Balsamic vinegar is dark, thick and syrupy with a complex, sweet taste and much more expensive than common vinegars. It originated in the Modena region of Italy and you should look for this on the label along with a star rating (eight stars denotes an excellent, highly concentrated vinegar).
Basil (basilico) is an Italian herb used to flavour sauces, salads and added to pizza after cooking.
Pane di Casa or ciabatta should be crusty on the outside and not too doughy or too airy inside. Served with cheese, prosciutto and used for the well-known bruschetta.
Extra virgin olive oil
Extra virgin olive oil is used extensively for dipping bread into, drizzling over salads and cooked dishes, as well as for cooking with. Look for cold pressed extra virgin olive oil with a rich golden, green colour.
Formaggio is cheese with two main categories Sweet (dolce) or with bite (picante).
Gorgonzola is a creamy blue cheese used in the classic dish gnocchi gorgonzola.
Ricotta is a very versatile cheese used in both sweet and savoury dishes.
Mozzarella and bocconcini
Mozzarella and bocconcini are soft, mild fresh cheeses. Both are known as a “tomato’s best friend”, as they complement each other so well.
Parmesan is known in Italy as the “the King of cheeses”. Parmiggiano Reggiano is the Grandfather of the Parmesan family, having been matured for approx four years. It has crystals throughout the cheese that melt in your mouth releasing its flavour. It is best served after a meal with fruit and wine. Grana Padano is the baby as it has been matured for only 18 months. It is grated and sprinkled over pasta as the Reggiano is considered too special and expensive for this. It lifts the flavour of pasta dishes and is the tomato sauce to a meat pie.
There are many types available including Sicilian (a green olive with a citrusy flavour), giant green olives and Ligurian (small black olives).
Pasta dried and fresh
Supermarket shelves groan under the weight of the enormous variety of pasta available. Pasta is usually eaten in most Italian households every day. Fresh pasta has a silkier texture.
Bottling fresh tomatoes to make “passata” for use throughout the winter is a grand Italian family tradition, typically done on one long, food - and wine - filled day of the year with the entire family present. Bottled, canned and fresh tomatoes are used abundantly throughout the year.