Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A-1 Imported Groceries and Italian Deli

You’ve probably noticed that I have several posts mentioning or focusing on Italian food.  Little wonder since this is one of my favorite cuisines!  Since I got married I’ve tried to cook dishes for my Italian father-in-law that would evoke memories of his childhood.  He fondly recalls that his mother always served polenta with pork sausages.  Conversely, he was not too fond of broccoli rabe.  So where do I go to get my Italian food fix?  To my favorite Italian deli of course!

A-1 Imported Groceries and Italian Deli

It is in a residential neighborhood across the street from a little park.  The place looks unassuming; the green, white and red awning above the door and their “A-1 Imported Groceries” sign propped up from the roof. Outside are bags of mesquite charcoal and potatoes.

A-1 Imported Groceries and Italian Deli

Once you step inside you will be transported as your olfactory sense gets inundated with the heavenly aromas of Italian food!  An Italian deli should smell like an Italian deli.  What will bring you back down to earth are the tidy stacks of goods on the shelves.  You may think the interior of this establishment looks old fashioned.  Rather, it is a classical neighborhood market where the workers are friendly and people know one another.  It is gourmet without the frou-frou or the high prices.  I meet with Emiddio Ungaro, the affable owner of this 67 year-old store.  He doesn’t need to give me a tour of the store as I’ve been here innumerable times.  Instead, he gave me a San Pedro history lesson.  A-1 was founded in 1947 by the Mattera family, and is the only surviving deli from that era.  Emiddio  told me that up until three or four years ago when the California Department of Public Health cracked down on food stores, this place was even more aromatic as house-made sausages and cheeses hung from the ceiling to dry cure.

The produce section is to the right of the entrance.  Emiddio told me he gets up at one o’clock in the morning to order fresh produce every day.  They carry the usual onions, Roma tomatoes, cabbage, etc.  But in addition to that, they have also have rapini, Savoy cabbage, escarole, cipollini, fennel bulbs, artichokes, Italian eggplants and other produce typical of Italian cuisine.  In the corner is an old-fashioned bread cabinet which houses locally baked breads like ciabattas, rolls, and other Neopolitan bread.

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Old fashioned bread bins

The freezer section has prepared foods like lasagna, tortellini, ravioli, stuffed artichokes, Italian ices, spumoni , and eggplant parmesan. But my favorite in this section is the sfogliatelle.  Sfogliatelle is a shell-shaped pastry made with a ridged, flaky crust and filled with sweet ricotta.  The ones sold here are imported from Italy and must be baked at 350°F for about 45 minutes.  This would make a great dessert if you’re having company! 

Around the back of the store are shelves groaning with the weight of Italian and American-bottled vintages.  The larger bottles sit on the lower shelves -  just in case.

Inside the aisles is where you’ll find some of the gems of this store.  At the end of the first aisle you’ll find Norwegian baccala, whole dried cod which must be rehydrated and desalinated before being used.  There are bags of breadcrumbs, polenta, semolina flour, beans and pulses, and Arborio rice.  There is one aisle dedicated to pasta alone! You’ll find interesting and delightful shapes such as creste di gallo, mezze penne rigate, tagliatelle, pappardelle, orrechiette, fusillata caserreccia, gigli del gargano, lumache rigate, stellette and pasta flavored with squid ink.

 Dried baccala
Different shaped and flavored pasta

Another aisle has different kinds of tomato products: whole, diced, crushed, sauce, paste, etc.  A-1 has a wide selection of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, giardiniera, tonno, prepared gnocchi, pasta sauce, muffuletta, crackers and cookies, pizzelle, torrone, panettone, chocolates, Jordan almonds, and other Italian staples.

Their refrigerator section holds American sodas as well as San Pellegrino sparkling citrus beverages, fresh pizza dough, house-prepared Italian favorites and bone-in skin-on as well as boned salt cod. 

