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Pontormo

Consuming Italy Abroad: What Can You Buy or Grow?

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Many years ago, perhaps a decade after Marcella Hazan published her classic overview of Italian cooking in English, I moved from the East Coast to the Midwest where there was a thriving farmer's market on the far side of town. Walking past the stalls for the first time, I stopped and stared at a display of bright yellow bell peppers. I couldn't believe it. While I cooked my way through almost all of the pasta recipes in the two volumes in her book, I had to make do with red as the author suggested. I was so thrilled that I bought as many as I could carry and shipped a large box of them to Manhattan as a birthday present for someone who loved Italy as much as I, although she was rather amused by the ecstacy produce inspired in me.

Now, of course, yellow, orange and red bell peppers are common in supermarkets throughout the United States. They're next to broccoli rabe. Real Parmigiano-Reggiano is also there, if sometimes shrink-wrapped or pre-grated.

Italian butter may be expensive, but you can get it for a 21-hour birthday bash in Australia.

In turn, farmers are bringing things to the market that are new to them if not to Italians: different colors, sizes and shapes of eggplants; those bright red, squat tomatoes with rippled edges; greens. The quality of Italian-style domestic products continues to grow, whether at Salumi in Seattle or La Quercia in Iowa.

Despite the soaring popularity of Italian food throughout much of the English-speaking world, new cookbooks continue to publish lists of mail-order sources and stores to call for ingredients that prove hard to find.

Some places remain stubbornly indifferent to Italian food. Even in big cities, merchants nod their heads and agree X is wonderful, but doesn't sell.

This thread is a place to document successes, failures and to ask questions or offer advice. When in Itay, what did you eat or cook that you wish you could get back home? If it lasts, it may chart progress or patterns.

I'll start. Cardoons may now be plentiful in California, thanks largely to Alice Waters. Folk from Texas buy them, too. However, here in Washington, D.C., I got the impression that Whole Foods USED to carry them a few years ago, but discontinued the practice. One chef serves them in his flagship restaurant since he's from Piemonte. It was grown with middling results by one Swiss farmer, just as an experiment, so I managed to track it down eventually. Most people I consulted had never heard of it and thought I was asking for cardamom.


Edited by Pontormo (log)

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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Great topic!

First, what's come on the market (in Texas, at least) just since I started cooking in earnest over the past decade:

Fennel

Baby Artichokes

Radicchio

Broccoli rabe

Blood oranges went from fleeting sighting in a remote gourmet store to regularly and routinely available at the average grocery store in the span of a couple years.

7 years ago, I was amazed to find Tuscan Kale at a Health food store in Denton, Texas, the same afternoon after I saw a Molto Mario episode based on that green. It's still amazing how readily available it is here.

And of course, as Pontormo pointed out, just the range and variety of produce items has increased: 4-5 different types of eggplant, peppers from all over, the recent appearance of purple artichokes, tomato varietals . . .

I keep waiting to walk into my store here one day and see puntarelle, the bitter green beloved in Rome and other points in Southern Italy, but no luck. It's supposed easy to grow.

Produce we get, but in less than desirable quality: favas (almost always have "rust" on the pods or black dots) and porcini, which, on top of being shrivelled, blackened, and slimy, are usually $70/lb when I do see them. I want to support my market for carrying these items, but not at that price. Someone needs to double-time domestically cultivating those.

I had planned on starting a vegetable garden this year with favas in mind to be my first attempt, but got lazy and put it off another year. Good thing too: with this heat and drought I'd pretty much have a big crop of heartbreak right now and nothing else.

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My wife, the gardener, has purchased vegetable seeds for several years from a guy in upstate New York or in Massachusetts. "Seeds from Italy" is his company and he has grown from a tiny operation to sending catalogs. I've looked at his catalog and it has many items (I'm sure including cardoons). Don't know if he has a website or not and my wife isn't around just now to ask, but it might be worth a try.

