From pizza to pasta to crispy bruschetta, it’s no surprise that Italian fare is one of the most universally beloved cuisines. A good bowl of spaghetti with fresh tomatoes and garlic has the ability to instantly transport you to the cobblestone streets of Florence—a sensation that’s been experienced by anyone who’s sampled the cooking of Missy Robbins, Michelin-star recipient and owner and chef of Williamsburg, Brooklyn-based hot spot Lilia. Robbins is known for her simple yet flavorful dishes, like mafaldine (a ribbon-shaped pasta) with pink peppercorns and parmigiano-reggiano; an herbaceous whole artichoke; and buttery branzino with salsa verde.
Naturally, Robbins is the right woman to ask for recommendations on Italian pantry staples. “Always buy the best quality you can for any of these items,” she advises. “Italian food is simple and the ingredients need to be good enough to stand on their own.” If you’re looking to kick your Italian cooking into high gear, read on for Robbins’s two cents on the ingredients you'll need to have on-hand in order to mangia like a real Italian.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil: “One for cooking, one for finishing. I like Frantoio brand. Its got good, rich, balanced flavor.” ($17, olivethisolivethat.com)
Garlic: “Fresh garlic is essential to keep around, but garlic powder is my little known secret.”
Lemons: “I put lemon in almost everything. From the zest to the juice, it helps brighten a bunch of my dishes.”
Capers: “Make sure to buy capers that are packed in salt or oil. Never brined capers.”
Fennel pollen: “I call this magic dust. It makes everything from fish to vegetables to pasta taste better.”
Fennel seed: “The seeds are a little more intense than fennel pollen, but work in the same way.”
Chili flakes: “It’s the essential spice.”
Calabrian chilies: “Make sure to buy them chopped and packed in oil—you can use both the chili and the oil in your dish. It’s great on its own to make vinaigrettes, and in sauces to add spicy peppery dimension. Tutto Calabria is the brand I like to use.” ($8; supermarketitaly.com)
Parmigiano reggiano: “This cheese is nutty and sweet in flavor. It’s a great one when finishing dishes or even just eating on its own.”
Pecorino romano: “This is another essential cheese for me. It’s saltier than parmigiano and great to finish any dish from pasta to meat to vegetables.”
Dried pasta: “I love De Cecco for home cooking.”
Anchovies: “I incorporate this little fish into many of my fish dishes at Lilia. They’re savory and succulent, as well as full of salt and brine. They help elevate a dish to the next level.”
San Marzano tomatoes: “These are some of my favorite tomatoes. They're grown in the rich volcanic soil, which gives them a sweet flavor with a low acidity. I like using Le Valle brand.” ($7; surlatable.com)