For me the deli department is the heart of the store.  They have mortadella with pistachios which is a large Bolognese sausage made with finely ground pork, cubes of fat from the pork’s neck, and pistachios.  Different kinds of salami cram this section but our favorite is soppressata.  Our other favorite cured meats are: capicola and pancetta.  I buy domestic prosciutto for cooking, and the imported kind for sandwiches or antipasto.  Their cheese selection is wonderful as I can get Parmigiano Reggiano, fresh mozzarella, Pecorino romano, asiago, provolone, fontina and gorgonzolaIa any time.  Of course, cured meats and cheese are cut/sliced/grated to order.  If Victor is working the deli counter he’ll give you a slice of the meat and/or cheese so you’ll know what you’re buying.

House seasoned olives

A-1 receives their olives already cured but seasons them in-house according to old family recipes.  They also sell prepared salads like pepperonata, marinated eggplant slices, marinated mushrooms, olive salad, caprese, and more.

The deli also makes cold and hot sandwiches to order.  The sign board is on the wall by the Meat Department. 

The Meat Department has the usual pork, chicken and beef.  In addition, they have lamb and veal, and even a veal scallopini ready to be taken home to cook.  I would have to say that this department’s pride is their selection of house-made sausages of which they make six kinds!  One of the guys working there is Ante.  He makes cevapcici, a traditional Croatian sausage, which is one of their bestsellers.

House-made sausages

In addition to all of the wonderful things I’ve mentioned above, A-1 also caters.  Live far away?  Not a problem – they ship.  Emiddio told me he regularly ships baccala to a woman in Louisiana as his price is better than a store in Texas!

Their address is 348 West 8th St. in San Pedro, CA.  Their telephone number is 310-833-3430.

So what is your favorite Italian deli?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Pasta Tricolore

Pasta with the marinara sauce

Pasta with pesto

Pasta with Alfredo sauce

Pasta Tricolore

Just in time for Lent, this is a delicious and meatless dish.  Catholics around the world abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday and all of the Fridays of Lent.  Some people forego meat throughout Holy Week: from Palm Sunday until Holy Saturday.  Still, others abstain from eating meat during the entire Lenten season. 

Of course, you can serve this anytime of the year.  When I serve this during those times, I usually accompany it with roasted chicken or pork, grilled beef, or sausages.

Pasta Tricolore

1 lb dry pasta
1 cup Marinara Sauce (see 2/17/14 Post)
1 cup Pesto (see 2/27/14 Post)
1 cup Alfredo Sauce
Grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
Chopped Italian parsley for garnish

1.    Prepare pasta according to package directions.

Cream Sauce (Alfredo Sauce)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ¼ cups heavy cream
2/3 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

1.     Melt butter in a medium sauce pan.  Add the cream and grated cheese.  Season with salt and pepper.
2.     Stir sauce over medium-low heat until cheese has melted and the sauce has thickened.

As you might have guessed, the green white and red represent the Italian flag which is called il Tricolore.  Some say the colors have meanings: green represents the country’s hills and plains, white for the snow capped Alps, and red for the bloodshed in the wars of independence.  The other meanings have a religious significance to them: green for hope, white for faith, and red for charity, which are the three Christian theological virtues.

I first had this dish when my husband and I were just dating many years ago.  I thought the different colors made for a lovely presentation.  Whether in a single serve pasta bowl or on a large platter, it is very appealing.  Sometimes, “pasta tricolore” refers to a kind of pasta, usually penne or rotini, which are colored green, white/uncolored, and red.
When serving on a platter, different shaped maccheroni  (the Italian word used to reference all types macaroni pasta) may be used for an interesting combination.  Even gnocchi may be used.  I’ll teach you how to make gnocchi later.  For this post I used cellentani, kind of a very loose rotini.

This dish calls for 3 kinds of sauces: Marinara, Pesto and Alfredo.  The first two I taught you the past couple of weeks.  The third one is super easy.  You basically combine everything in a saucepan, stir and let thicken.  The neat thing about this being so easy to make is that you can keep making more if your guests are still hungry and you’ve run out of the other two sauces! 

When I served this dish to my family, my daughter remarked, “Oooh, fancy!”  I encouraged everyone to get a small serving of each kind of sauce so they could compare and determine which they liked best.  So although the marinara was good, it was the one left over.  I did have to make a second mixture of pasta with the Alfredo sauce.  I’m guessing their enthusiasm was because we don’t have pesto or Alfredo that often.

So what pasta shape or shapes will you use for this dish?