Italian cooking: the basics

Buy fresh, local and in-season
Whenever possible, use fresh ingredients in your vegetarian lasagna such as fresh, chopped tomatoes instead of canned. Even though the dish is baked, using fresh vegetables and herbs really does make a huge difference to the flavor of the dish. See our recipe for making a basic tomato sauce from raw tomatoes. We’ve also provided a recipe for fresh homemade lasagna (although don’t feel bad about using the ‘instant’ dried variety! It’s very convenient when time is short and still tastes good).

Fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs are paramount in Italian cooking and it is not uncommon for many cooks to visit their local markets twice a day to ensure only the freshest produce is used. Mushrooms, eggplants (aubergines) courgettes, pumpkins, and of course tomatoes are frequently used in vegetarian lasagnas. Herbs such as basil, oregano, marjoram, thyme, rosemary and parsley are also commonly used. Organic, locally grown and in-season produce is always best, although unfortunately organic fruit and vege is often substantially more expensive than non-organic in supermarkets. As mentioned elsewhere on this site, local farmers’ markets can be wonderful sources of affordable organic produce – and what’s more you get to support local independent growers. Farmers’ markets are also a good place to find genuine free-range, pasture-fed eggs.

In the pantry
The following dry ingredients are wonderful to have in your pantry at home, having them on hand makes it easy to whip up a delicious Italian-inspired vegetarian lasanga or other Italian meal anytime.

Balsamic vinegar
Canned tomatoes
Dried chillies
Dry pasta
Olive oil
Olives, black and green
Pine nuts
Porcini mushrooms, dried
Pulses, including red kidney beans, borlotti beans, cannellini beans, black-eyed beans and chickpeas
Sun-dried tomatoes
Sunflower oil
Tomato paste