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From the Land of Slow Food, 10 Italian Shortcuts for Classic Dishes, Faster

April  7, 2016

You wouldn’t expect it from the country that developed the term “slow foods,” but Italians certainly have found an awful lot of shortcuts for making their very traditional foods more quickly and easily.

Growing up, here were some of my favorites:

Photo by S&A

4 Salti in Padella:

With a name that translates literally to "four jumps in a pan," these are a wide range of frozen meals, all pasta-based. That’s right: Frozen pasta meals for Italians. My grandmother would never dare serve a frozen meal, nor would my great aunts and uncles—they’re still living off their flourishing farms, raising pigs, chickens, keeping bees, farming vegetables.

But my aunt and uncle? They both work full-time. She’s used these—even the frozen lasagna. “You know how many times I bought the pre-made lasagna that you just have to put in the oven?”

Photo by Zero1

Simmenthal (Italian Spam)

Either you love it or it’s the last thing you want to come in contact with. I happen to think it’s quite tasty (as does my Uncle). It’s the Italian equivalent to Spam: beef in jelly which is then canned and enjoyed over vegetables, on toast, or, as the website recipes suggests, any way your imagination can come up with.

Photo by Ingredienti & Informazioni

Rio Mare Insalatissime

I cannot tell you how passionately I feel about these tins of perfection. Truthfully there’s just something different about Italian tuna (besides, in this one, the obvious addition of vegetables). In my family, a large portion of our day was planned around going to the beach (if you’ve ever Google-image-searched La Maddalena, this needs no explaination).

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Top Comment:
“Saving "5 minutes" of time to prepare some frozen pasta, when it takes, literally 7 minutes to make a spectacular linguine di pasta Gragnano with cherry tomatoes and basil, it is not worth it, in my opinion. BTW....while these products are still easy to find on the shelves of our grocery stores, as a matter of fact most of them are not commercialized that much anymore (they were in the 80ies...). Luckily people are getting aware of the fact that to cook well and healthy doesn't require a masterchef....not a shortcut in the frozen department of the food shop.”
— Michele C.
Comment

Trips to the beach meant packing at least 3 separate coolers of food (and arguing about who was going to lug what), and you’re almost always sure to find insalata di riso in any family’s caravan of food. The dish is simple: Empty this can and a jar of Condiriso (a garden variety of pickled vegetables) over rice; some also add Italian mayonnaise. Stir well and let cool. If you can find any of these ingredients in your local Italian specialty store, try it! I highly recommend.

Parmalat’s Chef Panna

It wasn’t until my freshman year of college that I faced the harsh reality that drinking Parmalat milk was weird to outsiders. I never for a second thought it was odd that we had to make a special trip to an out-of-town grocery store for our monthly stock up of milk; nor did it catch my attention when my mother nearly incited a one-person riot when the store manager mentioned they would no longer be carrying Paramlat’s bomb shelter-proof milk. It wasn’t until my very new college roommate winced when I explained that the grocery bag full of boxed deliciousness was my three-month contribution to our dorm room that I realized that something was different. I have since shied away from my habit of shelf-warmed milk and Tarallucci on a sleepless night.

My favorite of their products is Panna. Essentially a boxed cream sauce, this was one of the many delicacies my mother would stuff into our suitcases on our trips to Italy. Luckily, now many Italian specialty stores in the States carry these small, six-ounce boxes of gold.

These come in a variety of flavors (mushroom, artichoke, saffron, smoked salmon), but I stick to the plain. If you can’t decide on what to make for dinner, boil and drain pasta, cut open your desired box of panna from your stash, pour over hot pasta on the stovetop, and stir for 4 to 5 minutes. Add a TON of fresh cracked pepper, peas (frozen are fine), and Parmigiano (pancetta, too). Eat, enjoy, and love life. This sauce is the perfect blank canvas for pretty much anything, and they even have a besciamella—which will get you out of having to make it for your next lasagna (you’re welcome).

Photo by Marrandino

Fior di Latte Packets

These little gems of fresh mozzarella come in single-serve packets for you to bring to the beach or to the park, to top your panino on the spot. If grocery stores carried these here, I would travel around with one in my purse like most people do trail mix.

Photo by Star

Star Risotto

You’d think the country that created this masterpiece dish would never defile it by packaging its beauty in freeze-dried form. But that's not the case! In any supermercato in Italy, you can find these in asparagi, fior di verdure, even tartufo (truffle!). You can even get risotto flavored with squid ink.

