Since my blog is new, I don’t really have a following nor do I have ads all over my pages – yet – please Lord let me be wanted by supporters so I can continue to do something I am totally obsessed with – but I digress. The point is that there are products I and my mom and whole family have used for years and that make our cooking successful. I would like to share them with you, so I plan to have a products page – as soon as I figure out how to have categories, menus, and links.
Right now, I can name some of them and recommend them and actually sometimes insist that you only use that particular brand because I have tried others that did not work well with a particular recipe.
When I lived in the south (my whole adult life actually) I could NEVER find imported Italian tomatoes, olive oil, basil, Italian bread like the bread from Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, veal, mozzarella, ricotta, real parmesan reggiano cheese, gorgonzola cheese, cured black olives, imported Italian pasta made with semolina, or good wine..
I was always trying to substitute for these products and often the results were sadly not good. For years the only pasta in southern stores was Ronzoni, a pasta that tastes horrible and does not adhere well to homemade tomato sauce or vice versa. The only olive oil was a dark yellow spanish oil that was too heavy and tasted too fruity. I was so frustrated.
Twice a year my parents loaded up Dad’s Cadillac (yep folks it was the 1960s and the Cadillac was still the dream car), and they drove 7 1/2 hours from NY to Virginia to bring me a case of imported Italian plum tomatoes, an enormous gallon can of Filippo Berrio olive oil, a huge wedge of imported parmesan cheese, fresh mozzarella and ricotta, and enough meat to fill my freezer for several months. They also brought all kinds of Italian cold cuts which made my children insane with happiness. They rushed out to the car helping Grandma and Grandpa bring in a giant metal food locker that they were opening mid-air as they rushed it into our kitchen. Here is a list of some of those products that I still use today.
1. Filippo Berrio olive oil. It is not extra virgin. It is for every day cooking and has a mild flavor that does not overpower your dish. It is expensive and worth every penny.
2. La Squisita, Cento, or San Marzano imported Italian plum tomatoes in juice. I never use crushed tomatoes or large cans of tomato puree. I do use summer tomatoes from the garden or a farmer’s market.
3. Same brands for tomato puree in a small can. I use it to add a dash in tomato sauce, stews, or wherever I need an intense shot of tomato flavor.
4. Dececco or Barilla brands of pasta. Both are popular in Italy and our cousins in Rome use them, so I know they are authentic. They taste wonderful and the sauce adheres to them in that important way that makes the pasta taste immersed in flavor.
5. Trader Joe had an imported grated parmesan cheese that used to taste very much like Italian imported reggiano, but it does not seem the same to me lately, so better to buy a large hunk of imported, well-aged, reggiano parmigiano cheese and grate it yourself. It is expensive, but completely worth it.
6. Polly O brand has a lovely tasting whole milk mozzarella cheese that works well in lasagna, pizza, pizza rustica and any other dish that calls for grated mozzarella cheese. Try to avoid pre-grated packages of mozzarella cheese because they have no taste and do not enhance any dish. For fresh mozzarella, go to your Italian deli or look in the deli section of your grocery store for mozzarella swimming in a cloudy liquid. Use this product for bruschetta or to slice over a tomato salad.
7. Polly O also has the best tasting ricotta cheese apart from the kind from a true Italian grocery store. Also Polly O’s brand is not too liquidy and can be added without first straining out the liquid, which you have to do with the Italian grocery ricotta. I have also included a recipe here in the blog for making your own ricotta.
8. Trader Joe’s has Kalamata olives that taste very much like cured Italian olives and I use them in Italian caponata or to enhance a cheese plate when having guests. They are very inexpensive too.
9. As for Italian bread, Trader Joe’s has a portuguese loaf that tastes similar to a tuscan loaf. Luckily, I live in CT where many delis carry bread from Arthur Ave. in the Bronx as well as Italian pastries from local Italian bakeries.
There was no such thing in Virginia until Mr. Delicio, a lovely man from Brooklyn, moved to Virginia and opened an Italian grocery store. All the locals who grew up in NY stood in line every morning waiting for his wife’s homemade Italian bread and homemade cannoli’s and his authentic Italian cold cuts. God bless that wonderful man.
So those are my favorite products. I am sure I left out a few and I will update this list when I think of them. I don’t know why one brand is fabulous and another a dud, but I do know that the ones I use deliver the authentic flavor and characteristics that make the dish. If these brands ask me to let them advertise on my blog, you will know that I believe in them because there will be no ads on this blog for products I don’t use and love. I Promise.