When I walk into my favorite Italian store, I can’t wipe the smile off my face. It’s like coming home. There’s a smell Italian stores have; a combination of peppers and oregano with a little hint of salami and tomato sauce in there for good measure. I love it.
I just bought a little jar of Italian seasoning from a website called Ciao Pittsburgh just to try it out. I sprinkled it on some zucchini with onions I was sauteing and, not only did it taste great, but my whole kitchen smelled like the Italian store! I’m thinking about just sprinkling it on my kitchen counters so my apartment smells more authentic. Actually, I’m putting some in my bra right now, it could be the ultimate aphrodisiac.
I got my love of Italian stores from my mom, of course. When we’d walk into Italian stores back home in western Pennsylvania, her face lit up with possibility while my dad’s face registered terror because he knew what it would cost and saying no to my mother was pointless.
Walking up and down the aisles with our small cart on weathered wood floors I’d hear, “Robert, lettsa getta somma dis,” as she filled her cart. Twenty somma dis and somma dat’s later, we’d leave with sharp cheeses and salami, proscuitto — if we were lucky, lupini beans, jars of antipasto, those oil-cured dry black olives that my mom loved, pasta, mortadella for my dad and a bag of pastel colored candied almonds or chocolates for me. It was heaven for a food lover like me, so I enjoy revisiting that feeling as often as possible.
My passion for food started at an early age and I have embarassing proof. When I was about 12, the age most girls post photos of cute hearthrobs above their beds, I had a picture of figs and proscuitto above mine. (That’s me in bed with orange juice cans in my hair. The shot is grainy, and I’m yawning, but that is a picture of figs and proscuitto above my head.
My favorite local Italian store is in Burbank, California. It’s called Monte Carlo. It’s white inside with lots of glass cases showing off beautiful olives, meats, pastries and gelato, yum. In fact, it’s so cool that an episode of Brooklyn Nine Nine was even filmed there. My kids recognized it –I didn’t, proof that food eclipses everything for me. So, when I need an Italian fix, Monte Carlo is there for me.
I need an Italian fix about once every six weeks or so because I am my mother’s daughter. I am very clear on the fact that things like salami, proscuitto, sausage and mortadella are not health foods. But listen, Italians have been eating them for centuries and they all live to be pretty old (my dad made it to 97, mom to 78) so the stuff can’t be that bad for you, especially if you enjoy it in moderation, a word my mom never grasped, but I do — mostly. And if you’re going to buy it, then for God’s sake get the good stuff! Life is too short to eat desiccated crappy salami when you could have something really delicious.
My favorite brand is Citterio. Strangers at the Italian store must see a celestial glow about me as I’m ordering because they always ask what I think is good there. I unfailingly point them to the Citterio soppressata and mortadella with pistachios. Dear God, it’s good –so good you almost don’t want to put anything on your sandwich but bread and meat.
So, this week I made a pilgrimage to my Italian store. (I don’t own it, I just think I do.) My daughter brought her boyfriend, Reef, who’s never been there, to show him the wonders of aisles of Italian deliciousness. There’s nothing like seeing the appreciation on the face of a newbie you’ve just introduced to your favorite Italian goodies. Monte Carlo has a pretty great selection for a fairly small deli. (The restaurant on the other side is called Pinocchio.)
If you go to a full-on Italian grocery store like DeLallo’s in Jeannette, PA where the selection is even more amazing — newbie’s eyes go wide because they think they’re in heaven. I swoon over their pastries. The Pennsylvania Macaroni Company in Pittburgh’s Strip District is another totally cool Italian store with a great cheese counter, olives in big barrels and vats, and loads of nuts for baking — another heavenly location. And if you’re at Eately in New York City or Chicago, you actually are in heaven. (One is finally coming to L.A. in 2017, You really have to go there to believe it.)
So, we took Reef up and down the aisles and I bought the usual meats and olives, basil, peppers and ciabatta rolls, plus some torrone because he’s never had it. (It’s a nougat candy made of egg whites and nuts that Italians love.) I also got a handful of Jordan almonds for old times sake and a bag of Baci chocolate candy because I love it and was lying about me understanding moderation.
The sopressata never makes it home without being accosted. We usually drive about three blocks with the aroma of salami and mortadella taunting us until we can’t take it and yank the soppressata wrapped in white paper out of the bag, grab a ciabatta roll, rip it open, and make a makeshift sandwich that we split, so we don’t “die of hunger “on the way home.
We got weak right about the time Reef had to drop something off at his house, so my daughter ripped into the sopressata. We did show slight moderation by only eating a few slices instead of making the mini-sandwich. Most of the food made it home and we made scrumptious sandwiches and a roasted pepper, fresh basil and fresh mozzarella (quasi) caprese salad drizzled with olive oil.
Honest to God, sometimes there is nothing better than an Italian cold cut sandwich. We inhaled them so fast, we forgot to photograph them. Reef loved it and is probably making a mental list of what we should get next time we go. Then we sat at my too small kitchen table and did what Italians have been doing for centuries, we talked, laughed, ate and planned what to eat next. It was awesome.