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Frank Pellegrino

Must Haves for the Home Cook's Pantry

    Frank Pellegrino
Co-owner Rao's Co-owner Rao's Restaurant Group

It's not often that you find an expert home cook who is also a world-class restaurateur. And yet, that's exactly what TravelsinTaste.com has found in Frank Pellegrino Jr. A co-owner of Rao's Restaurant Group, Frankie (as he’s known to his friends and family) literally grew up in the family’s flagship restaurant, Rao's, on the corner of East 114th Street and Pleasant Avenue in New York. Open since 1896, the restaurant is a New York City legend -- an institution, if you will -- known not only for its food, but also for its exclusivity, as it's famously difficult to secure a reservation there. The reason: The restaurant has hundreds of hungry customers and yet only 10 tables at which to seat them. In 2006, Frankie moved to Las Vegas to oversee the day-to-day operations of the family’s second restaurant, Rao’s Caesars Palace, which boasts 300 seats but is no less congenial thanks to its uniquely welcoming atmosphere. Because he's our resident expert on all things home cooking, we asked Frankie to share with us his list of must-haves for every home cook's pantry! Here's his list of 20 choices, in no particular order:

1. Olive oil
2. Cooking wine (red and white)
3. Red, white wine and balsamic vinegars
4. Bouillon (chicken and beef)
5. Salt and pepper
6. Dried herbs (oregano, basil, marjoram, etc.)
7. Grated Parmigiano cheese
8. Butter
9. Eggs
10. Dried pasta (long and short cuts)
11. Rice
12. Canned tomatoes (San Marzano)
13. Tomato paste
14. Garlic
15. Onions
16. Beans, lentils, etc.
17. Celery
18. Carrots
19. Bell pepper (red or green)
20. Pam non-stick spray

TravelsinTaste.com: There are so many choices on this list; which ones are the most indispensable?

Pellegrino:That would be garlic, olive oil and pasta. I believe that with these three staple ingredients one can build a great meal simply by utilizing whatever you can find in the refrigerator or pantry.

TravelsinTaste.com: It sounds like a number of these items are also in the Rao's kitchen. What items are most prevalent on your menu?

Pellegrino:Of course, San Marzano tomatoes play into a significant portion of our menu, including our Fusilli con Cavolo e Salsicce, which is hot and sweet italian sausage and cabbage in San Marzano tomato sauce; our Pennette alla Vodka, also with San Marzano tomatoes, in addition to diced Italian ham, vodka and a touch of cream; and our Gnocchi alla Bolognese, which has ground veal, beef and pork slowly cooked with San Marzano tomatoes and herbs, then served over fresh-made potato gnocchi. Even some of the more typical items on the list can be used to create delicious dishes, such as our Gamberoni in Umido, which is simply giant shrimp in lemon, butter and white wine.

TravelsinTaste.com: Thanks for the pantry stocking tips and delicious insight into the Rao's menu. We're sure to stop by again on our next visit to Las Vegas. To read another of our interviews with Frank Pellegrino, please click here.

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