Italian restaurants are a treat and one of the great joys of travelling in Italy, but sometimes it feels good to stay at home in the holiday flat and not to have to worry about drinking and driving or tired, noisy children. Especially, as a gourmet Italian meal can be served with minimum effort.
All it takes is a trip to the local shops or a supermarket. In Italy food shopping can be an adventure, if you take the long way round and stop by the weekly farmers market and small, specialised grocery stores.
Markets always open early in the morning and close at noon, and they offer an outstanding range of seasonal vegetables and fruit along with stalls selling charcuterie, cheese, olives, fish, meat and clothes, household appliances and furniture for that matter. Buy some peppers, tomatoes, basil and other ingredients for an uncooked salad. Try out the gorgeous sausages and cold cuts like salame and mortadella (sausages), prosciutto crudo (cured ham), bresaola (salted beef) and speck (lean, smoked bacon). A few choice cheeses including mozzarella. And loads of fresh fruit.
Specialised grocery shops
Then you just have to find a panificio (baker) to stock up on bread, bread sticks, focaccia and pizza slices. An alimentari (grocery) and perhaps an enoteca for soft drinks and wine. A rosticceria (fast food shop) for roasted meat. And a pasticceria (cake and pastry shop) for desserts. You can spend a whole day shopping, but it is great fun.
For those who do not see the charm of slow shopping for food, there is always the big supermarkets selling everything under one roof. In the supermarkets you are not allowed to touch fruit and vegetables unless you put on one of the supplied plastic gloves, and then each purchase must be weighed and labelled. You also have to take a number and queue at the bread, fish and deli counters, which usually gives you plenty of time to study the delicacies on offer. Apart from cheese and cold cuts the deli in Italian supermarkets sell stuffed pasta and ready-made antipasti (starters) like olives, seafood salads, mayonnaise salads, pesto, cooked artichokes, grilled aubergine, squash and peppers. Watch out so you don’t let your eyes shop for you though, or you will wish you opted for car hire during your holiday to get all your amazing ingredients home.
You just take your pick, and point your way through, if you don’t speak Italian. It can be quite an experience.
All ready for a full Italian meal
A reward awaits at the table, where all you have to do is unwrap the goods and maybe slice up a few tomatoes for a caprese salad with mozzarella, basil and olive oil. Serve your selection of cold cuts and ready-made antipasti with bread and bread sticks as a starter. Use the salad or boiled ravioli with pesto for primo piatto, which is the second serving in a typical Italian meal. Move on to take-away roasted meat (secondo piatto). And round off with cheese, fresh fruit and pastry.
You will have a feast to be remembered.
Mette Vaabengaard is the GO! Travel expert on cooking in Italy and cooking your own food while travelling. She can also be found on her blog Italian Notes.