The counter to the side of your stove. It’s where you keep the foods you need most often. The ones you grab every day. Your kitchen’s speed dial. Your food friends list.
Here’s a written snapshot of the space next to my stove, circa late spring 2019.
So many salts
I’ve probably got too many salts. They all have a reason for existing but I’ll admit it, I’ve kind of got a problem. There’s coarse salt for boiling or braising, usually the gros sel I import from France. There’s fine salt for finishing a dish, usually the one I import from Portugal. And French fleur de sel for when the salt really has to shine. I’ve even got one flavored salt these days, from Tuscan butcher Dario Cecchini. It finds its way onto popcorn (frequently) and other dishes (sometimes). We don’t sell it—yet.
Pofi wine vinegar
Most of the time I make my own salad dressing: vinegar + oil + Dijon + salt + pepper, takes about 2 minutes. I also use wine vinegar to deglaze a pan and make a little pan juice to drizzle on whatever I cooked. Pofi has been my go-to for years, the great barrel aged wine vinegar from near Rome.
Marash red pepper
The counter next to my stove hasn’t been without a jar of these red pepper flakes for 20 years. Sometimes I put them in the freezer (they keep more moist that way, I really should keep them there), but whatever, they sit here now, and God willing, they always will.
I’ll be honest, this is always a hodge podge on my counter. I am lucky enough to have lots of olive oil samples come my way. I always keep an oil that’s for finishing. Sometimes two. One spicy and green (right now I’ve got a tentacle bottle from Puglia that we sell in different one-of-a-kind handmade bottles each year), one mild and sweet (currently Alziari). For my cooking oil, I usually buy California Ranch from the grocery store.
My partner Ari called fennel pollen “fairy dust for food lovers,” a couple decades ago when we first discovered it and that’s still the absolutely best way to describe it. I put this on dishes just to see what it’ll do. Usually it makes eyes light up.
Finds from traveling
I always pick up something that’s easy to bring home when I’m traveling. From recent trips abroad I have a jar of dried Portuguese pepper, what they call pimentao, from Lisbon, and some Greek oregano and za’atar from Athens. I use these like I do the fennel pollen: put them on a dish, see what happens. It’s a fun way to cook. When they’re gone I’ll seek something else on some other journey.