The pasta aisle at Fraboniâ??s
Putting together a delicious Italian meal does not necessarily require a year in cooking school or the good luck to have an Italian grandma who thinks nothing of spending six hours a day in the kitchen. Happily, we live in a time and place where we can get by on our shopping skills without shame. Here are a few suggestions to refine your search.
The olive bar at Whole Foods is a simple way to get your meal started, though not inexpensive at $9.99/lb. Still, the selection of olives and olive mixes is larger than most. Simpler yet, Gino's Italian Deli (two locations, Verona Road and Middleton) offers an antipasto salad of salami, olives, peppers and feta tossed in olive oil for $5.39/lb. Trader Joe's has an inviting selection of jarred antipasto spreads ' olive, artichoke, tomato and combinations thereof. Slather over slices of grilled or toasted French or Italian bread.
Speaking of Italian breads, the favorites in our house are Whole Foods's Pane Rustica ($3.99) or Tuscan ($3.59), though excellent European-style loaves are also available at the Willy Street Co-op and from Madison Sourdough.
For salad, both Gino's and Fraboni's markets offer a variety of prepared salads made with vegetables, meats and cheeses. They're tasty, and nothing could be easier, but if you prefer something fresher and don't mind a tiny bit of work, toss a heap of spring salad mix or baby arugula leaves in a bowl with some olive oil, a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and pinches of salt and pepper. Top with a little grated or shaved P armesan cheese.
It is undoubtedly my childhood training, but no matter how quickly I'm hoping to put together a meal, I boil the pasta fresh ' it doesn't take long and the texture is superior. Fraboni's has the best selection of imported pasta in town. My grandma, who lived in the kitchen, always used De Cecco, but I've never learned to be a pasta brand snob. I am a snob about what to put on it, however.
Both Gino's and Fraboni's carry superb pestos by Renaissance Farms in their freezer cases. Tomato sauces are a matter of taste. Fraboni's packages a homemade tomato sauce ($1.75/lb.) that is light, not overly sweet, and blends well with other ingredients. One of our favorite (and quick!) dishes is to simmer a pound of Fraboni's bulk homemade Italian sausage ($3.39/lb. for either mild or hot) in their tomato sauce and a little red wine before pouring over fettuccine. Yum. Gino's offers meatballs, prepared and cooked for $6.79/lb., ready to re-warm in the sauce of your choice.
The best Italian dessert is a little coffee with a small sweet. Our favorites are the unassumingly packaged sesame biscotti from Fraboni's. They are called Dolci, and are made locally by Sandra Hunter from her family's Sicilian recipe. For a richer treat, Whole Foods' bakery makes a tiramisu that fills the bill (though it would be improved if they used real coffee and rum instead of extracts). I'd recommend the cups ($3.99 each), where the ladyfingers have been soaked, rather than the cake, where the dry ladyfingers circle the outside of the cake.