13 Things You Should Be Buying at Your Local Italian Market
The Italian market around the corner is my go-to source for some delizioso things.
My old neighborhood in New Jersey was home to many first-generation Italians, so I grew up saying “gravy” when referring to hearty meat sauces and pronouncing Pasta e Fagioli (a wonderful Italian veggie soup) like “Pasta Fazool.” So, is it surprising this gnocchi is one of my signature dishes?
Here’s what I buy at the Italian market around the corner!
This Italian-inspired Seafood Medley with Linguine is awesome when I’m craving fresh seafood in “red sauce,” but I’ve never had the guts to make my own fresh scungilli. It’s the meat of a conch, which is tender and mild-tasting. I’ve always bought it canned, but the truth is, there’s nothing like fresh scungilli. I buy it freshly made in a spicy tomato sauce every single time I go to my local Italian market.
Is it wrong to call them homemade if you didn’t make them at home? Eh, who cares? Especially since my Jersey-bred, Italian-American friend Marlisa Vinciguerra has no problem with it. The homemade meatballs, like the homemade pastas and sauces get their goodness from “old-world love,” she tells me. And I’m not about to argue!
All the fresh pastas
I’ve made my own pasta, and it’s not bad (here’s how to DIY pasta at home), but it’s just not the same as what I can buy at the Italian market. Marlisa agrees. “It’s challenging to put into words,” she says (and she’s a writer, too), “but immediately understandable to my taste buds.” For me, it’s more about the mouthfeel of an authentic handmade pasta.
Fuggedabout making homemade black linguine, which requires you to knead squid ink into the dough—it’s too messy, even for me, the messiest home cook you’ll ever meet. (Excuse me while I wipe down my counter for the zillionth time today.) Fresh black linguine is wonderfully aromatic and twirls so nicely around my fork, but if it weren’t for my local Italian market, I’d never enjoy it at home.
Here’s a great recipe for eggplant parmesan, but how will it stack up against the same thing made by an Italian grandma who cooks it up in back of a local market every day? The odds aren’t in your favor, according to Beth Boylan, another friend from my hometown who raves about the “awesome Italian markets,” in her neighborhood where “the eggplant cutlets are the lightest and most delicious things I have ever tasted.” Mangia!
Marlisa leaves it to the Italian market when she wants some authentic homemade ravioli, especially when it’s labeled “Grandma’s,” she tells me. Go ahead and pair it with the market’s home-cooked sauce, and then “use plenty of fresh grated parm and fresh basil.”
(Here’s a superb handmade ravioli recipe if you want to try making it at home.)
Italian meats and cheeses
“Fresh meats and cheeses can be purchased at many high-end groceries,” Marlisa points out, but at Italian groceries there will be a wider variety. Round out this pepperoni-based cold antipasto platter with some capicola, sopressata and prosciutto. And while you’re at it, pick up some homemade mozzarella (many Italian markets make their own!), some wonderful parmesan and some soft, ripe taleggio cheese.
It’s in the deli area that you’ll find “long shots,” as my hometown friend Amy Axtell refers to Italian-pickled pepperoncini (a long, slender, mild pepper). Sure, you can buy them in a jar, but why when you can buy them fresh? I love the ones stuffed with cheese and Italian herbs. Use them on your antipasto platter, or mix into this deviled egg recipe for extra zing.
Fresh crusty semolina bread
Both Amy and Marlisa tell me there’s no bread like the fresh, crusty, handmade semolina breads you can get at an Italian market.
If you can’t get to Rome, the gelato at the local Italian market is going to be your next best solution when you’re looking for real, authentic, homemade gelato, according to my hometown girl, Margaret Szura, who “healthies-up” her mom’s Italian recipes but still can’t resist a nice gianduja gelato (that’s Italian for hazelnut).
Every flavor of San Pellegrino!
Did you know San Pellegrino sparkling water comes in Prickly Pear & Orange? Or Lemon & Mint? You can find these flavors on Amazon (buy the Prickly Pear & Orange here) but your local Italian market will likely have them too, sans shipping costs. This comes from Taste of Home senior editor Ellie Martin Cliffe, who knows a thing or two about what homemade Italian food is supposed to taste like.
Really amazing balsamic vinegar
You can use balsamic vinegar on so many things–including soups, marinades and desserts. For the best balsamic, head on over to your Italian grocer and check out the embarrassment of riches you’ll find in the vinegar aisle. Have you ever seen so many choices? Just know you can’t go wrong!
In the mood to make some Italian? Here are 100 of our favorite Italian recipes.