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Not a vegetable, but I've never seen vongole veraci in the US. It breaks my heart a little.


Edited by Andrew Fenton (log)

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And cannoce, scie, scampi . . . yeah, that's almost another thread: the wealth of seafood Italy has that we don't. Though I wonder if it's just that Americans aren't really adventurous seafood eaters and we have access to a whole wealth of similar seafood on our own shores if there was just demand for it.

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My wife, the gardener, has purchased vegetable seeds for several years from a guy in upstate New York or in Massachusetts.  "Seeds from Italy" is his company and he has grown from a tiny operation to sending catalogs.  I've looked at his catalog and it has many items (I'm sure including cardoons).  Don't know if he has a website or not and my wife isn't around just now to ask, but it might be worth a try.

Dale, incredible but I was just searching that web site while you posted you message!

Then , in the Puglia thread I will point to some vegetables!

Going back topic, in 6 years in the States I managed to live in San Francisco, New Hampshire at the border with Vermont and NY.

San Francisco was the most frustrating one, New Hampshire a very pleasant discovery, NY were I was more comfortable.

San Francisco had very little selection, yes you could pick wild fennel at the side of the roads :biggrin: , I used to shop at farmers market but I don't recall of vegetables to be that good, in fact I thought what is all this fuss about California (I do love California wines though). Buying figs in California I thoght: what happened to these poor guys!

In New Hampshire, I was really surprised. I lived 5 minutes drive from King Arthur bakery: nice bread (between the best I had in the States, so I am a big fan of JP Hamelman), there I could find durum flour, baking ammonia anything I could need for baking. And at our coop I would find local produces, a very good selections of italian cheeses, a lot of game), a lot of farmers where to buy directly.

In NY I was famous between collegues (70% italians) because I could find almost anything. In Astoria I did manage to find very interesting staff: many different kinds of bitter herbs, Sicilian eggplants (by the way, in Sicily they are called tunisian eggplants), pagnottelle, ecc. Lampascioni, live snails, etc

Although in NY I could find almost everything the quality is not always the best. Also cheese, included parmigiano, many times tasted stale and sometimes I was frustrated to the knowledge of people working in the stores: no training, butchering a perfect prosciutto or a piece of cheese. Only at Zabars they know their stuff, you don't get a nervous breakdown at seeing people slicing prosciutto :biggrin:

Lard (not the hydrogenated one) was very hard to find and I discovered almost at the corner of my apt.

But the think I really missed was salame, lardo.

Now in the UK is another world, so much better!!! I can even buy italian toilet paper if I want.

I do still miss from home the fish. I live in front of London fish mkt but there there is not the smell of sea on the fish and mussel from home and the bread...

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And cannoce, scie, scampi . . . yeah, that's almost another thread: the wealth of seafood Italy has that we don't.  Though I wonder if it's just that Americans aren't really adventurous seafood eaters and we have access to a whole wealth of similar seafood on our own shores if there was just demand for it.

Canocchie? I did find live one. Chinatown in Brooklyn! And one time my mother in law (chinese) came home with the best fresh anchovies and artichokes I ever had in the States (she knew I liked it).

Scampi you could find in Citarella, for ex, probably defrosted. Here in london are also precious goods.

And aragosta?


Edited by Franci (log)

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I can even buy italian toilet paper if I want.

My favorite brand of Italian toilet paper is called "Sandy". Hee!

Anyway, back on topic: I suspect it's possible to get chicory in the US. But I've never seen it. (On the other hand, I couldn't get collard greens over there, so let's call it a draw.)

Mozzarella di bufala is pretty widely available in the US now, at least in major cities. But ricotta di bufala is pretty rare- I know you can get it in NYC, but I don't think in many other places.

Looks like I'll have to head up to New York with a cooler and get some ricotta and canocchie one of these days...

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I can even buy italian toilet paper if I want.

