Once you have become accustomed to the abundance of delicious food products at Italian supermarkets, it is very hard to adapt to doing your grocery shopping in any other country. However, you can expect to find at least the basics. London is a good example and British supermarket’ aisles reflect its society syncretism at the table. In the Netherlands the biggest supermarket chain is called Albert Heijn (AH), or Albertino as my mamma calls it. It grew from a small grocery store named after its founder that opened in 1887. So here is a list of 7 Italian products you can find there.
#1 Pasta De Cecco
Although Barilla markets itself as Italy’s favourite pasta, it is in fact this pasta maker from Abruzzo that Italians living abroad go for. This does not mean it is the best one around, as there are more and more brands available, but an Italian would definitely go for this one. There is a law (Italy’s Law) that regulates that durum wheat flour must be used to make pasta; other cereals or grains can be used but the firmness is fundamental and therefore it is best to buy an Italian brand to avoid overcooked pasta.
#2 Sugo Mutti
Now that you have the right pasta, you will need to make a good sauce. Polpa or Passata Mutti is a favourite and it does make a difference. Do not buy the version with basilicum or other herbs but just add it fresh, they sell it in potted plants at Albert Heijn too! There are other options like Cirio, but Mutti is the best. I remember the first sauce I made when I moved to London, it tasted nothing like my mother’s. My flatmates were two Canadians girls who were double my size and lived on sweets and burgers. Luckily childhood flashbacks from the kitchen and practice saved me. Do: simmer over low heat. Don’t: buy Grand’Italia sauces, especially the carbonara.
The best risotto rice comes from areas around Vercelli and Pavia in the North of Italy. The majority of the rice is for the domestic market, so it is quite difficult to have a big choice abroad. I doubt a top product will ever reach the Dutch aisles, as it is too much work for the average cook. The AH brand is a good compromise between price and quality. The key aspect to understand is the cooking time, as each type has its own. You need to keep practising until you get it right, so stick to one brand. You can make a simple risotto with courgette, broccoli and mushrooms of course! Do: add white wine. Don’t: buy the Lassie brand.
Italian food is not just about pasta and pizza, it is also about pasta, pizza, Caprese salad, risotto, rice salad, milanese schnitzel and….polenta! It is a Northern Italian dish, hence the expression polentoni for the people living above the Po river, a sort of revenge from the Southerners called terroni (basically farmers, boeren). This brand is quite good and cuts preparation time. There is also a recipe on the package. It goes well with Gorgonzola, sausage, any meat and your vegetables of course! The leftovers become hard but it can be fried in a pan the next day and is still delicious.
#5 Gorgonzola Mauri
This is a relatively new entry at Albert Heijn. Some products just come and go, Beppino Ocelli’s soft cheese was available before but it is nowhere to be found now. It probably has to do with demand so hopefully this Gorgonzola will pass the test of Gouda cheese eaters.
#6 Chianti Wine
For € 5.49 this is a good deal for a bottle of red wine. It goes well with any pasta dish, meat or vegetables. It has a so called DOC label on the cork that means that the grapes do come from the Chianti region. This paper strip glued at the top end of bottles is a stamp of approval that can make a difference in understanding which Italian wine you should buy. Again this quality assurance label system introduced in 1963 is regulated by a law.
#7 Aperol & Prosecco wine
Making a Spritz at home and feeling like you are in Venice is possible with a bit of imagination. Just buy a bottle of Aperol and any Prosecco, mix it with sparkling water and plenty of ice and garnish it with a slice of orange, stick a straw in the middle and enjoy this summer drink.
There is still a lot of work to be done for import/export companies and Dutch supermarket chains. To make sure the product is made in Italy look out for barcodes starting with 800. I don’t have a scientific explanation for this, but the coffee you buy abroad and the one you buy in Italy is different. It is the same brand but it does not have the same taste. In an emergency, I buy Illy Caffe or Lavazza Oro. I also find it quite hard to find a good parmesan, that’s why I stuff half a kilo in my trolley when returning from Italy. There is however, always the hope that I will find that little piece of Italy sitting on the shelf the next time I visit AH.
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