1. A nice piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Long-lasting and incredibly versatile.

2. Two or three other good cheeses. Stockpile a few other hard cheeses, such as farmhouse cheddars, mountain cheeses like Gruyère or Comté, or a well-aged sheep’s-milk cheese. They’ll keep in the fridge for weeks. Faves: the Swiss mountain cheese L’Etivaz; a handmade Gruyère from the western part of Switzerland; and any Swiss mountain cheeses matured by Rolf Beeler, particularly Hoch Ybrig, the rind of which is washed with white wine.

3. Olive jam. Tapenade, pâté di olive—whatever you call it, this spread of olives, olive oil, and spices is about as versatile an ingredient as you can find. Faves: Try the Roi and Crespi brands from the Italian Riviera.

4. The best olive oil and vinegar you can find. Set the same standards for vinegar as you do for olive oil. From rich and deep to fruity and delicate, really good vinegar is made from really good wine and tastes that way. Drizzle some over fresh fruit, or mix it with soda water to make a traditional, nonalcoholic drink. Fave: the slightly sweet, incredibly succulent vinegar from the Banyuls region of southwestern France. Hard to find but worth the trouble.

5. Superior salami. Just add a cutting board and knife.

6. Olives. Dress them with olive oil and add a clove of garlic, some herbs and spices, or slices of citrus peel. Faves: arbequinas, the tiny brown olives from Catalonia; Thasos, dry-cured, wrinkled black olives from Greece; and Lucques, crisp green olives from France.

Five Permutations You May Not Have Thought Of

  1. Stuff the roasted red peppers with cheese and run under the broiler for a first course.
  2. Mix tapenade with yogurt for a quick dip.
  3. Make bruschetta (traditional Italian garlic bread). Toast the bread, rub it with a cut clove of garlic, pour on the oil, and add a sprinkling of sea salt.
  4. Toss a bowl of pasta with olive tapenade and top with chopped sardines for a light supper.
  5. Make a classic dessert with Parmigiano-Reggiano topped with a touch of honey and chopped toasted walnuts.

7. Quality dried pasta. Won’t spoil, tastes great, and can go from pot to plate in 20 minutes. The key is to buy a superior brand, flavorful enough to deliver big taste with minimal additions. Faves: imported Italian pasta made by the Martelli family in Tuscany.

8. A few jars of good pasta sauce. If it’s not the height of tomato season, lose the guilt about opening a jar. Faves: Try the Rustichella d’Abruzzo and Il Mongetto brands from Italy.

9. Good bread. If you’re not near a good bakery, keep a few loaves in the freezer.

10. Sardines and anchovies. Not everyone is into these little fish, but anchovies are a secret ingredient of many great cooks. Use in tomato sauce, in salads, or atop slices of fresh mozzarella. Look for anchovies in glass jars or from deli counters so that you can see what you’re getting: robust, rich, reddish fish.

11. Good chocolate bars. The convenience food of the dessert world. Faves: Plantations chocolate bars from Ecuador. Rainforest Alliance and very good.

12. Piquillo peppers from Spain. Among the most sensual foods on the planet. Beautiful and deeply red, they’re a bit spicy, slightly smoky, and very tasty. Elevate sandwiches, salads, and sauces, or just eat them out of the jar.

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