Italian food is one of the most popular cuisines around. From al-dente pasta and airy, leopard-spotted pizza to hearty Osso Buco and savory Florentine steak, it’s kind of hard not to love it.
And I don’t know about you lot, but I’m always on the hunt for new Italian foods to stock my pantry with.
I love trying out different types of pasta shapes, preserved vegetables in oil, and regional condiments. But it’s also good to have a few essentials in your kitchen that are easy to cook up a quick meal whenever you get the cravings.
With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of what I consider to be the best Italian foods that you should be taking home from your grocery store… right now (okay, maybe after you’ve finished reading this article)!
Alongside the classics like extra virgin olive oil and San Marzano tomatoes, there are some lesser-known ingredients, like salt-preserved capers and Roman artichokes, which can take your Italian dishes to new heights.
Keep on reading this post (just so you know, my picks are sorted in alphabetical order), or start with the food item you came here to read about by clicking on it in the table of contents below:
Table of Contents
- Anchovy Fillets
- Balsamic Vinegar
- Canned Plum Tomatoes
- Dried Pasta
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Hard Italian Cheese
- Mediterranean Sea Salt
- Roman Artichokes
Go for jarred over tinned anchovies—here’s why
Anchovy fillets—the kind they sell in tin cans or glass jars at the grocery store—are an ingredient that most home cooks don’t really know how to use, so they end up not using enough of.
And no wonder!
Many YouTube cooks, food bloggers, and even cookbook authors have not done their due diligence on the topic, depriving their followers of the joys of this Italian pantry staple.
Anchovies are small forage fish native to the Mediterranean Sea and some parts of the Black Sea.
Traditionally, they are filleted and preserved in oil and salt for long-term storage. Italians add them to Neapolitan-style pizza, tomato sauce for pasta, fish stews, as well as the occasional salad dressing.
Apart from being salty fish, anchovies are a rich source of glutamic acid and inosinic acid. The salts from these two acids, called glutamate and inosinate, create a sensation of depth of flavor when added to foods.
That’s anchovies’ well-kept secret: it’s not about what they do as an ingredient on their own; it’s about the way they make your food taste better as soon as they melt in it.
The next time you make pasta sauce with canned tomatoes, add an anchovy fillet or two (don’t go overboard as it will come out oversalted) to give it a profoundly meaty taste.
Most stores carry anchovy fillets preserved in oil and anchovy paste. Go for the former, and don’t fall for the latter. Anchovy paste tends to contain additives and preservatives, and you can always make one of your own by grinding a few fillets onto your cutting board with the side of your chef’s knife.
Try all you want, but you’ll have a hard time finding better jarred anchovy fillets than these ones:
The best you’ve ever had
The ingredients list on these anchovies says it all: anchovies (52%), olive oil (44%), salt (4%). They’re packaged by Agostino Recca, a Sicilian company with nearly a century of tradition.
Imported from Italy / Preserved in olive oil
The oil matters more than some of you may think:
Cheaper anchovy fillets are preserved in sunflower oil. Whenever you have the option, go for ones preserved in olive oil, as they’re not that much more expensive, but have a much better taste.
And while you can find equally good anchovy fillets in a tin can or glass jar, I find cans to be less practical. Nine times out of ten, when you open the tin, you’ll only use up a small amount of the fillets inside it—and you’ll have to transfer the leftovers to a food storage container or zip-lock bag.
Whereas you can always reseal the lid on a glass jar.
Once you’ve opened a can or jar of anchovy fillets in oil, keep the leftovers in the fridge. They’ll stay good for up to 6 months but will start to lose their savoriness and taste noticeably fishier after the second or third month.
Most balsamic vinegars in the store are far from the “real thing”
Balsamic vinegar originated in the cities of Modena and Reggio Emilia in Northern Italy’s beautiful and vibrant Emilia-Romagna region.
Thanks to their sweetness, balsamic vinegars were traditionally served with meat and cheese. They’re a great way to add a tang to salads, brighten up grilled vegetables, or add an extra flair to steaks and grilled salmon.
Today, Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena D.O.P. and Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia D.O.P. are still made by a select few local producers who keep to tradition and follow strict rules for its production and aging set forth by the Italian government.
