What to Stock in Your Own Ultimate Italian Pantry
The 16 essentials and where to find them here in Calgary.
photography by julya Hajnoczky
At Soffritto, they make hand-cut long and short extruded pastas as well as stuffed ravioli, tortellini and mezzaluna every day. Tagliatelle – a long, flat ribbon – makes a good, all-purpose pasta.
Angela’s Artisan Olives
Most Italian markets carry big, meaty Cerignola olives in red, green and black. Or seek out Sicilian olives stuffed with roasted almonds, marinated with artichokes and basil, made by Angela’s Artisan Olives and sold at Springbank Cheese and the Italian Supermarket.
Cheese makers from Rome opened White Gold in Calgary when they couldn’t source their beloved fresh Italian cheeses here. You can buy the sweet, smooth ricotta, burrata and fior di latte (translation: flower of milk) by the tub or ball at various markets including Mercato and the Bridgeland Market.
Canned Italian tomatoes
Whole peeled and San Marzano-style (whole, in pure) tomatoes from Italy are a staple in every Italian market, but the Italian Centre Shop carries Pomodorina, a chunky sauce of tomatoes packed with vegetables and oil that’s pasta-ready.
No Italian kitchen is complete without a stash of prosciutto, culatello, mortadella, capocollo, salamis and porchetta. You’ll find one of the best selections at Lina’s, with some made in-house.
Balsamic Vinegar of Modena
At Oliv Tasting Room, staff can help explain the various classifications of balsamic vinegar, and customers can try as many samples as they like. Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena is the highest quality, while a good mid-range aged vinegar like Monari Federzoni is good value, ideal for finishing dishes or drizzling over salad.
While most markets sell it by the bagful, the Italian Centre Shop offers full live plants (seasonally) to keep growing in your kitchen – for those who always seem to run out of basil.
Double Zero flour
Finely milled 00 flour is favoured by pizza and pasta makers for its talcum powder texture. You can pick up small bags at the Italian Centre Shop to experiment with at home.
Finding a good olive oil is a matter of personal taste. At Soffritto, staff will tour you around the boutique of imported and infused oils to find the one you like best before committing.
Fresh pizza dough
A truly great pizza requires the proper dough. At The Italian Store (Scarpone’s), they make theirs from 00 flour and sell it fresh, not frozen. Keep it in the fridge until you’re ready to stretch it into a pizza.
The real thing is protected under Italian law, and can only be labelled Parmigiano-Reggiano if it’s made within certain producing areas. The Italian Centre Shop’s Cathedral of Cheese houses 80 wheels alongside Western Canada’s largest deli.
Mamma Cathy Caracciolo, matriarch of the Mercato restaurants, pickles summer vegetables – think peppers, zucchini, cauliflower and eggplant – using the same technique her mother taught her back home in Italy, using salt, vinegar and fresh mint.
You’ll find jars (and even tubs) of Nutella at most grocery stores, but it’s generally the kind that’s made in Canada. The Italian Centre Shop sells the stuff that’s made in Italy, which is denser and slightly less sweet than that made on our side of the pond.
Tiny, knobbly, seasonally fresh truffles and good truffle oil are culinary gold; you can find one of the largest assortments of good truffle oil in the city at Mercato. Shave fresh, white truffles over eggs and pasta; drizzle the oil over chunks of Parmigiano-Reggiano (with honey and black pepper) or on your popcorn.
Cows from the Piedmont region of Italy were brought to Alberta in the ’70s. Today, they’re raised in Lacombe by Messinger Meats, which supplies the Italian Centre Shop with grass-fed beef that is tender enough to cut with a fork.
In season, you can buy beautiful, long-stemmed purple heads of locally grown garlic at The Italian Store (Scarpone’s), the cloves sticky and intense. It’s worth stocking up. Garlic is a must in Italian kitchens, and we grow some of the best right here in Alberta.