Happy Festa della Repubblica! Today marks the 70th Anniversary (1946) of the Italian vote to remove the monarchy (House of Savoy) and become a republic. In honour of this day, I decided to do a post of some Italian food favourites.
I love shopping in grocery stores when I’m on vacation. I will always prefer this to clothes shopping. Foreign grocery stores provide a wide selection of products not found at home.
One of the questions that people like to ask me is “what do you bring home”. Now I’d love to say “salami, truffles, truffled salami, Italian sausages, soft cheese and tomato plants”, but these items are banned from import to Canada.
So here is a list of items, in no special order of importance, that I love to bring back, and are legal to bring back into Canada.
Porcini mushroom cubes – you can only get these in Italy. I love them for mushroom risotto, adding to rice or gravy.
Triple concentrated tomato paste – I love the fact that it is in a tube, so I can use a little bit when I need it, instead of opening up and entire can. This is so sweet, it takes like candy!
Grease/Oil remover – having a bad habit of spilling on myself, this product is great for removing olive oil and grease stains.
Anchovy paste – not that I like anchovies, but if you like to make your own Caesar salad dressing, or add to spaghetti Puttanesca, you can use a little dab of anchovy paste. This is also good if you want to a little salty umami flavour to some of your recipes.
Pici – it’s like spaghetti on steroids! This super thick pasta is an Umbrian specialty.
Honey – Umbria is a producer of unbelievable honeys! Clover (trifoglio), Fir (abete), Orange (arancia), Chestnut (castagna), each has a different colour and a different consistency.
Dario salt – finely seasoned salt you can only get from Dario Cecchini’s butcher shop in Panzano in Chianti.
Pocket Coffee – only available in Italy and only available in the late fall, winter and early spring seasons. After that? it is too hot and the espresso filled chocolates will melt!
Monks mints – thanks to Tracy for putting me on the lookout for these mints. Tiny but powerful!
Olive oil – really, it goes without saying, buy olive oil in Italy, especially when you know that this is the real deal!
Truffle oil – black or white – you only need a little truffle oil to add a ton of flavour! You can use it on risotto, Beef Agnolotti with Creamy Mushroom Sauce, or to make awesome devilled eggs.
Balsamic vinegar – another item that goes without saying is on the must-buy list.
Crema con aceto balsamico – a super-concentrated creamy balsamic vinegar which is perfect for salads or a balsamic glaze.
Pernigotti Gianduia – intensely rich dark chocolate and hazelnut spread, in light or dark (amazing) varieties.
Fonzies – the best cheesies you will ever eat….with the benefit of not turning your fingers orange!
Speaking of cheese…my favourite cheese guy is Nicola Bertinelli in Parma. If you can’t make the trek to Parma to see him, Italian grocery stores will often put Parmigiano Reggiano on sale. This is a hard cheese, so Canada Customs lets you bring it home. (The rule is “no way to whey”, so soft cheeses are a no go!)
Coffee beans – the only beans that I use in my espresso machine are coffee beans from Italy.
Branca Menta – a bartender’s secret, this is a mint version of the well-known Fernet-Branca digestif. It is made by the Fratelli Branca distillery in Milan, founded in 1845. You can use it for the Menta Manhattan (which is a specialty of Carne Vino in Las Vegas): 2 ounces rye, half ounce Menta Branca and half ounce Jim Beam American Honey (or Jack Daniels Tennessee honey or Seagram 7 Dark Honey). Also great alone as a slightly different after-dinner digestif.
This is one of Katharine’s favourites. Perugina Hot Chocolate Mix – Perugina, the maker of Baci chocolates, also makes an amazing hot chocolate mix. Perfect for cold winter nights. Want an adult version? Add a shot of Branca Menta.