Last week I learned the Northern Italian style of making polenta from Monetto’s executive chef Fabrizio Cavallini, a native of Emilia Romagna. The restaurant, of course, is in Little Italy, so while I was there I stopped by Filippi’s Pizza Grotto—not to eat but to see what was in the little market at the front. The place has been open on India St. since 1950 and still in the DePhilippis family. Now, of course, there are a dozen locations around San Diego County besides the original Little Italy site.
What I enjoy, though, is the market, filled with both the expected jars of Nutella, olives, marinated artichoke hearts, and pasta, but also the imports of precious San Marzano canned tomatoes, Italian liqueurs, fragrant cheeses, and almond paste. It’s a treasure trove of Italian flavor and if you’re looking for a special ingredient for an authentic Italian recipe, this is one of the few places in San Diego where you can probably find it. Here are a few items I found you should know about.
There are many names for this dried and salted cod. You may have seen bacalao, the Spanish name, or bacalhua (Portuguese), or klippfisk (Scandanavian). In Italian, it’s baccala. Traditionally, the fish is preserved by drying after salting as a way of preserving it before refrigeration. It’s then rehydrated and desalinated by soaking in cold water for several days, changing it periodically during each day. I learned from Cavallini that it can be cooked in a red sauce that is then spooned over polenta to create a filling meal. $9.99 a pound with bone; $11.49 a pound without bone
Capers in Salt
You probably have a jar of capers in your refrigerator, soaking in a brine of vinegar. But consider switching over to capers preserved in dry salt. You may discover a whole other flavor than what you experienced with the brined capers, which take on the flavor of the brine. Salted capers retain their floral flavor and firm texture—so appropriate since capers are the flower buds of the caperberry (equally delicious). You’ll want to rinse them well before using, but then add them to a caponata, a rich puttanesca sauce, or melted butter and lemon juice to pour over fish. $3.59 a jar, imported from Italy
I first learned of this toasted Sardianian pasta in a piece by food writer and Food52 co-founder Amanda Hesser. Then I set out to try and find it in San Diego. And, it was here at Filippi’s. Look in the package and you’ll find tiny balls of durum wheat, browned from toasting to give it a nutty taste and nice bite. You can add it to soups, boil it in water or stock, then toss in a rich olive oil and a little grated cheese for a simple side dish, or create a fabulous salad with marinated artichokes, eggplant, tomatoes, and basil (and some of the capers above). $5.09 a package