Written by Anthony Shaw
Neapolitan pizza is made from imported Italian buffalo mozzarella. Magali Gautier’s photo.
Italy has finally opened its long-awaited three-story food court in Westfield Valley Fair. Spread over 45,000 square feet and featuring a rooftop restaurant, Eataly Silicon Valley offers Italian food lovers the opportunity to shop for groceries, browse specialty foods, and enjoy wine, pizza, and gelato all in one place.
A store with more than 10,000 products can be overwhelming, so we enlisted the help of Viola Boitoni, an Italian food expert who teaches cooking classes in both San Francisco and Italy. She will release a cookbook called “Italy by Ingredient” next year and work as an expert food consultant at the Italian Consulate in San Francisco. We toured Italy as part of a media tour before the store opened.
From dried pasta to fresh fish, here’s Buitoni’s guide to Eataly’s must-haves:
Pope’s salt: According to Buitoni, naming the food after a religious office means that the ingredient is “very tasty and a bit of a secret.” In Italy, religious leaders historically received the best products, usually for free.
Pop’s salt has a bit of the bitter, mineral flavor that defines many other salts since it comes from the Adriatic Sea. Buitoni uses it to season already salty fish and earthy root vegetables.
PizzaMade in Naples in partnership with the Naples-based chain Rossopomodoro, Buffalo Mozzarella is imported from Italy because the store was unable to recreate it locally (the store’s fresh mozzarella is made from cow’s milk).
Buitoni appreciates the mozzarella that tops Eataly’s pizza and says cheese should be judged by its milk. It shouldn’t squeak when bitten at either.
Umbrian lentils: Perhaps Buitoni’s favorite ingredient in the entire store, this lentil comes from her home region of Umbria. She says they stay full, cook within 20 minutes and don’t require pre-soaking.
Buitoni recommends frying highly flavored lentils with some pancetta, bay leaf, tomato paste, and flavorings including celery, carrot, onion or garlic. You then remove the pan glass with the red wine and slowly cook the lentils in a little water.
Pappardelle Campophyllon is encapsulated to preserve the pasta’s delicate shape. Magali Gautier’s photo.
dried noodles: Buitoni peers closely at each can of pasta for cracks and imperfections. She points to the jagged edges and white and yellow lines in Campofilone pasta as an example of what to look for. These details show that real eggs have been used and that the pasta has not been strained. The source is also important, and many of Eataly’s selections come from Gragnano, an area known for its dried pasta.
A surprising note from Buitoni, pasta makers love American Manitoba wheat, which is high in protein that creates a strong twist on gluten. She says pasta made with only Italian grains has a more intense flavor, but a lack of high-protein flour may affect texture. Finally, she recommends looking for packaged pasta instead of bags, especially when buying the crispier shapes.
mandarinata: While Buitoni finds most American sodas too sweet, this sparkling citrus drink is her pick for a cool summer drink.
All kinds of tomatoes: Buitoni points out that even among the famous San Marzano tomatoes, some producers make better products than others. The Gustarosso brand backed by the cooperative highlights its long-standing relationships with farmers.
She also likes the Triple Concentrate Tomato Paste, which gives a deep “unparalleled” flavor and is hard to find here in the States. She especially recommends it to vegetarians looking to add richness to their dishes.
At the end of the tomato aisle, Boitoni refers to datrino tomatoes packed in water. She says companies that pack tomatoes into puree may use subpar tomatoes in the surrounding puree. These baby tomatoes are quickly cooked over high heat with oil and garlic, or they can be crushed raw and smeared with bread.
Scorpio / rock and monkThese two fish can be found in the Mediterranean, and Buitoni finds them delicious in aqua baza, poached in tomatoes and water with black olives, garlic, and basil. Roast it also with potatoes and zucchini.
Orecchiette di grana arso gets a darker color than burnt wheat. Magali Gautier’s photo.
Orecchiette di Grano ArsoMade from ‘burnt wheat’, this pasta comes from Apulia and signifies the resourcefulness of the common people and farmers. Burning fields was part of the agricultural cycle in the area, and residents scavenged the remains of wheat. However, as economic conditions improved, Grano Arso became associated with poverty and began to fade as a culinary tradition. About 10 to 15 years ago, locals began restoring the Grano Arso tradition, and returned to produce this noodles with an ashy flavor that complements the wild herbs and bitter vegetables common in Puglia.
balsamic vinegar: Buitoni says to look for both the word “traditional” and the proprietary round bottles that indicate the highest qualities of balsamic vinegar. Extravecchio vinegar from Modena is at least 25 years old and sells for $199 a bottle at Eataly. Buitoni compares these vinegars and their slightly younger relatives to treacle and says they’re the only ones you should pay a really premium price for. Cheaper alternatives are suitable for cooking and making hot sauces.
Hazelnut from PiedmontBuitoni enjoys these hazelnuts as snacks, in bread, on top of yogurt and in salads and sauces. It is said to have a richer flavor than most commercially produced hazelnuts.
Passion fruit gelato served with edible flower garnish. Magali Gautier’s photo.
GelatoThe gelato division at Eataly Silicon Valley is different from the counters at other supermarket locations thanks to a partnership with third-generation gelato chef Patrizia Pasqualetti. San Francisco resident and former gelato maker at GIO Gelati is based in the city, Pasqualetti continues her family’s tradition of making seasonal desserts by opening stores in Yountville and Malibu.
Marvis toothpaste: The end of a great day of eating should end with proper hygiene, and Marvis toothpaste is a must in Buitoni bag whenever she returns from Italy. The brand’s traditional flavors include ginger, cinnamon, and amaryllis licorice.
Silicon Valley Italy, Westfield Valley Fair, 2855 Stevens Creek Blvd., Santa Clara; 650-456-9200. Instagram: Tweet embed.
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