My favorite brand of Italian toilet paper is called "Sandy". Hee!

Andrew...that is so...morbido! :laugh:

I go back and forth between Italy and NY (and Philadelphia). What frustrates me, is the astronomical cost of fresh produce at the NYC Greenmarket. I'm all about supporting the local farmers, buy why is it so expensive?? I'm about to go off topic...

When I'm in NY, I miss: parmigiana (I carry some back with me, and it just doesn't taste the same, I'm convinced the airplane air does something to it), affordable olive oil, the variety of fish and shell fish, flavorful lettuces, ricotta that actually has flavor, the different types of flour that you find in any grocery store, salumi, salumi, salumi.

If it makes anyone, anywhere, feel any better....I would like to taste a lime right now.

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If it makes anyone, anywhere, feel any better....I would like to taste a lime right now.

Yeah, that makes me feel a WHOLE lot better. sigh.

Anyway, you can get limes in Italy; I've bought them in Rome, at STANDA of all places. The fun part is asking for limes. Most Italians don't seem to have heard of them, and I'm not even sure what the Italian word is. Sometimes they seem to be called "limoni verdi"; other times just "lime".

What frustrates me, is the astronomical cost of fresh produce at the NYC Greenmarket. I'm all about supporting the local farmers, buy why is it so expensive??

Price is an issue. I can get artichokes in the US. What I can't get are cheap, good artichokes from Puglia for like nine months out of the year.

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Anyway, you can get limes in Italy; I've bought them in Rome, at STANDA of all places.  The fun part is asking for limes.  Most Italians don't seem to have heard of them, and I'm not even sure what the Italian word is.  Sometimes they seem to be called "limoni verdi"; other times just "lime".

according to various of my dictionaries, limetta or lumia are limes, but then others translate those words back as "sweet lemons" or "a cross between a citron & a lemon"...

now there's what I would kill to get here in the US - fresh citron - lucky Italians!

and dry zolfini beans. You can occasionally get a small (insanely priced!) jar of them, but not the dry beans.

I am growing Cardoons right now because they're still too rare in the markets.

I do love the ease with which I can get most products these days though, from braesola to the wonderful pecorino with red peppers that I got addicted to on my visists to the Amalfi coast. :wub:


Do you suffer from Acute Culinary Syndrome? Maybe it's time to get help...

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When I'm in NY, I miss: parmigiana (I carry some back with me, and it just doesn't taste the same, I'm convinced the airplane air does something to it)..ricotta that actually has flavor...salumi, salumi, salumi...

Ricotta? I'm convinced it's a matter of Italian grass. Please don't disillusion me about the way the cows, bufale and sheep are fed in Italy. Even the most humble mozzarella and their relatives at Italian supermarkets and dairy cases in bars taste better than the fresh mozzarella we now can get around here.

And what I wouldn't give for a platter of figs and salumi now... However, I am all for the idea that you have to be there to enjoy certain things. I shudder at the picture of Earth as one united, harmonious culture alla Star Trek.

* * *

Actually, when I started this thread I was thinking more along the lines of things that would be practical as imports and ought to be acessible, more readily available here and less costly were the rest of our fellow citizens more aware of oh, say, frico. I would not have had the trial I had in tracking down Montasio (BTW, the one WF store I pestered and convinced to reorder the cheese after the Dept. manager said it never sold now carries it regularly and finds it runs out. However, restaurants are some of its clients).

Because I live in a big city, I can get farro. However, a small bag at Dean & DeLuca costs around $6, $9 in my small neighborhood Italian grocer. A bag of the same stuff at Essalunga, twice the size, organic: about 1.20 euros three summers ago. Emmer wheat would grow here. It's superior to the wheat berries that Health Food stores sell. It cooks as quickly as rice.

What I missed during our time cooking Sardinian meals was bottarga. Couldn't find it anywhere.