Without a doubt, the best way to enjoy the pleasures of traditional balsamic vinegar is to pay a ton of money for a 3.4-ounce bottle with a quarter of a century-old liquid inside, like this one by Acetaia Malpighi.
If you’ve never thought of yourself as someone who pays this much for something that goes on your salads (in all honesty, neither have I), your second-best choice is to get a bottle of non-D.O.P. balsamic vinegar that, to most people, tastes just as good.
In which case, let me highlight my pick:
Made from the grape varieties Lambrusco or Trebbiano specific to Modena, this gourmet balsamic vinegar is aged in wooden barrels for at least 12 years and tastes like no other vinegar you’ve had before.
Aged for 12 years / Aged in wooden barrels
While not practical as everyday vinegar, everyone who loves Italian cuisine should try Giuseppe Giusti’s products at least once—and keep a bottle for special occasions in their pantry!
Luicini Italia, which got acquired by California Olive Ranch in 2015, offers a more affordable balsamic vinegar for everyday use with its Lucini Aged Balsamic Vinegar of Modena.
Avoid the value-brand balsamic vinegars at the supermarket. They’re nothing like the real thing—and most of them are packed with additives, flavoring agents, and preservatives with complex chemical formulas that you probably don’t want in your body.
Balsamic vinegar doesn’t need to be refrigerated. Stored in a cool, dark, and dry place like your pantry or inside a cabinet, it stays good for 3-5 years. To maximize its shelf life, make sure to promptly seal the cap on the bottle after each use.
While you can freeze balsamic vinegar, I fail to see a reason why anyone would do so. It’s shelf-stable and will lose much of its aroma and flavor profile when frozen.
Canned Plum Tomatoes
When possible, buy San Marzano D.O.P. tomatoes
Whether we’re talking pasta, pizza, lasagne, or chicken parmigiana, canned tomatoes are nothing short of a staple ingredient in Italian and Italian-American cuisine.
No pantry can be thought of as fully stocked unless you can find at least a dozen or so canned tomatoes sitting around on the shelves. Yet, with so many brands and varieties at the grocery store, selecting the best canned tomatoes can sometimes be (and often is) an intimidatingly hard thing to do.
Which canned tomatoes are best?
Ask this question to any foodie, Italian chef, or Neapolitan-style pizzaiolo, and you’re likely to hear the same answer over and over again: San Marzano tomatoes.
Thin, elongated, and with a pointed tip, San Marzano tomatoes are sweet-smelling and savory thanks to the fertile volcanic soil they’re grown in.
Traditionally, San Marzano tomatoes are cultivated in the volcanic soils of the Sarno River Valley near Mount Vesuvius, the only active volcano in mainland Europe, in Southern Italy’s Campania region.
Compared to Roma tomatoes, the most prevalent canned tomatoes at the store, ripe San Marzano tomatoes have a more saturated color, thicker skins, fewer seeds, and a noticeably sweeter, less acidic taste.
If you want to experience the real thing, don’t just reach for any can with the words “San Marzano” on the label.
As journalist Peggy Kieran points out for Martha Stewart, not all Italian tomatoes are San Marzano—and not all San Marzano tomatoes are grown in Italy.
For authentic San Marzano tomatoes, look for the abbreviation “D.O.P” or the term “D.O.P Certified” somewhere on the face of the can.
D.O.P. stands for Denominazione d’ Origine Protetta, which translates to “Protected Designation of Origin” or P.D.O. in English. It’s a certificate of authenticity issued by the European Union to producers of regional drinks and foods.
That certificate is issued by a regulatory body called Consorzio San Marzano (the Consortium for the Protection of the S. Marzano Tomato of Agro Sarnese Nocerino), and the wording on it is strict, so don’t go for any variations. When the label reads “Italian-style” or “Italian-inspired,” that should raise eyebrows, as it’s typically a sign of imitation.
Still, San Marzano D.O.P. tomatoes are not cheap. And, if you’re on a tight budget, breaking the bank to stock your pantry just because some food blogger told you to (even if that’s yours truly) isn’t necessarily the most practical thing to do.
The reality is that, more often than not, the Italian-style stuff isn’t all that bad. Yes, the tomatoes probably won’t be out as red and as luscious as their D.O.P. counterparts. Heck, some of them may be a bit too watery.
But not everyone cares—and I don’t see anything wrong with that! As regular readers know, one of the things I repeatedly say is “your kitchen, your rules.” Don’t let anyone else try to convince you otherwise.
