Friday, July 22, 2005

So THAT'S Italian! And lemon-y!

Claro's Italian Market

"When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie
That's amore!
When the world seems to shine like you've had too much wine
That's amore!
Bells will ring ting-a-ling-a-ling, ting-a-ling-a-ling
And you'll sing "Vita Bella"
Hearts will play tippy-tippy-tay, tippy-tippy-tay
Like a gay tarantella.

When the stars make you drool just like pasta fagiole
That's amore!
When you dance down the street with a cloud at your feet
You're in love!
When you walk in a dream but you know you're not dreaming signore
Scuzza me, but you see, back in old Napoli
That's amore!"

("That's Amore" Songwriter: Harry Warren, Lyricist: Jack Brooks)

Every time that I walk into my favorite Italian market, the lyrics of the popular song standard "That's Amore" whisk quickly from their storage area in my brain as if some invisible gremlin has hit the "play" button! Instantly, the catchy tune embeds itself into my consciousness and sticks as tightly to my awareness as a misguided piece of mailing tape adheres to the kitchen table.

Leave it to a song about Italy to mix in some tasty foods with its lyrics about love! Not surprisingly, the song was written by a couple of Americans! It just stands to reason: Americans have been falling in love with Italy, and with Italian food, for a long, long time!

The venue for my Italian ingredient sleuthing is Claro's Italian Market. There are six stores in southern California, all of which are brimming with a dazzling assortment of edible treats. Founded in 1948, Claro's definitely has it RIGHT! A stroll through the aisles is filled with fun. Why not grab a shopping cart and come with me for a few minutes?

Certainly, olive oils and balsamic vinegars and pastas are stacked there in abundance. Tomatoes in aluminum cans are the real thing -- the San Marzano type from Italy that even prize-winning chefs recommend as an equivalent substitution for the fresh, red-ripe tomatoes of late summer. Borlotti beans, anchovies, tomato paste in tubes and oh, so much more, beckon from the brimming shelves. Oh, it is so lovely to linger among the ingredients!

Rounding the corner from the staple foods section, the Ingredient Sleuth slows her already snail-like pace even further. There it is -- the deli case! Olives of many descriptions, marinated artichokes and peppers and other-things-vegetable in vinegars, sausages and cheeses and prepared dishes. A veritable antipasto wonderland in the making! Deli personnel offer samples to taste, slice selections to just the thickness you desire, package just the right amount. Personal service, to the nth degree.

Next stop on the circuit is the display of wines. Labels on bottles call out (with melodic Italian voices of course) the names of Italian towns and regions that kindle memories of previous Italy trips or trigger ideas for itineraries in-the-making. Reds and whites and blush wines are there -- and expertise to answer questions will appear at your elbow like magic!

As I near the displays of housewares, imported ceramics and Italian cookbooks, I yield once again to the impulse to just "have a look." So many things to consider. How can there be SO many sizes of espresso pots? Would I wear a "Kiss me, I'm Italian" T-shirt if I bought one? Do I have room in my cupboard for just one more serving dish? The persistent song in my head always seems louder, somehow, when it is reflected from the colorful, shiny platters!

Nearing the finish line now, but no let-up in appeal is imminent. What a stroke of brilliance -- the baked goods and pastry counter shares space with the cash registers! Shoppers' eyes (including mine) dart back-and-forth, side-to-side, as their corresponding breathing rates increase ever so slightly. So many treats, so much to be considered! Crusty organic rolls, whole-grain breads with seeded tops, cookies, cheese-filled cannolli and myriads more call out to be chosen. It's somewhat similar to that taunting candy bar display at the conventional supermarket, right there, next to the checkout -- only much, much more compelling. Where else would one find such a selection? Where else would the items be so delicious?

If, like me, you are sent into "ingredient longing" just by this run-through of a microcosm of Claro's Italian specialties, perhaps it is time to stop by and see for yourself. What? Not in southern California? Not even headed here for a visit sometime soon? Don't feel like going out into the hot weather to shop? Well, your fingers can then just walk on over to and investigate the online shopping options that are available. Dozens and dozens of items are there waiting -- over twenty varieties of imported olive oil alone! (Of course, your geography may have well-stocked Italian markets as well, for in-store browsing pleasure, and perhaps with online ordering of their own. Isn't it a great small world these days?)

The following recipe is brought to you with the specific permission of Claro's Italian Markets. Those of you who saw the movie "Under the Tuscan Sun" may remember the lovely, seaside lunch at which a refreshing, lemon-y Italian liqueur was served. Although that liqueur, limoncello, can be purchased already-prepared in liquor stores (Villa Massa is a popular brand name), what fun, how fresh and tasty, and how economical it is to mix up a batch for yourself. Thanks to Claro's, we can do just that!


Lemon zest (peel without any white) from 2 pounds of lemons
3 cups granulated sugar
4 cups 100-proof vodka
3 cups water

Soak the lemon peels in the vodka for 1 week in a large bowl stored at room temperature. Mix the water and sugar together in a saucepan and heat over medium heat until all of the sugar dissolves. Allow to cool. Add the vodka mixture and stir. Strain into storage bottles and cork bottles. Chill limoncello for one month, then enjoy!

So, as the dog days of summer continue, why not stir up a batch of this lovely and cool refreshment. Then, when it has finished "aging" (maybe a little earlier, if you are like me), find a shady spot (or an air-conditioned one), open up a book with an Italian setting (maybe even Frances Mayes' book, UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN, which is even better and quite different than the movie) and sing a few rousing choruses of "That's Amore"!

So THAT'S Italian! Salute! (And cheers!)


Carolyn said...

Claro's is one of our favorites too! We usually go and fill up a shopping basket and then have one of their delicious sandwiches for our lunch after we get home. A real gem of a store.

marianne said...

This brings back such happy memories of when I used to live in the San Gabriel Valley and would go to the Claros near there. I had no idea that they had an on-line ordering business! Now I can buy things from them again and get back some of my old favorites! This is fabulous news!

Thank you so much!

Anonymous said...

This sounds so delicious right about now. It is SOOO hot here in Illinois. The market sounds great too. And shopping online rather than going outdoors sounds like a winner in this weather. We'll check it out.

Doug said...

We had some of this tasty lemon liqueur at a little tiny restaurant in San Francisco some years back... It boasted maybe 5 crowded linen-covered tables and several waiters. I think it was called something like Macaroni Grill (not the chain, which also has its charm). By the end of the meal we felt as though we'd been invited into an ongoing celebration! That liqueur always takes me back...

Anonymous said...

That scene at the beach with the long table of family and friends eating and drinking is my favorite one from the movie! Can't create that setting here in our landlocked location but we can at least make the limoncello now that we have the recipe. Molto bene & grazie!

bill & karen said...

We love limoncello too ... first had it on a visit to Tuscany and sometimes we can find it at Trader Joe's, I think the brand that you mentioned. Sure could go for some right now!

eric said...

Sounds totally delizioso!!

Anonymous said...

We've been searching for a good Italian market and the closest one is 30 miles. This online store might be just what we need ....

kristi said...

Here in Atlanta, there is a nice place to buy some Italian items. It's part of a small deli-type restaurant ... Buckhead Italian Market & Bakery is on Roswell Road, near Piedmont Rd. The lemoncello recipe sounds heavenly!

linda said...

Those large cans of olive oil in the picture make me feel as if I am back in Italy! I like that!