Monthly Archives: June 2013

Are San Marzano tomatoes really better than other canned tomatoes?


San Marzano is a variety of plum tomatoes that come from the Campania region of Italy. They have a longer shape than most tomatoes and their color is a deep, rich red. Their flavor is strong and sweet with a bit less acidity than other tomatoes. There is almost a meaty taste to them. That is due to the the volcanic soil from which they are grown. San Marzano sits at the base of Mount Vesuvius.

San Marzano tomatoes are a staple in Italian cooking, and there really is no substitute. They are used by most of today’s popular Italian chefs, and they are the only tomatoes used for true Napoletana style pizza. Google “San Marzano” and “Batali”…he loves them.

When buying San Marzanos, be on the lookout for knockoffs. There are many brands of tomato that may include the words “San Marzano style” or “San Marzano brand” on the can that aren’t really from San Marzano. In fact, many aren’t even from Italy. Real San Marzanos must come from San Marzano, and only come whole and peeled or as fillets. If you see the words “chopped”, “diced”, “pureed” or “organic” they aren’t San Marzano. The surest way to know you’re getting the real thing is to look for “DOP Certified” on the label…we’ll save the topic of DOP for another day. They are more expensive, but absolutely worth it.


Now that the Italian meat ban has been lifted in the U.S., when will we start seeing some of it?

image source -
image source –

In a couple of months.

On May 28, a ban on cured Italian meats that had been in place since 1963 was lifted. The ban was on Italian pork, specifically, and was due to the outbreak of at least two contagious swine diseases over fifty years ago. Last month, Italian officials had declared many of the northern Italian regions free of swine disease, which opens up the opportunity for export. In 1987, the ban was lifted on imported prosciutto and mortadella, because they are aged for more than 400 days which was proved to kill the swine virus.

The regional meats that are soon heading our way include salami, coppa, pancetta, soppressata and the prized culatello. Culatello originates from the Po River Valley. It is made from the hind leg of a pig like prosciutto, but only the tender rear part that is free from bone and skin. It is salted and carefully massaged before it is encased in a pig bladder. It is then hung in a slightly humid barn or cave where it will age for at least a year. The taste of culatello is richer than that of prosciutto.

Below is a photo of culatello di Zibello I had at a restaurant in Santa Margherita Ligure during my last trip to Italy. It was served with a robiola cheese and fruit mostarda. There is a reason I keep going on about culatello…it’s amazing.

Then what’s the wait? Well, the certification for Italian meat producers can take up to three months, and the high demand for this previously unattainable meat is going to make finding it a challenge once it does arrive.


Does anyone really need another pot just for pasta?


Yes…ok, no, but you will love it.

It’s the Bialetti Pasta Pot, and it can be found for under 30 bucks at most stores that carry housewares. Bialetti is the company that makes the Moka Express stovetop espresso maker. You know, the one that was always sitting on Nonna’s stove. If you don’t have one, then shame on you. It’s an essential item in all Italian kitchens.

For starters, the Pasta Pot has a locking lid with a built in strainer. The handles are heat resistant, so you don’t need pot holders when draining the pasta, and they are set far enough from the pot that the heat from the steam won’t burn your hands. At 5 quarts it’s the perfect size, and it comes in a variety of colors. It has an oval design, so you don’t have to break long spaghetti. The pot has a non-stick surface, so once your pasta is finished cooking and drained, you can add your sauce directly to the pot of pasta and not worry about messy cleanup.

There’s an entertaining video about the pot featuring Top Chef’s Fabio Vivianni on Bed Bath & Beyond’s website. Check it out.

Well, which is it?


Is it sauce or gravy? It’s one of the greatest debates among Italian-Americans.  I am referring, of course, to the sauce (or gravy) that Mom stood over all day, every Sunday.

I thought a simple Google search would find me the answer, but all I found was message board after message board of people passionately arguing that what they call it is correct.  I thought maybe it was a regional thing, either in the US or wherever the family hails from in Italy…but to no avail.  I found a pretty equal amount of Chicagoans and New Yorkers who call it either one or the other.  The same went for Italian regions of origin, whether it be Northern Italy or Sicily.

After asking a number of friends, I received a variety of answers.  One was that it is a gravy if there is meat in the preparation and sauce if there is not.  Another said that it is only gravy if it is made on Sunday…hmm, interesting.  I also heard that it is only gravy if it takes all day to make.

I knew from the start that there is no real answer to the question.  For most, it really just depends on what Mom called it when you were young.  That being said, my own mother would never call it anything other than sauce, while for me, I like the sound of gravy.