My rant aside…
When the price of canned San Marzano D.O.P. tomatoes is an issue, try these ones instead:
They have a pleasant smell, rich flavor, and deep color. The taste is a bit on the sweeter side, but it’s nothing that you can’t counter with a generous pinch of Mediterranean sea salt.
Capers taste much better salted than brined
Capers are those little salty, tangy flower buds that you get on top of your pizza pi. Or they might be the thing in your salad dressing that makes it taste a little bit more like Italy. Sometimes, you’ll see them sprinkled on your fish fillets, or served as part of a more elaborate sauce.
Italian delis and well-stocked grocery stores typically carry two types of capers:
- Tiny capers, the young and unopened buds of the plant called caper bush;
- The larger, olive-sized caperberries, its matured and ripened fruit.
Both capers and caperberries have a sharp pungent smell and target taste that’s right in-between salty lemon and sour pickles. But many find the crunchiness of caperberries, which comes from the many small seeds that each of them contains, kind of weird (me included!).
They’re perfect for adding some zing to salads, pastas, seafood dishes, or anything else you can think of! But which ones should you buy at the store?
Capers can be brined or salted. Brined capers have a long shelf life but pick up an overly acidic taste from the vinegar. Salted capers have a natural flavor but don’t last long as the salt slowly but surely draws out their moisture.
This is why most capers carried by stores are brined—and salted capers are not only harder but also more expensive.
The correct way to use capers, brined or salted, which many people don’t know about, is to rinse them under running water for 10-15 seconds before adding them to your meal. This takes away some of their excess pungency and gives them a milder, less aggressive taste.
You won’t make a mistake if you stock up on the following capers:
These capers are grown in the fertile soil of the volcanic island of Pantelleria, located off the coast of Sicily, Italy. They’re not brined; they are preserved in sea salt, which maintains their freshness and moisture.
Organic / Preserved in sea salt
Yes, they don’t come cheap. But they’re that much better than the regular stuff you can buy at the store! Definitely worth it when you’re in the mood for a splurge or the occasion calls for it.
Something at a more reasonable price, some of you may ask? Grab a 32-oz jar of USA-packed Paesana Capers.
Look for bronze-cut, slow-dried pasta made of semolina flour
One of the most common questions I get from my readers and friends is, “what’s the best dried pasta at the store?”
It sounds like such a simple question, but it doesn’t have a straightforward answer. That’s because there are so many different kinds of dried pastas out there and they all have their own unique textures, shapes, flavors and cooking times. You also need to know what words to look for on the front (and sometimes back) of the package.
So I wrote a whole post on the topic and shared my picks in it. Here are the key takeaways:
The truth about boxed pasta is that not all brands and shapes are created equal.
Store-brand pasta is made from all-purpose flour, extruded through Teflon-coated dies, and dried quickly before it’s shipped to the store. When you boil it, it has a pale color, bland taste, and has a hard time holding on to its shape.
On the other hand, the best Italian pasta is made from durum wheat semolina flour, extruded through bronze dies, and slow-dried for a few days before packaging.
The price difference between cheap pasta and “expensive” pasta is usually not more than a couple of dollars a package, but like night and day for everything else.
Thanks to the superiority of semolina flour, high-quality pasta has a golden color, wheaty aroma, and earthy flavor. The extrusion through bronze dies has given it a rougher, more porous surface for the sauce to cling to, and it holds on exceptionally well to its shape.
The correct way to prepare pasta is to slightly undercook it, typically 1-2 minutes less than the time recommended on the package, so that it’s nice and tender on the inside but still firm to the bite on the outside.
Italian chefs call this al dente, which means “to the tooth.”
Not only does al dente pasta have a more delicious consistency, but it’s also easier for your body to digest since it doesn’t turn into a ball of mushy dough as soon as it enters your stomach.
If you’ve ever wondered why Italians eat so much pasta yet seem to get so much energy from it, al dente is the answer.
Boxed pasta to stock up on, in alphabetical order:
- BARILLA Collezione Cheese & Spinach Tortellini Pasta, 12 oz. Bag - 6 Servings - Pantry Friendly Artisanal Dried Tortellini - Non-GMO, All Natural Ingredients, No Preservatives
- De Cecco Semolina Pasta, Penne Rigate No.41, 1 Pound (Pack of 12)
- Garofalo Spaghetti, 1 lb.
