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