One of the biggest problems being an expat is missing some comfort food. For me it is mostly baked goods. Bagels, Pancakes and other sweets from my childhood. I also miss some of the international foods I grew up on like Chinese, Mexican and Japanese.
I want to share some of my pantry basics. I thought I would start my expat pantry entry with what you need for baking as it seems to be the most confusing.
Already, your normal recipes won’t work as the flour is so different. Baking powder and baking soda are not sold like they are in the USA.
Baking powder, Baking Soda and Yeast
Baking soda is called bicarbonata di sodio and is not in the baked goods section, but rather in the cleaning section of the grocery stores. I find it in a box, but you sometimes find it in a round container too. You can probably also find it in a pharmacy.
Baking powder is called Lievito Instantaneo. There are two kinds of baking powder, one says it is for pizza and savory tarts and the other says it is for cakes and contains vanillina, a chemical vanilla. Until recently, we could not find real vanilla here in Italy, but just this year I have found it. Italians tend to use lemon zest in cakes for sweetening or the powdered vanillina.
I use this one for all my baking. It is NOT for normal pizza! You need yeast for a good pizza dough, this is for a piadina flat bread or a flour tortilla type bread. It is plain baking powder. I have real vanilla and add it when I need it. When you want to bake a classic Italian cake, you really need to use the one with for desserts as that is the flavor that Italians want for their memories of Nonna’s dolci.
This is what Italians use for sweets. Until recently, Pure Vanilla was not available, nor vanilla beans. Italians are used to having the chemical Vanillina flavor in desserts. I always suggest if you have relatives from Italy at home, get some as it will bring back memories.
But what about real yeast for bread. Lievito is also the word for yeast, there is fresh yeast, Lievito di Birra, which is found in the refrigerated section of the store, in small cubes.
This is kept in the fridge at home and broken up into smaller bits to dissolve in warm water before adding the liquid to the flour.
You can also get a powdered yeast, in granules. When you shake the bag you can hear them move around.
Normally there is a larger bag with several smaller bags inside, left to right, the first two are normal yeast for bread making, the oneof the right is a dried “mother” for those that want to make a more “sourdough” style bread.
During the “covid virus” break making took off for everyone! I think mostly as a way to stay same. In Italy, we could always buy bread no problem. It became hard to find flour and yeast. My baker sold me both.
When baking, one of the biggest difference will be the flour. American all purpose flour has a higher gluten level which means it absorbs more liquid and that changes a recipe.
Most Italians use 00 flour or 0. Both are lower in gluten than all purpose flour, more like White Lily flour from the south, perfect for delicate biscuits.
As an ex-pastry chef, there are so many things that can be variable in a recipe. All the ingredients are a little different. Flour, sugar, eggs and butter.
One of the other things you should do is learn to weigh ingredients.
I still have all my cups and measuring spoons and then after tweeking recipes I like to write them down in weights.
Create your own notebook of your favorite recipes and then pass them on to your Italian friends too.
Some recipes now can be made simply by using Manitoba flour,( Canadian hard wheat) which has a higher protein, is more like All Purpose flour.
Another misconception in American, is that pizza is made with bread flour. In Naples, it is traditional to use a 0 or 00 flour, the lower gluten flour and another secret which I learnt was to use almost 80% water and a long rising time.
We can now find Maple syrup in our local grocery stores or health food stores. The one in my local shop is from Canada.
We have a tiny section for international foods. Raman noodles, funny the Italian Buitoni brand is cheaper.
Mexican is popular now, so salsa, tortillas, jalapenos in a jar.
Chinese and Japanese food, I can get noodles, fresh ginger, soy sauce, tamari and teriyaki. Rice wine vinegar, sheets of seaweed and sometimes wasabi and ginger. Freshly made Sushi is available at my grocery store and can be ordered for parties as well.
I can find peanut butter, but in my local store it is more for Satay. No sugar and oily.
I can find American brands down in Florence where we have many international shops.
What favorite cookbooks did you bring with you? Here is my list of basics:
( I am posting with my affiliates links, which give me a small percentage if you buy, but don’t affect the price for you in anyway!) just a little way of helping support the site.
I have some more technical books too, will work on setting up a list of my all time favorites!
What books did you bring? Leave suggestions in the comments sections.
Let’s create a virtual library for expats.