- Rustichella Bucatini
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Psst! The secret to great olive oil is in the “harvest date…”
Authentic Italian extra virgin olive oil has nothing to do with most of the stuff they sell at grocery stores. The first time you try one, you’ll be stunned by the fruity fragrance, vibrant flavor, and luscious consistency.
Where does that difference come from?
Store-bought olive oils are made from a blend of olive oils from multiple countries in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. By the time these oils get blended, bottled, and shipped to the store, some of them have sat inside barrels for years, losing their freshness and appeal.
Artisanal extra virgin olive oils are made from locally grown olives. Since supply is short and demand high, they get bottled soon after harvest, and the “freshest” of them get sold within a few months to about a year.
Contrary to what most people think, the “best by” date doesn’t matter all that much as it’s counted from the day of bottling. It’s the “harvest date,” the date when the olives were picked from the trees, that matters.
Some producers will disclose it; others not. When shopping at Amazon, do your search like this, and the freshest olive oils will almost always come up (right under the “Sponsored” items):
When in doubt, go for a single-varietal, Italy-imported extra virgin olive oil from the most recent harvest dates. They typically come in pairs. For example, I’m publishing this article in June 2021, so the most recent harvest is 2020/21. Next year’s will be 2021/22, and so on, and so on.
If you buy your extra virgin olive oil in bulk, like in 101-ounce tins, most of the time, you can score it at a lower price/ounce. Ideally, get them from the Italian market or deli in town; those that get shipped to your door oftentimes arrive dented.
When that’s not an option, you can always get good olive oils at Amazon. Here’s my all-time favorite:
Always check the reviews of other customers before buying from an online seller for the first time. If dented tins or dated oils come up one too many times, don’t take the chance and buy yours from somebody else.
To use tinned olive oil at home, pour it into a dark-glass, air-tight bottle. Olive oil is a delicate cooking oil extracted from the fruit of the olive tree, and it must be kept sealed from air and away from direct sunlight.
Store extra virgin olive oil in a cool and dark place, like your pantry or inside a cabinet. Most home cooks make the mistake of keeping bottles of olive oil on the windowsill or close to the stove, which can significantly shorten their shelf life.
Though not as great as my tinned picks above, these balanced everyday olive oils are definitely worth a try, especially if you plan to cook with them.
Keep a package or two of semolina, Tipo 00, Tipo 0 at home
Flour is an essential ingredient in the majority of Italian dishes and baking recipes. But with so many options to choose from, which flour should you keep on hand?
Here’s the rundown:
Every home cook who’s into Italian cuisine needs to keep a package or two of durum wheat semolina for fresh pasta, Tipo 00 flour for pizza, and Tipo 0 flour for bread and shortcrust pastry in their pantry.
To know why that is—and which products to get—I’m going to you give you a three-minute crash course on flour production.
Most flour is made by milling wheat berries, the wheat kernels that consist of the bran, germ, and endosperm, without the husk.
When speaking about Italian flours, it’s important to always make the distinction between hard-wheat flours (like durum semolina) and soft-wheat flours (Tipo 00, Tipo 0, Tipo 1, and Tipo 2). The former is intended for pasta, the latter for bread, pizza, and pastry.
If you’re wondering what flour to use for pasta, look no further!
Semolina is the best flour to use for pasta because of its high protein content, which helps the noodles keep their shape—even when exposed to the high heat of boiling water and the agitation of getting tossed with sauce.
Durum semolina flour is made from durum wheat, the hardest of all wheats grown worldwide. It has a protein content of 12-13%, which gives it a lot of strength and elasticity. You’ll recognize it by the coarse texture, golden color, wheaty aroma, and earthy taste.
The soft starches, which soak up plenty of water, allow the dough to achieve a high level of hydration.
Use it for: Fresh pasta. You can also add it to bread and pizza doughs for a golden color and earthier flavor.
In Canada and the U.S., there’s all-purpose flour, bread flour, pastry flour, and whole-wheat flour. Choosing the right flour for your recipe is pretty straightforward since the name tells you about the intended use.
Italian flours are graded differently based on how much they’re ground. The grades are, from finest to coarsest, Tipo 00, Tipo 0, Tipo 1, and Tipo 2 (you probably got that already, but tipo stands for “type” in Italian).
