Italians get credit for this intensely flavored ingredient. Before modern canning, they dried tomatoes on their roofs for use during the winter. Today, sun-dried tomatoes are widely available dried or packed in olive oil. The difference: Dried must be reconstituted in water or wine.
Uses: Spoon over scrambled eggs or fold inside your next omelet. Puree and add to soups and stews. Dice small and toss in salads or vinaigrettes.
This centuries-old condiment consists of a mix of chopped fruits, vinegar, garlic, onions, chiles, nuts, spices and sugar cooked into a chunky spread. Most are on the spicy-hot side and quickly punch up flavors of everyday foods.
Uses: Mix chutney into mayo to add pizzazz to sandwiches or with cream cheese for a cracker spread or fruit dip. Mix with a tad of olive oil for a quick marinade or heat and use as a topping for grilled fish, poultry and meats.
Dried fruits are one of nature's most flavorful convenience foods. They are sweeter and stronger-tasting than fresh fruit. And they make eating fruits out of season easy. Dried fruits are low in fat, high in fiber and packed with vitamins. On the flip side, they're high in natural sugar and calories, so use sparingly.
Uses: For a quick dinner, combine a handful of raisins, another of pine nuts and extra-virgin olive oil. Gently heat and toss with pasta. Top yogurt with papaya, and fold cranberries into pancakes. Toss a handful of prunes, now called dried plums, into a roasting pan with chicken, pork or beef.
Panko bread crumbs
These Japanese bread crumbs are coarser than ordinary bread crumbs and absorb less oil, thus turning almost anything baked or fried crunchier. Panko takes on the taste of the flavors it's paired with, making it ideal for meatloaf and casseroles.
Uses: For baked meals that taste crispy-fried, lightly coat chicken or pork in honey, roll in panko and bake. Sprinkle to add a bite of crunch on puddings and Asian stir-fry dishes.
Whether chipotles in adobo sauce, Hatch or pickled jalapeños, canned chiles provide a quick kick. Heat varies, with Ortega, a variety of Anaheim chile, being one of the mildest. Chipotles are revered for their smokey flavor.
Uses: Make a smoky barbecue sauce by blending chopped chipotle peppers, apple-cider vinegar, brown sugar and Worcestershire sauce to taste. Add canned green chiles to any pork or beef roast. Add any kind of chiles and Cheddar cheese to a baked egg dish.
-packs of wine
Wine brings out the best flavor and aroma in many dishes, but how many times have you opened a bottle of wine to add a cup or less to a recipe? If your answer is too many, stock up on white and red four-packs of wine. Each bottle equals a cup.
Uses: Saute vegetables in olive oil, and splash with wine a minute before serving to add flavor and moisture. Mix equal parts wine and olive oil, crushed garlic and salt and pepper for an all-purpose marinade.
Agave nectar Made from the agave cactus, this natural sweetener has a delicate taste and is much sweeter than white sugar. Vegans use it as a honey substitute. Uses: Mix with balsamic vinegar and olive oil as a topping for grilled peaches. Drizzle on bananas and graham crackers for a sweet snack. Mix 2 tablespoons with 1 ounce of lime juice and 11/2 ounces of tequila for a simple margarita. Fish sauce Don't think about what fish sauce is (the liquid from fermented fish), just buy a bottle and enjoy the umami flavor. Oddly enough, the pungent sauce is more tangy and salty than fishy. It's a base ingredient in many Asian dishes, especially Thai and Vietnamese cooking. Uses: Combine with sesame oil, lime juice and cilantro to make Asian meatballs; add to shrimp stir-fry; mix with rice vinegar, water, white sugar, garlic powder and dried red pepper for a spicy-sweet dipping sauce that pairs well with seafood, chicken and pork dishes. Capers These tiny buds of flavor come from the Mediterranean and show up frequently in dishes from Italy, southern France and Spain. Because capers are packed in their own brine, you won't need to add salt to dishes. Uses: Capers can be added to dishes from salads to scrambled eggs. Lift an ordinary pasta dish with capers or add to baked chicken and tuna-fish or chicken salads. Worcestershire sauce Shaking this condiment on any dish adds a kick of rich flavor. The savory sauce is traditionally used with beef recipes and dashed in Bloody Mary drinks. Use sparingly: The flavor is concentrated, and a little goes a long way. Uses: Add depth to beef stew, hamburger patties, meatloaf and roasts. Mix with Caesar salad dressing. Sprinkle over cauliflower, brussels sprouts and carrots before oven-roasting or pan-sauteing. Pesto This olive-oil and basil ambrosia has become commonplace on grocery shelves. Fresh is always best, but today's jarred pesto runs a close second. For variety, stock sun-dried tomato pesto with the traditional basil. Uses: Use instead of tomato sauce for pasta. Slather over chicken or a mild fish, such as tilapia, and saute, bake or grill. Mix with mayo to perk up sandwiches or add a dollop to warm soup. San Marzano tomatoes There's a reason we are touting a brand. Grown in the nutrient-rich volcanic soil found in the Campania region of southern Italy, San Marzano tomatoes are viewed as superior not only for their intense flavor but also their cancer-fighting properties. San Marzano tomatoes are bright red and high in density and pectin. They have less acidity than typical tomatoes and thinner skins, which makes them tastier and easier to eat. Uses: Simmer with diced shallots and smoked chicken sausage and use to top pasta or rice. Warm with half-and-half, then puree into a quick tomato soup. Add diced green peppers and serve warm as a side dish. Dried beans Fresh beans are cheaper and taste better than canned. Simply soak, simmer, season and serve. They also top the list of good-for-you nutrients. They are low in fat and loaded with slow-burning carbohydrates, protein and fiber. Expand your bean repertoire by stocking different kinds, such as an all-purpose cannellini, a white Italian kidney bean. Uses: Toss with diced vegetables for a cheap and filling salad. Smash and smear on toast and top with a fried egg for breakfast. Serve as a side dish, or combine with seasonings and rice for a vegetarian dinner. Quinoa This flat, oval seed is called a "super grain" because it's a complete protein and lower in carbohydrates than other grains. Colors range from ivory to pink, brown to red to almost black. Quinoa has a fluffy consistency when cooked and a mild, delicate, slightly nutty flavor. Uses: Mix with oatmeal for a nuttier-tasting breakfast, toss cold into any salad or use instead of pasta. Mix warm quinoa with diced chicken, hearts of palm, roasted red peppers and a favorite salsa for a quick, healthy meal. Sauerkraut The fermented cabbage is good for your digestive tract and boosts the immune system by inhibiting pathogens. The best sauerkraut is minimally processed and has three ingredients: cabbage, water and salt. Uses: Serve cold as a topping for bratwurst, kielbasa, Reuben sandwiches and mustard-marinated pork chops. Serve hot by folding into mashed potatoes or saute with sliced apples. Roasted red peppers Sure, you can roast your own, but the point here is easy. Along with convenience, roasted red peppers packed in olive oil are more sweet than hot, adding an opulent flavor to otherwise mundane pasta, salad or omelets. Uses: Turn an all-American burger Italian by topping with red peppers and mozzarella cheese. Also, toss in soups, salads and saute with broccoli or green beans.