Hands gesturing, eyes bright with enthusiasm, Pietro’s Italian-accented words tumbled out. He was describing the high-quality, hard-to-find ingredients used at TerraSole, his restaurant in Ridgefield. Each menu item, he told us, is created with top quality, authentic, carefully-sourced supplies for the best possible flavor and appearance.
It got me thinking about the importance of quality makings to produce authentic food from any culture – Italian, Mexican, Indian or others. If you want it to taste like the real thing, you need to use the real stuff. Fortunately, in our area, the genuine ingredients are there. You just have to look.
“You can’t make authentic Italian food without the same foods they cook with in Italy,” owner Pietro Polini explained. And the food at TerraSole (TerraSoleRidgefield.com) was exceptional – beautifully presented, richly flavorful, and genuinely Italian. Drawing on Tuscany and Northern Italy for inspiration, Polini works hard to find the right supplies to produce the restaurant’s brilliant cuisine. He ought to know, since he also owns the restaurant Malvasia in Rimini, Italy on the Adriatic coast.
At a recent tasting dinner, Pietro invited us to explore twelve dishes across the traditional courses of antipasti, insalate, farinacci, secondi and dolci. Each showcased the role of quality ingredients in producing top-notch food that is true to its origins.
Imported Burrata cheese doused with extra virgin olive oil that had been infused with black truffle juice, San Daniele prosciutto aged 16 months, and organic tomatoes made up the Burrata Caprese salad. This kind of care in sourcing ingredients is rare and rewarding – nothing like the usual sliced tomatoes and mozzarella often seen.
At Terrasole fresh pastas are imported from Italy or made in-house. Salumi comes from the town of Biella in the Piedmont. Sicilian eggplant and San Marzano tomatoes are the foundation of delectable vegetarian meatballs. (There’s an oxymoron for you!)
The list goes on and on. Pietro is one of the largest buyers of fresh Italian truffles in Connecticut: white from October to December and black from March to September. In the TerraSole kitchen they season with pink sea salt and cook with their own garlic-infused olive oil (not minced garlic) for a more subtle flavor. In the wine department, Pietro even brings in an exclusive organic Apulian Primitivo from Salento.
After Pietro’s lesson on quality ingredients, I stopped by A-S Fine Foods at 120 New Canaan Avenue in Broad River (asnorwalk.com) looking for the same quality of supplies for home cooking. For authentic prepared foods, quality ingredients, and imported provisions, A-S is a destination for real Italian provisions.
Angelo (the A of A-S) was pleased to show me around the store. A dozen bottles of olive oil were lined up on shelf each with a different story, place of origin, flavor profile, and production method – some more bitter, others organic, one from a grove of trees 300 years old .
Fresh mozzarella is made daily. The store’s own Italian specialties fill the refrigerator case. Bags of imported pasta line the shelves, or you can get Italian durum flour to make your own. Cans, jars, and packages of every imaginable Italian food make a colorful display.
DOP (Denominazione Origine Protetta) is the Italian government system for insuring the authenticity of food products. Angelo proudly showed me his San Marzano tomatoes marked with the official seal. They’re the real thing. With over 40 years in the business of importing Italian foods, he knows where to find the best.
The store has a loyal local following as well as fans who travel from across Fairfield County, Westchester, and further afield in Connecticut. It’s worth the trip. On a recent busy Saturday morning, Angelo came out from the back with balls of just-made Burrata cheese. “It’s still warm,” he said. “Who wants some?” The shoppers crowded right in.
Working with authentic ingredients is important in all cuisines. In Norwalk, we have a bounty of stores ready to meet the demand: The Produce Market at 235 Main Ave. has impeccable fresh fruits and vegetables, imported Hispanic spices and seasonings, fruit juices, and the pantry supplies essential for real South and Central American flavors. Next time you’re making tacos, try some of these instead of the supermarket taco seasoning.
A Taste of Europe at 330 Westport Ave has meats, sausages, canned and pickled items as well as sweets from Northern Europe. Steve’s Market at 69 Main Street has everything you need for delicious Greek recipes. Patel Brothers at 330 Connecticut Ave (Bestbuy Shopping Center) is a national chain that has become a destination for Indian groceries in Norwalk. The Oriental Food Market at 109 New Canaan Ave. has a great selection of Pacific Rim ingredients.
As I’ve said in previous columns, we’re lucky to have access to such international bounty in Norwalk. I’m sure there are others that I haven’t included, but you get the idea. Seeking out genuine ingredients from off the beaten path sources is lots of fun, but the real payoff is in the eating!
Frank Whitman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org