Here’s what each of these grades tells you—and what kinds of baked goods they’re best for.
Tipo 00 Flour
This is by far the most popular Italy-imported flour. What makes it so special?
Tipo 00 flour is the finest Italian flour. Made from soft wheat (grano tenero), it has a milky white color and a delicate consistency that very much resembles baby powder.
The protein content of Tipo 00 flour tends to vary by the brand, blend, and purpose. Low-protein double-zero flour is intended for pasta and pastry; high-protein for bread and pizza.
The “quintessential” 00 flour is made from soft wheat and, compared to other Italian types of flour, boasts a relatively high 12.5% protein content. Pizzaiolos in Naples traditionally use it to make Neapolitan-style pizza.
In fact, Tipo 00 flour is listed as the “proper ingredient” by The True Neapolitan Pizza Association, a non-profit organization established in 1984 with the goal to protect the traditions and integrity of Neapolitan-style pizza making.
Without a doubt, the best 00 flour that you can stock up on right now is milled in Naples by Antimo Caputo:
Milled in Naples, Italy
Rest pizza dough made with this long-fermentation flour for 2-3 days in your fridge before baking to get the best results. The pie will be easy to stretch, and the crust will come out light and airy.
13% protein content / 12-month shelf life
Use it for: Neapolitan-style pizza and rustic loaves of bread. Long resting times (6-8 hours left out or 2-3 days in your fridge) yield more puffy and flavorsome baked goods.
If you want to learn why, I wrote a whole post on the topic called, “How to Make Pizza Dough More Airy.”
Tipo 0 Flour
Tipo 0 is closest to all-purpose flour of all Italian flours, making it an excellent choice for bread rolls, baguettes, focaccia, and loaves of bread, as well as biscuits and shortcrust pastry.
The “typical” Tipo 0 flour has a high protein content of 14-15% and is capable of absorbing as much as 90% of its weight in water, so it’s a good flour to use when making high-hydration doughs (like Detroit-style pizza).
Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to refer to the label. Even if you don’t know Italian, most mills tend to put pictures of the goods that each of their flour packages is best for.
Compared to its peers, Tipo 0 sits right in the middle. It’s coarser and darker than Tipo 00 flour but still more refined than Tipo 1 and Tipo 2.
Use it for: Breads, baguettes, focaccia, shortcrust pastry.
Tipo 1 & Tipo 2 Flour
Sifted less than Tipo 00 and Tipo 0, Tipo 1 and Tipo 2 flours have a coarse texture and a light brown color. They are stronger flours that produce thicker, grainier, and more elastic doughs.
Because they are less refined, they retain more of the bran and wheat germ, giving them a strong wheaty aroma and an intense earthy flavor. For the same reason, they are also the richest in nutrients.
Tipo 1 and Tipo 2 flours are usually high in dietary fiber and tend to have a relatively high, 12-13% protein content. However, they can also be harder to find, as most brick-and-mortar stores don’t carry them and not all online resellers sell them.
These two flours are considered healthier than their finer counterparts. However, because of their strength, breads and pizza pies made with them won’t puff up as much.
If you like your loaves of bread or pizza crust more rustic, they can be a great addition to your dough mix. Tipo 2 flour can also be used as a substitute of whole-wheat flour that’s easier for your body to digest.
Use them for: Rustic breads and healthier, nutrient-rich baked goods as a whole.
Hard Italian Cheese
Why Parmesan is not the same as Parmigiano-Reggiano, at least in the U.S.
If you are a lover of all things Italian, then you know that, for centuries, Italy has been the reigning king of hard cheese. So it should come as no surprise to find hard Italian cheeses as some of the best in the world.
They’re essential ingredients in many dishes from pastas and risottos to soups and salads.
Take the time this month at one of your favorite stores (I love hunting for bargains from different sellers at Amazon or going to Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods) to grab some of the great-tasting hard cheese below for your daily cooking.
Grana Padano is a hard Italian cheese made from unpasteurized cow’s milk and aged for a minimum of 9 months. Think of it as a less pricey but just as tasty alternative to Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Grana Padano is a monastic cheese: the recipe for it comes from 12th-century Cistercian monks. Believe it or not, the same recipe is still used to this day to make it (it’s just that the equipment has been modernized).
