With 30 years of professional cooking and four New York City restaurants under his belt, star chef Marc Murphy has finally come out with his debut cookbook. On sale now, Season with Authority: Confident Home Cooking focuses on the art of seasoning with salt, spices and herbs and features more than 130 recipes for Murphy’s favorite, improved-upon comfort foods like deviled eggs with fried oysters, braised lamb shanks and an amazingly gooey Nutella and peanut butter panini (left). Here, an excerpt from Murphy’s new book in which he shares the 21 essential pantry items every home cook needs. Plus, a recipe for his incredible Nutella sandwich.
If you plan on eating anchovies over crostini, buy the best you can afford; but for blending them into stews and sauces, inexpensive oil-packed ones will be just as great. Having anchovies on hand gives you a huge advantage in sneaking some amazing umami flavor into your dishes.
Like anchovies, great to have on hand to add that sneaky umami taste.
Capers are bright, briny little green buds that I throw in pasta dishes and anything else that could use a pop of flavor. You don’t have to buy the most expensive ones—something in the middle range will serve you well. Be sure to drain them well before using.
Canned Chickpeas and Beans
I always recommend home cooks stock canned chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans) and beans in the pantry—you never know when you’ll need them, and the convenience can’t be beat. You can take these from salads to hummus to chili to soups in a short time. While soaking and cooking dried beans is great, sometimes you get busy or plans change, and canned beans will help you out in a pinch.
No Italian pantry can do without canned tomatoes. And most sauces are, in fact, written with canned (not fresh) tomatoes in mind. Find a brand you like and stick with it. Quality canned tomatoes get you more than halfway to that amazing pasta sauce. The tomatoes are picked and preserved at the height of their ripeness and are often processed where they were picked, making them one of the best bets in preserved foods.
In one or two cases in [my] book, I insist that you make your own stock; and truly, homemade stock will always be superior to what you buy at the store. However, in most cases, good store-bought low-sodium stock will serve you just fine. It’s always helpful to have some in the kitchen for making anything from soup to risotto.
You could have a half a dozen different mustards in your pantry, but this is, by far, my favorite. Great for dressings or anything that needs an added punch. I am at a loss without it, and we always stock it at home and at my restaurants.
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
For regular cooking, plain olive oil or neutral oils (such as grapeseed for frying) are fine. But for salads, vinaigrettes and finishing touches, a quality olive oil is mandatory. Find one you like—be it a peppery one from Sicily or a grassy one from Liguria—and use it wherever olive oil is called for as a prominent ingredient in a dish.
Having good-quality eggs will change you. If you live close to a greenmarket, chances are someone there is selling fresh eggs. They might set you back a couple of dollars more than the supermarket brands, but you will immediately notice the difference in the taste. Plus, the yolk is yellower and thicker. I promise—you won’t go back.
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
That pre-ground pepper in your pantry? Toss it and get some peppercorns and a pepper grinder or coffee mill. There is no comparison between stuff that’s been ground who knows how long ago and pepper you grind on the spot.
When you’re buying garlic, try to find firm, plump heads of garlic. Most supermarket garlic is a bit past its prime, and you will either find a bunch of dried-out heads or ones with green shoots in each clove. Your best bet for superior garlic is your farmers’ market.
I always have fresh lemons on hand in my kitchen. Zest, juice, whole, confit—lemons liven up dishes and add a little acid to highlight flavors.
Mayonnaise is nothing more than an emulsion of egg yolks, oil and a little vinegar, but it’s magical what you get from combining those ingredients. Without mayonnaise, there is no potato salad, no asparagus mimosa, no deviled eggs.
Having Nutella in your pantry could be dangerous. A spoonful here and a spoonful there somehow leads to an empty jar. And yet for everything from crêpe toppings to my Nutella and Peanut Butter Panini (recipe below) to flavoring pastry cream for éclairs, Nutella is a great staple to have on hand.
Please, never use canned olives for anything. I don’t know where to start, but there is no comparison. Find a few types of good, brined olives that you like. I’m a fan of Cerignola, Picholine, Moroccan oil-cured, Kalamata and, when I’m feeling flush, Niçoise. If you prefer a milder-tasting olive, Castelvetranos are a good bet.
Real Parmigiano-Reggiano, sold in hunks (never pre-grated), is not going to be cheap; but there is really no cheese quite like it, especially not the imitations marked as “Parmesan.” For the cheese to be a true Parmigiano-Reggiano, it has to come from Parma from special cows used specifically for the purpose of making the cheese. The Italians are very protective of their cheese terroir, and the results are inimitable. This is a staple worth investing in.
If you have some good-quality dried pasta on hand, you’re minutes away from a great dinner. My favorite shape is penne because I find it’s the most versatile, but I also love bucatini, rigatoni, linguine, orecchiette—and so on.
Trust me, if you start using these in soups and stews, you’ll wonder how you ever went without. With preserved lemons, you only use the rind, and it adds a lovely, delicate flavor that’s reminiscent of lemons but somehow altogether more nuanced. They’re super easy to make and with proper care will last a long time in your refrigerator.
Red Pepper Flakes
Sometimes known as chile flakes or crushed red pepper, red pepper flakes are one of the staples of the Italian kitchen. You can add a pinch or a generous spoonful, depending on how much heat you desire.
Some folks have a dozen different salts in their pantry, but I’m not one of them. That being said, I do think that having a few types on hand will make your cooking better. I usually stick to Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, which is standard for most restaurants, and fine sea salt, which, these days, is carried by most supermarkets. I am also a huge fan of Maldon flaky sea salt (although any flaky sea salt will do) for finishing. The latter lends a nice saline crunch that makes a difference in your finished dish.
I can’t live without Sriracha. When news hit that the Huy Fong Sriracha factory on the West Coast might have to cease production, I seriously considered a run on my local supermarket to buy every bottle on the shelf, and I don’t think I was the only one with that plan. This fiery, flavorful sauce will add heat to your sandwiches, soups, eggs—the list goes on and on.
For salads, I really like to use red wine vinegar and sherry vinegar, and sometimes a good-quality balsamic. Adding acid to dishes is essential to giving them dimension.
Nutella and Peanut Butter Panini
8 slices whole-wheat bread
1/2 cup Nutella
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1. Spread the Nutella over 4 slices of the bread and the peanut butter over the remaining 4 slices. Press the Nutella slices against the peanut butter slices to make four sandwiches.
2. Heat a panini press on high or heat a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Spread some butter on one side of each sandwich and place on the panini press, buttered side down. Press until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Spread the remaining butter on the bread facing up, flip the sandwiches and continue cooking until golden brown. Remove from the heat and eat immediately. If cooking the sandwich in the pan, cook for the same amount of time while pressing down with a weight or a spatula.