I’ve often mentioned here that one of my secrets to leading a happy life is by way of food. Specifically, I enjoy the hundreds of Italian specialty products that are now available in the US, including panettone, polenta, anchovies, lupini beans, tuna in olive oil, arboria rice, etc. My mother tells me that when she first came to the States in the 1970′s she often could not find the products that were readily available in her native Calabria in the Northern New Jersey area (and if she did manage to find extra virgin olive oil or capers from Siciliy, the prices were often extremely high).
Buying a few specialty items and having them readily available in your pantry can put a smile on your face each and every day. Just imagine brewing a pot of rich, velvety, espresso in the morning or making a quick afternoon snack with bruschetta from Puglia. Sure, good food costs a bit more than the latest Kraft special at your local supermarket, but at the end of the day spending more on special items can help bring a little happiness into your life. Leading a good life is not about living like a peasant (and even Suzie Orman will tell you this!) Here, then, are some of my favorite Italian specialty products:
Alps’s Dry Sopressata. Sopressata is an Italian salame cured with spices and salt. Importing pork from Italy is currently illegal, so you’ll have to shop for US salame or take your own risk with Customs. While the US versions aren’t as good as the products from Italy, there are some good producers (especially coming out of California, I think Michael Chiarello sells some good salame via his shop NapaStyle).
Boninelli Camomile Tea. As far as calming and relaxing teas go, you can’t beat a cup of Camomile. This particular brand is whole leaf tea and imported from Italy (the flavor is outstanding)
Caffe Kimbo White. Unless you own an expensive burr grinder that can grind coffee beans at a very fine level, then you’re best bet for espresso is to buy pre-ground cans. One of my favorites (beyond Ily which tends to be expensive) is Caffe Kimbho White.
Panettone. Many Italians have this sugary bread on New Year’s Eve, but it’s also wonderful in the morning (toasted with butter) with a cup of coffee. You can also make French Toast with it!
Pastene Tuna in Olive Oil. I’ve written about Italian tuna in olive oil in the past and the Pastene brand is my all time favorite.
Lupini Beans. My grandparents used to soak their own Lupini beans and they make a great snack.
Instant Polenta. I like making polenta in the winter with a bit of butter and lots of grated Parmigiano Reggiano (the king of cheeses). In general flour/wheat/corn products from Italy are of a superior quality and much better then you can find in the US (corn meal from Italy is no exception).
Arborio Rice. This is the rice used to make risotto. The rice has a high starch content and it’s what gives risotto it’s creamy texture, if prepared correctly.
Effervescent. The Italian Version of Tums – it’s wonderful!
Anchovies in oil. You can use anchovies as a pizza topping, standalone with a piece of fresh bread, or for a salad dressing.
Red Wine Vinegar. There is a big difference between mass produced red wine vinegar and the specialty stuff.
Capers. The caper capital of the world is in Southern Italy. Capers can be used to make sauces for fish, chicken, veal, etc.
Cookies and Biscotti. When it comes to cookies and pastries I don’t think any region or country can top Italy, here are some of my favorite packed varieties. Let the French keep their fancy pastries!
Toast / Dried Breads. I use these products to create appetizers with olives, salame, diced tomatoes, cheese, etc.