It’s made by pouring milk, whey, and calf’s rennet into large copper cauldrons, then cooking it till it forms a curd. The curd is separated and given the time to rest for at least 2 weeks, then soaked in salty brine and rested for another few weeks. The cheese is dried and aged for a minimum of 9 months, then packaged and sold.
Grana Padano is full-bodied and savory with a nutty, slightly sweet undertone. It has a crumbly, somewhat flaky texture. The more the cheese ages, the grainier its texture and more pronounced its taste.
Use it for: Grating on top of pastas and pizzas. Generally, as a more affordable alternative to Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Parmigiano-Reggiano is a hard Italian cheese that’s made from unpasteurized cow’s milk. It’s aged 12, 24, 36, or 40 months. Its color darkens, its texture gets grainier, and its flavor becomes more intense as the cheese ages.
The recipe for Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese comes from medieval Italy, and it’s still followed to this day. The cheese itself is made exclusively in the Italian provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna (to the left of the Reno River), and Mantua (to the right of the Po River).
To make Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, producers pour the day’s milk into upturned bell-shaped copper vats. Calf rennet and whey are added to aid the coagulation of the milk.
It’s cooked for 50 minutes over a fire at a temperature no higher than 131°F (55°C), then placed in a mold, which gives the cheese wheel its final shape, and allowed to rest for a few days.
The wheels are soaked in a solution of water and salt, then dried and matured for 12, 24, 36, or 40 months. At each time interval, a master cheese grader from the Parmigiano-Reggiano Consortium inspects the products for quality and integrity before they are allowed to enter the domestic and international markets.
Parmigiano-Reggiano has a creamy and milky flavor with subtle fruity and nutty undertones. Its texture is crumbly and gets grainier as the cheese ages.
Use it for: Grating on top of pasta dishes. Check out my penne pasta with tomato sauce recipe for inspiration.
Keep in mind: In Europe, the terms “Parmigiano-Reggiano” and “Parmesan” are synonymous for the same cheese. In the U.S., they are two different cheeses: the former being the authentic and traditional Italy-imported product, and the latter imitations of the original made all over the world.
The reason? “Parmesan” is not a regulated term in the United States the way that it is in Europe, which means that any dairy farm can label their cheese as parmesan. If you want the real deal, look for Parmigiano-Reggiano D.O.P. at Amazon, in the Italian deli in town, or in the refrigerated cheese section at well-stocked grocers.
Pecorino Romano is a hard Italian cheese made from pasteurized sheep’s milk in Italy’s Sardinia, Lazio, and Grosseto regions. It’s aged for a minimum of 5 months (for table cheese) to 8 months (for ground cheese).
To make Pecorino Romano, producers pasteurize sheep’s milk by briefly cooking it at a temperature of 154°F (68°C) for about 15 seconds.
Then, lamb’s rennet is added to the milk to help it coagulate, and it’s cooked for an hour or so at 118°F (45°C) to form a curd. The curd is put into round molds that give Pecorino Romano cheese wheels their round shape, and the wheels are soaked in salty brine.
After soaking, the cheese is dried and matured for 5 to 8 months on most cheeses, or longer or artisanal and more expensive cheeses.
Pecorino Romano is a fragrant cheese with a sharp smell and a gamey, piquant taste. Compared to its counterparts made from cow’s milk, like Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano, it’s significantly saltier.
Mediterranean Sea Salt
It’s more flavorful than you think
If you’re looking to spice up your cooking routine, try adding a package or two of Mediterranean sea salt to the mix. This kind of salt is perfect for any dish that needs a little extra flavor!
Like its name suggests, Mediterranean Sea Salt comes from the Mediterranean Sea. Thanks to the minerals that it contains and the fact that it typically has no additives, it can be used as a cleaner and more flavorful natural alternative to iodized table salt in recipes.
It’s great when sprinkled over grilled fish or roasted vegetables when they come right out of the oven.
But it’s just as good for bringing out the flavor of sauces, soups, and stews, as well as seasoning meats like thick-cut Florentine steak, chicken parmigiana with zippy tomato sauce and gooey melted cheese, or hearty Osso Buco.
Sprinkle this finishing salt on top of seared meats and freshly-baked focaccia bread to bless them with the rich flavors of Italy’s Mediterranean Seacoast.
