed in a bright, savory pesto sauce? Toss out those takeout menus – we’re here to show you how to stock (and cook with!) the ultimate Mediterranean pantry, full of items you can find right at your local ShopRite!
When we think of Mediterranean, we often go straight for the most popular regions like Italy. But there’s so much more to the region’s cuisine than pizza! Italy, Spain, France, Greece and Morocco are all part of the Mediterranean cuisine culture and they all bring different flavors and cooking methods to the table.
The one major uniting factor: olives. Olive trees grow predominantly in the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea and much of the cooking involved in the region centers on olive oil as the predominant fat.
Though you will see beef show up in certain recipes, Mediterranean cuisine revolves a great deal around fish and seafood. Salmon, sardines, sea bass, tilapia and flounder are big staples, along with shellfish and mollusks like shrimp, mussels, octopus and squid.
Prefer turf over surf? Mediterranean cuisine also includes chicken and lamb, since both are historically easy-to-farm animals that can live in many different regions.
Note: You’ll see chicken show up in more of our upcoming pantry posts, as they are present in nearly every type of regional cuisine!
Pasta, without a doubt, is a major Mediterranean staple, but what kind of pasta you fill your pantry with depends on what you’re cooking. Long pastas like linguine are great for oil-based sauces, tiny pasta like orzo is great for soups, while short pasta with lots of nooks and crannies (like fusilli) are great for chunky tomato sauces. Our ShopRite Imported Bronze-Cut Pastas are full of those awesome nooks and crannies.
Short on time? Fresh, refrigerated pasta is your new best friend. Since it’s not dried, it boils to al-dente perfection in under 5 minutes!
White and brown rice are also must-haves for your Mediterranean pantry, along with one you may not have heard of: arborio. Arborio rice is a short grain, super starchy rice that is often the go-to for recipes like risotto or paella.
Bread like fresh French baguettes or Italian sourdough are always good to have on hand. Besides being enjoyed on their own with butter or olive oil, they can be torn or chopped to make croutons, or ground into breadcrumbs once they’re too stale to eat.
And don’t forget about corn! Polenta, a porridge made of dried, ground corn, is used in many different recipes across the region. You can boil it yourself, from stone-ground cornmeal, or pick it up pre-made in roll-form, which is great for slicing and pan-frying.
We can’t talk about the Mediterranean without talking about olive oil. It’s popularity has spread far out beyond the Mediterranean coast, to nearly every corner of the globe! It’s a go to for building pasta sauces, salad dressings, marinades for meat and fish, and nearly anything else you can think of.
Note: one thing to not use olive oil for? Deep frying. It will start to smoke before it reaches high enough temperature to deep fry, and then your food will just taste burnt. Opt for a canola or vegetable oil instead.
Vinegars are an essential component to many recipes, and often serve as a counterpart to olive oil. Start off your pantry with the trio of balsamic, red wine, and white wine vinegars to bring much needed tartness and acid to marinades, dressings and more!
Mediterranean markets are filled with fresh produce, and many Europeans will do their “grocery” shopping for that night’s meal only hours before cooking! The fresh flavors of bright citrus, crisp greens, and earthy mushrooms can be found all over the region.
Did you think we forgot about cheese? Not to worry – there’s no way we could possible move on without chatting about cheese and dairy!
Yogurt is a cooking staple almost as versatile as olive oil. Used in sauces, marinades, or on its own with fresh fruit, our favorite go-to is the classic nonfat Greek yogurt. Sticking to plain as opposed to flavored means you can use it in both sweet AND savory cooking.
There are endless varieties of cheeses you can pick from, but to cover the most ground, stick with these classic Mediterranean cheeses:
Fresh tomatoes and olives are lovely, but sometimes we don’t have time to pick them up, or don’t live in an area where they are in season. Not to worry: canned tomatoes and preserved vegetables are the secret weapon of any experienced Mediterranean chef.
Start off with your canned tomatoes: these are the base for pasta sauces, meat sauces, poaching liquids for fish and more! San Marzano Whole Peeled Tomatoes, Diced Tomatoes and Crushed Tomatoes are all must-haves, as well as tomato paste and tomato sauce.
Next, think about olives, peppers, and other preserved flavor bombs. These are your marinated olives, jarred pepperoncini peppers, capers, artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers, just to name a few. They pack a punch and can bring any sauce or dish to a whole new level.
Dried spices are an absolute must-have: we can’t all find fresh basil in the dead of winter. Keep dried basil, thyme, oregano, crushed red pepper and rosemary handy in the event of last minute cooking needs.
Just remember that dried spices are stronger than their fresh counterparts; a good rule of thumb is to use half the amount of dried spices you would for fresh (example: 1 tbsp fresh basil = 1 tsp dried)
Now that you’ve stocked up and learned about the cuisine, it’s time to put on that apron, preheat the oven and get cooking!