low tech Italian classics to stuff into your suitcase

Made in Italy is renowned for shoes and bags, fast cars, alta moda and serious furniture design.  Hiding behind the big names and famous brands are the artisans; leatherworkers, furniture designers, glassblowers, mosaicists, shoemakers; craftsmen and women of so many kinds, and in between the famous brands and the artigiani are the medium size businesses that are the backbone of Italy the industrial nation.  Because as the traveller so easily forgets; this land of frescoes and formaggio is also the 8th largest economy in the world by gross GDP, and the 3rd biggest player in the EU.  The amount produced here is staggering.

Italians naturally make great kitchenware, and don’t feel the need to update models that already work.  The Imperia 100 pasta machine has had the same design (and box) for decades, even though a bit on the heavy side to be shoving into suitcases.  The below is a collection of some of my best loved Italian kitchen utensils, tableware and ceramics; made by those businesses that rattle and hum, throw and turn up and down the boot.  Everyone on this list still produces in Italy, and are champions of the ‘low tech’ kitchen.  Many are exported worldwide, but gain something special when bought at the source.

1. a very Italian gadget;  A traditional wheeled pasta cutter is so small you can more stash more than one in your case, which makes them a lovely look what I brought you from Italy kind of present.  Vanessa ‘the hungry chook’ Miles and I went to stock up on them while she was in Rome recently.  Useful for cutting not just ribbons of pasta but also strips of pastry for the lattice top of a crostata, or for cutting all kinds of biscuit pastry.  Wheeled cutters come in both crinkle cut – the shaped edge helps the sauce cling to the pasta – and plain versions.  In Rome wooden handled wheels like the one below – along with shelves of other lovely items – are to be found at Lela, via dei Petinari 37.

pastacutter1-webphoto: Vanessa Miles

2. the best kind of pan;  To saltare la pasta, that deft flick of the wrist and toss of the pan that sends the pasta ‘jumping’ into the air to be mixed with the sauce is a trick to master if one has the right pan.  Such a pan must have deep, curved sides and be light enough to handle easily once filled with vegetables or pasta. The aluminium padelle made by Pentolle Agnelli in the north of Italy are a cook’s favourite.  They come in a range of sizes and in Rome you can find them at Kitchen Cucina, Piazza San Cosimato 39 and at Peroni, Piazza dell’Unita 29.

MCPL9192photo: Mark Chew

3. a hand made plate;  Many of the ceramics that line the shelves at latteria studio, lovingly collected by prop stylist Emanuela Rota over many years, are from Ceramiche Nicola Fassano in Grottaglie, Puglia.  Less well known than the ceramics from Deruta in Umbria and Vietri in Campania, CNF has produced and exported for decades and builds on the traditions of the famous Pugliese dot and splash patterns as well as the most beautiful – and simple – colour treatment.   I recently discovered that the favourite green plates in the lower sideboard at Jamieson were also made here.  I distinctly remember Mum and I picking out the set circa 1985.  They were for Dad’s birthday – it was a classic I’m buying you a present which is really for me purchase.  I am dreaming of a trip to the factory and outlet in Puglia, but in the meantime Ceramiche Nicola Fassano have a store in Rome on Via dei Banchi Vecchi 141.

Pranzo romano-resizedphoto: Giorgia Nofrini

4. a real coffee maker:  It would be hard not to mention Bialetti, the universally loved Italian coffee machine founded by Alfonso Bialetti in 1919.  Forget George Clooney and his wasteful, costly and bland tasting capsules – the moka or caffett is the everlasting ode to morning coffee happiness.  Bialetti still produces some of its models in Italy, but perhaps the most gorgeous moka is the Alessi version seen below.  If you happen to be in Venice you can buy an Alessi moka along with fine house roasted coffee from Torrefazione Cannareggio Strada Nuova 1337 Cannareggio Venice.

CantucciWEBresizedphoto: Giorgia Nofrini

5. a very simple plate.  The white trattoria plates that get tossed in and out of the kitchen across Rome are most often by the brand Saturnia that has a factory in northern Lazio in the important porcelain ware producing town of Civita Castellana.  These are plates that don’t say anything more than what is in them, and are strong enough to withstand the grind of trattoria and/or family life.  These too can be found at Lela, in via dei Petinari 37.

Pasta e fagioli-whitebowl-webphoto: Giorgia Nofrini

6. Calabrian splash pottery.  Like the magicical splatters on borlotti beans, this turquoise like the Ionian sea splattered terracotta ware is typical of Calabria and is most often found as deep straight sided bowls.  I bought my first set from a stall at my local market where a young Calabrian sells cheeses, salamis and red onions direct from Tropea, along with terracotta cook ware and sets of the delightful splashed bowls.  Mercato Gregorio VII, Via Gregorio VII – Piazza Borgoncini Duca, Zona San Pietro.

calabrianobowl-horiz

Title photo: Marie Sjoberg

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5 thoughts on “low tech Italian classics to stuff into your suitcase

  1. What a lovely collection of Italian culinary tools.
    Kitchen souvenirs always make the best travel memories !

  2. I would add – a BIG mezzaluna for chopping pumpkin and herbs (i bought my last on the street in Prati and it has since broken so I’m definitely replacing it) and a Napoletana flip-style coffee pot. I LOVE the coffee that comes out of one of these and think it makes a smoother brew than a moka (heresy!) perhaps because I sometimes let a moka go too far on the stove and get a little bitter.

    What about an Italian knife, Alice? Any recommendations?

    1. Anna, I think this list is going to have to be an evolving one. Good question – Italian knives. We have three lovely Berti timber handled knives – they came from an enoteca in Testaccio so I’m going to check that they still stock them.

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