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Easy Pantry Upgrades + a Deliciously Simple Holiday Appetizer From Chef Sara Jenkins

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Ever since I got an iPad a couple years ago, it’s become my favorite cooking companion. (Don’t worry—I got a screen protector to keep it safe from doughy fingerprints and rogue sauce splashes.) I love the combination of big, gorgeous pictures, easy-to-read recipes, and useful interactive elements like videos and ingredient glossaries. 

The latest addition to my library is New Italian Pantry by chef Sara Jenkins, who is known for cooking incredibly delicious rustic Italian food at her restaurants Porchetta, Porsena, and Porsena Extra. Her brand-new cookbook is designed to hand-hold you through the process of optimizing your pantry, beginning with a guide to 16 ingredients that you should have on hand at all times. Once you’ve stocked your kitchen, you’re ready for the recipes: 75 dishes that are both accessible and inspiring—think garlicky bagna cauda with fresh farmer’s market veggies or an at-home version of her famous porchetta. Click through for my two favorite tips and a speedy appetizer to make this holiday season.

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2 Fascinating Tips from Sara Jenkins

All canned tomatoes are not created equal

Canned whole San Marzano tomatoes are one of the best ingredients to always have on hand. But buyer beware: There are many so-called “San Marzano” tomatoes at the market that aren’t the real thing, which are grown in the volcanic soil in and around Naples (and the only tomatoes allowed on real Neapolitan pizza). Make sure the can has a D.O.P. (Denominazione di Origine Protetta) label.

Expiration dates matter

Though lots of wine gets better with age, the same doesn’t apply to extra-virgin olive oil. Before you buy a bottle, check the expiration date and look for the words “estate-produced and bottled” on the label, which is a good indication of a high-quality oil. 

Agrodolce Onion Crostini

Serves 4

This sweet (“agro”) and sour (“dolce”) appetizer can be made with a variety of onions: cipollini, pearl or, Sara’s favorite, red torpedo. They also make a tangy accompaniment to grilled meat and poultry dishes.

1 pound (about 3) small red onions 
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 
Coarse sea salt
1 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 bay leaf
1⁄2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
4 large slices baguette or ciabatta slices, toasted

1. Peel the onions and cut each into 8 wedges, keeping the ends intact so they hold together. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions, flat side down, and sprinkle with salt. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, turning once, until the onions are golden, about 4 minutes per side.

2. Add the orange juice, lemon juice, bay leaf and Aleppo. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the juice is thickened and almost completely reduced, about 30 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and divide the onion mixture among the toasts. Serve warm.

Note: If you can’t find Aleppo pepper, you can substitute a mix of 4 parts sweet paprika to 1 part cayenne pepper.

—Mollie

Download New Italian Pantry here and check out our story on stylish appetizers you can make in 10 minutes or less.

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