Photo by trnd italia

Minestrone

"Mica tagliuzzo tutte le verdue? What do you think I cut all of those vegetables?" my aunt esked to me over the phone one night. “All you have to do is dump this in boiling water!”

That’s right Italian minestrone—there’s a shortcut for that too, my friends. And Italians are using them. There a few popular shortcut minestrone products on the market: Some are essentially bouillon cubes, chock-full of tasty monosodium glutamate, while others which are charmingly coined Cuore di Brodo (“heart of broth”) and come in your basic boxed soups. Funny enough, most of these are manufactured by the German brand Knorr.

Photo by Copycrash
Photo by Etalian Food

Other things you have to try:

  • Sofficini (large mozzarella sticks, sold frozen)
  • Fiesta Ferrero Bars (crack in snack cake form; made for children but mysteriously soaked in orange liqueur)
  • Mulino Bianco - Cestin di Cocche Cake (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve failed at transporting one of these apricot crostata back home in my suitcase)

Do you have a favorite pre-made grocery store item, Italian or otherwise? Share with us in the comments!

7 Comments

Julia T. April 20, 2016
I'm not sure if all Whole Foods stores carry them, but my Whole Foods sells individually packaged bocconcini!
 
angela April 8, 2016
Great job Rebecca! I don't see why everything has be about promoting something. I found this article interesting and most of all refreshing. Finally an Italian who's not too presumptuous to admit that yes we are human and yes there are times we use shortcuts in our busy lives. In my opinion Italian cuisine is the best in the world with or without shortcuts. My compliments to Food52 for starting discussions on this subject.
 
Russell F. April 8, 2016
As a European -- one albeit from Northern Europe -- "processed" foods in our part of the world are luckily void of most of the chemicals you'll find in off-the-shelf products in America--by law. <br /><br />That's why I love the Italian tuna -- and even salmon. Try putting that with the panna recommended in this article over pasta. Buonissimo!!
 
Stefania O. April 8, 2016
I loved this article! I grew up in an Italian household with Italian parents, born in Italy - and not a badabing-chicken-parm-spray-tan Jersey shore type of deal either. I still loved this article. I think the author knows full well that you can cook a quick dish just as easily as you can pick up one of these frozen packs or "scatolette" - but the point she's making is that Italy, just like the rest of us, isn't above stocking its market shelves with convenience items like Simmenthal or tuna mix-ins or yes- even frozen lasagne. And - a little bias here - I'd take a frozen Italian something over a frozen American something any day. But that's just me! This made me smile and brought back the warm-and-fuzzies from my summers in Italy at my aunt's house, eating all kinds of incredible homemade dishes. And, yes - even a scatoletta or two, or a frozen spinacina patty when she was just too damn tired from cranking out all that deliciousness. Even the best chefs need a break. Nice work Rebecca :)
 
Michele C. April 8, 2016
As Italian, when I read Food52 promoting something related to Italian cuisine, I expect to read articles regarding the quality of the raw materials, the attention for the details and the importance to eating healthy while enjoying great dishes. The promotion of that "food-like" substances (as correctly defined by another reader) is the evidence that there is much more to do to promote and spread the understanding of the products made by reputable artisans and certified denominations, and to defend them from poor-quality imitations. A country’s cuisine exists in the memories of their people and in those who have passed along their food knowledge and wisdom for centuries. Oftentimes transforming “poor” or marginal ingredients into masterpieces of taste and good health. Saving "5 minutes" of time to prepare some frozen pasta, when it takes, literally 7 minutes to make a spectacular linguine di pasta Gragnano with cherry tomatoes and basil, it is not worth it, in my opinion. <br />BTW....while these products are still easy to find on the shelves of our grocery stores, as a matter of fact most of them are not commercialized that much anymore (they were in the 80ies...). Luckily people are getting aware of the fact that to cook well and healthy doesn't require a masterchef....not a shortcut in the frozen department of the food shop.
 
MaryLouise T. April 7, 2016
Boh! These are not foods; they are food-like substances, mostly sugar.
 
carswell April 7, 2016
I've used the little boxes of cream sauce - the porcini is my favourite. From my own trip to Italy - when you can lay your hands on the little round amaretti cookies it's wise to stock up.