I was lucky enough to travel to Italy three times within the last 18 months, visiting — and eating my way through — Genoa, Naples, Florence, Rome, and the Piedmont region. I brought back tomato paste, dried pasta, and jars of jam because, hello, Italy is one of my favorite food places on the planet. The prospect of recreating these meals at home wasn’t something I could pass up.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered a lot of the same items I hauled through the airport (and customs) at Marshalls. I expect to find staples, like olive oil and panettone, on the shelves there. At this point, those items can be found in almost any U.S. town’s specialty grocer. I was shocked, though, by the depth of items stocked in the Home Decor section, somewhere between scented candles reminiscent of a recent vacation and stacks of baking tins. The packaging is often in Italian and “made in Italy” appears prominently.
I’m not sure when I’ll travel to Italy next, so in the meantime, these are the products I’m stocking in my Wisconsin kitchen. Some were even discounted from their original price and on clearance.
1. Mariangela Prunotto Organic Tomato Purée, $3.99 at 24.3 ounces
I’m a tomato snob. I grow San Marzano tomatoes in my garden just so I can have Italy-grade tomato sauce all winter long. I definitely had my suspicions about this purée — until I saw it’s made in Alba (Italy’s Piedmont region). Bra, a town in Piedmont, is where the Slow Food movement promoting local food and traditional cooking originated; Alba’s in the same province of Cuneo, less than 11 miles east. While the consistency is more like tomato paste than sauce, the tomato flavor carries the right amount of acidity. I can’t wait to make eggplant Parmigiana with this, using eggplants scored at a recent farmers market.
2. Perla dell’Etna Sicilian Lemon Organic Marmalade, $3.99 for 8 ounces
Although I’m not a jam-lover (I’d rather slather butter on bread), when the neighbor next door to my home rental in Italy’s Piedmont region gifted their fruit jams I became a convert. There’s a lot of brightness in this Sicilian jam and yet it’s not heavy or layered. Just pure lemon flavors, on top of sourdough toast for a quick breakfast. It’s so good I enjoyed it two mornings in a row.
3. Aramino Truffle Risotto, $3.99 for 7.58 ounces
When I’m in Italy and tire of ordering seafood entrées and hearty pastas with tomato sauce, risotto is my BFF. I once took a class taught by an Italian chef on how to properly make risotto. The first thing he said is don’t use the same rice you use for stir-fries, because the shorter- to medium-sized grains (such as arborio, named after a town in Italy; and carnaroli, stemming from Northern Italy) are best. This risotto is made from Italian rice, and that dehydrated truffle really added aromatics — and it’s ready in 16 minutes just like the packaging declares. I tossed it with roasted Brussels sprouts for a low-key Sunday dinner.
4. Ciao Italia Truffle Tagliatelle, $5 for 17.6 ounces
With a mix of porcini mushrooms and summer truffle, tossing this with roasted tomatoes and potatoes, along with a tablespoon of pesto, truly nailed a recent dinner that served as a love letter to all things Italy. The width of these noodles was also spot-on: not as wide as fettuccine or as stringy as angel hair. If one does not like truffle flavors, this might not be a dream dish because the earthiness is very strong. The pasta did cling like a BFF to the pesto — perfection!
5. Il Balesto Cantuccini ai Fichi, $3.50 for 8.8 ounces
Almond-based, delightfully crunchy biscotti are everywhere in Italy. Some people like to dunk them in their coffee or wine (yes, really: Vin Santo is preferred); they’re also a staple in any Italian bakery that sells cookies. These are the ideal size (American biscotti are so huge; it’s overwhelming for me) and fold in dried figs for a hint of sweetness, with a slightly softer center. I enjoy them with my coffee every morning now.
Do you shop for groceries at Marshalls? Tell us about it in the comments below.
This post originally appeared on The Kitchn. See it there: The Best Gourmet Italian Groceries Are Hiding in … Marshalls?