These are the best five olive varieties to go for
Do you love to cook Italian food?
Are you always on the lookout for a new variety of olives to try in your next salad or top your focaccia with?
Well, I’ve got the perfect list for you! When it comes to stocking your pantry with olives, here are the best Italian varieties that will elevate any dish.
Italy is a big country, and there are many varieties of Italian olives that grow in different parts of it. Some of the most popular Italian olive varieties are, in alphabetical order, Castelvetrano, Frantoio, Gaeta, Leccino, and Nocellara.
Some of these are easier to find in brick-and-mortar stores than others, which is why I’ve also shared a few online picks that you can conveniently have shipped to your door.
Sicilian olives, known as Castelvetrano olives, taste sweet and buttery. Unlike many other olives at the store, they’re not overly salty, nor are they mushy when you bite into them. They are firm and meaty, and their skin is soft and tender. If you generally dislike olives for any of these two reasons, Castelvetrano olives will win you over.
From Southern Italy
Foodies swear by these pitted Castelvetrano olives for a reason. They have a mild, buttery flavor and a crisp bite to them. Great for adding to salads and serving alongside seafood or poultry. Or add them to Martinis and Bloody Marys for some of the best summer cocktails you’ve ever had.
Imported from Italy / Pitted / 19-oz jar
Frantoio olives are cultivated primarily for olive oil production because they’re so juicy. For the same reasons, they’re just as good to eat. Originating from Tuscany, these olives are small to medium-sized, colored in deep purple to dark brown or black, and taste nutty when ripe.
Small and light to dark purple, Gaeta olives get their name from the small coastal city of Gaeta, where they are traditionally grown. They have a meaty texture and, especially when cured, a briny and tart flavor.
Originating from Tuscany, Leccino olives are the most commonly grown olive variety in Italy. They are distinctly bitter and salty in taste, often with a fruity undertone. Medium-sized and fleshy, they’re often characterized by wrinkled skin and tend to come in green, purple, or dark brown color.
Nocellara olives are traditionally used to make Valle del Belìce extra-virgin olive oil, one of Italy’s finest olive oils in my humble opinion. Green and large, they have bright and shiny skin and a meaty, oily consistency to them. Their slightly sweet and buttery flavor makes them perfect not just for oil extraction, but for also for eating on the table.
Pitted olives are saltier and mushier as the brine gets to penetrate the inside of the flesh. Whole olives, on the other hand, retain more of their firmness and tend to have a more fruity and complex flavor. Still, some people find pitted olives easier to eat.
An unopened tin or jar of brined olives will last for up to 2 years. Once opened, olives will last up to 3 weeks if refrigerated. Store in an air-tight jar or food storage container to prevent them from catching smells of other foods from the circulating air in your fridge.
Make risotto with short-grain rice. And keep stirring!
Making the perfect risotto is actually easier than you might think. The two keys to a good risotto are using the right type of rice and cooking with the proper technique. Which is what you and I are going to talk about in the rest of this section of my round-up.
Choosing the right kind of rice can be an intimidatingly difficult thing to do. You know when you’re in the grocery store and you see those huge bins of rice, but they all look the same? And then there are usually a few varieties that are more expensive than others.
The best rice for risotto is short-grain rice, like Aroborio, Carnaroli, Vialone, Nano, or Baldo. When cooked, short-grain rice comes out chewy and sticky, which is exactly what you’re looking for when preparing a creamy risotto.
The secret to a creamy risotto, by the way, is to cook on a low, simmering heat, and to keep stirring. The movement of the rice releases more of the starches from it, and that’s what makes a risotto thick and creamy. The low heat allows the time necessary for this to happen.
Top your pizza pies and focaccia breads with them
Artichokes are a hidden gem in Italian cuisine.
The artichoke is a vegetable that’s green and thorny on the outside, and white and meaty on the inside. It consists of a stem and a heart surrounded by tiny petals in several outer layers.
I could probably go on for hours about the anatomy of this delicious ingredient. Instead, I want to focus on what you need to know before buying and cooking with it.
Artichokes preserved in oil are great for topping pizza pies, putting on top of focaccia breads, adding to panini sandwiches, or browning in the oven with potatoes and red meat.
They are a low-cost, high-flavor ingredient that, in my book, is underutilized by home cooks.