The key to Italian cooking is fresh, simple, quality ingredients
Pasta Pasta comes in two types – pasta secca (dry pasta) and pasta all’uovo (fresh egg pasta). Pasta secca is inexpensive and convenient. One of our favorite brand is Garofalo, which is made in Naples, Italy and can be found in bulk at Costco, or in some local supermarkets. Pasta all’uovo is harder to find. The Buitoni brands at the grocery store don’t quite cut it. Either check at the local Italian delis, or make your own!
Tomatoes You can use fresh or canned tomatoes for most sauces. Fresh tomatoes are best in summer when you can find ripe, flavorful farmers market tomatoes. San Marzano tomatoes, fresh or canned, are superior for sauces, although you can expect to pay more for them. Canned San Marzano tomatoes can be found in most supermarkets. Read the ingredients on the can. You only want tomatoes, and perhaps basil for flavor. Do not buy canned tomatoes with salt, garlic, onion, spices, etc.
Olive Oil Buy Extra-Virgin Olive Oil. Look for a brand imported from Italy, with Italian olives. Watch out for oils with olives deriving from multiple locations, such as Italy, Tunisia and Greece. Store your oil in a cool, dark location, because light and warm temperatures cause it to go rancid. Don’t buy reduced fat olive oil – these are your good fats!
Pancetta This is an Italian, cured pork-belly used as a seasoning base for several sauces and some vegetables. It can be found at some supermarkets, Italian delis, and specialty butchers. Don’t try to substitute American bacon – it just is not the same. If you are in a pinch, traditional pork belly will work fine. Look for it in the bacon isle.
Mozzarella Real mozzarella comes in small tubs of water. There is regular mozzarella and and mozzarella di bufala. The latter is exceptional, but more expensive. Mozzarella can be found in almost all supermarkets and in Italian delis. Do not use shredded mozzarella in bags. Fresh mozzarella balls and logs in plastic wrappers work okay for baked pastas such as lasagne, due to their lower water content.
Parmesan Parmigiano in Italian. Look in the specialty cheese section for a wedge-shaped block of parmesan cheese. The best is Parmigiano Reggiano. Real, shredded or grated parmigiano in a tub is okay for baked pastas, but please don’t buy the pretend stuff in bags, and definitely steer clear of the Kraft green shaker!
Flour Flour differs in many countries – the protein and gluten levels, how fine or rough it is ground, and even the wheat it comes from can vary. Italians often use 00 flour, of doppio zero, as it is called in Italian. This is a super-fine flour made from durum wheat often used for delicate cakes and baked goods. We’ve found that for most recipes, it is fine to use a basic, unbleached all purpose flour. The only exception is for our pizza dough, for which we purchase a high-gluten flour that helps the dough rise and maintain its elasticity. If you feel like splurging for a special baked dessert, you can try Antimo Caputo Superfine “00” Farina Flour, available at Italian food and specialty stores, or on Amazon. Or, King Arthur’s Italian Style Flour is an option, as well.
Lievito Pane degli Angeli Pane degli Angeli is a powdered leavening agent used in many Italian baked goods, like cakes, cookies and all versions of crostata. It can be substituted 1:1 with baking powder, but we prefer to buy Pane degli Angeli on Amazon and use it in our recipes.
Shopping We have found good Italian ingredients at local Italian delis, Costco, Trader Joe’s and on Amazon. For quality produce, support your local farmer’s market!