Italian cooking has been thoroughly integrated into American cuisine. Italian-American is really our own "regional" American specialty. When our grandparents were kids, this was exotic, ethnic cooking; now, if you're like me, you grew up having spaghetti and meatballs once a week. Pizza is almost our national dish, but our pizza is significantly different from what you get in Naples.*
*And I think we have Italian-Americans to thank for good American wine. If the Mondavis, Gallos and Martinis don't move to California Wine Country, looking to reproduce what their grandparents would drink in the old country...my mouth goes dry just thinking about it.
That being said, the roots of Italian-American cooking are definitely still in Italy. More important than the garlic, tomatoes and cheese is the quality of the ingredients. We may have taken Italian cuisine and adopted it, but some of the things we've done to it aren't very helpful. Or nice. Frozen garlic bread? Spaghetti sauce in a jar? "Parmesan" cheese in a green cardboard canister?*
*Where the cardboard can has more taste than the white powder inside?
Sometimes, when you want the great ingredients that Italian-American cooking deserves, you have to go to the source. In Akron, that means DeVitis Italian Market. Their deli counter makes me drool, their cheese selection makes me weep, and I'll cross town to get their homemade Italian sausage. They have a great prepared foods counter as well, but I'm always re-energized to cook something when I've stopped in, so I haven't tried it out yet.
*Oh, and if you must get your spaghetti sauce in a jar, get it here; I've heard good things about their house brand.
DeVitis Italian Market
560 E Tallmadge Ave
My top five list of favorite things they sell are, in no particular order:
1. Italian sausage: Homemade "the way Grandpa used to" in three varieties: sweet, hot, and Sicilian*. I haven't decided which is my favorite. It'll take some more research. I'm going to do another round of taste testing as soon as I'm done typing.
*Sicilian style = with green and red bell peppers in it.
2. Aged Provolone: Forget that mild, boring stuff you get when you buy it at your local megamart. That's for putting on a sandwich, where it won't clash with the ham. This Provolone is strong stuff, nutty and delicious. It is for serving by itself, on a cheese tray. Preferably with some olives, and a glass of wine.
*And don't forget the asiago, or mozarella, or the parmesan, real parmesan...
3. The cured meats at the Deli Counter: I couldn't pick just one thing for this one. Salami? Sopresatta? Pancetta? Prosciutto? The list is almost endless. Good luck making a choice.
4. Fresh pasta: I'm a fan of dried pasta; I cook it a couple of times a month. But if your recipe calls for fresh pasta, you need it. They have a freezer case full of it, from angel hair up to lasagna sheets.*
*Yes, fresh pasta freezes well.
5. Gelato: Forget that hippie stuff in your grocer's freezer, and the one with the umlaut in the name. This is what you want. I prefer dulce de leche, or pistachio. In large quantities.
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