"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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What I missed during our time cooking Sardinian meals was bottarga.  Couldn't find it anywhere.

I've only seen it in NY. But, curiously during that very month of cooking, I did twice see "bottarga powder" in jars at two stores. It was still lavishly expensive though, and I didn't want to risk it.

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What I missed during our time cooking Sardinian meals was bottarga.  Couldn't find it anywhere.

I've only seen it in NY. But, curiously during that very month of cooking, I did twice see "bottarga powder" in jars at two stores. It was still lavishly expensive though, and I didn't want to risk it.

Bottarga powder is pretty bad. If you buy the small slabs alway choose the one light in color. At Di Palo in Littleitaly one will cost around 8 to 10 dollars. They carry it also at Buonitalia (more expensive though), they also have bottarga di tonno.

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Get this: I can buy Montasio by the cartload in Salt Lake City, Utah. Imagine, a place where you can't even buy a real beer and you can get all the Montasio you might want. Must have something to do with the 10-20 people of Italian ancestry living in the state!

Cheers

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of bitter herbs, Sicilian eggplants (by the way, in Sicily they are called tunisian eggplants)

i wonder what they're called in tunisia?

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Burrata, from Puglia. Has anyone found this in the US? That's one of those things that would only be good if it were replicated here since it only lasts for a few days. Unless of course you could get it shipped over night from Bari.

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I think Murray's or some other cheese shop in NY does their own.

The Mozarella Company, which usually gets a shout-out in the "resources" section of U.S.-published cookbooks, is based in Dallas and they do burrata from time to time. The one time I had it, it was good, but having also in the past month had the real deal in Puglia it just couldn't compare. Interestingly, the Mozz Company's product had more of a ricotta filling than the creamy filling of the Pugliese product.

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Burrata, from Puglia. Has anyone found this in the US? That's one of those things that would only be good if it were replicated here since it only lasts for a few days. Unless of course you could get it shipped over night from Bari.

burrata is available here in philadelphia from either dibruno bros or claudios. i know i've gotten it at dibrunos--the problem i have with the the stuff is that it's big and very perishable, so unless i have several people over to scarf the whole thing it's a waste of money...

but since it's puglia month over in the cooking through italy threads, i might have to hook it up.

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according to various of my dictionaries, limetta or lumia  are limes, but then others translate those words back as "sweet lemons" or "a cross between a citron & a lemon"...

If you ask a limetta where I am from they will give you a nail filer :biggrin: . I think it is generally called lime, or green lemon but very likely somewhere in Italy is it called that way

Burrata, from Puglia. Has anyone found this in the US? That's one of those things that would only be good if it were replicated here since it only lasts for a few days. Unless of course you could get it shipped over night from Bari.

They ship from Puglia: Agata & Valentina (in NY), Zabars, Cittarella, etc.

Is it good? Depends. If you ask a northener he/she will say yes, if you ask a pugliese not much. I can taste already that is a little sour the next day (in Puglia).


Edited by Franci (log)

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And cannoce, scie, scampi . . . yeah, that's almost another thread: the wealth of seafood Italy has that we don't.  Though I wonder if it's just that Americans aren't really adventurous seafood eaters and we have access to a whole wealth of similar seafood on our own shores if there was just demand for it.

You can't get scampi, cannoce etc., not vongole verace (or vongole arselle), for one simple reason. The much colder water of the Atlantic is very different from the warmer waters of the Mediterranean and Adriatic. Therefore, the seafood is different. That's the explanation.

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Burrata, from Puglia. Has anyone found this in the US?

burrata is available here in philadelphia from either dibruno bros or claudios...since it's puglia month over in the cooking through italy threads, i might have to hook it up.

According to Gary Allen, writing for David Leite's Culinaria, there is one good US producer of the cheese, although the creamy interior differs: cf. this short article.


"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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Fresh borage to stuff pasta. I've been told some gardners plant it next to tomatoes, though.


"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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