To find the best sun-dried tomatoes, instant polenta, artisanal pasta and other key Italian ingredients, the F&W staff tasted 76 imports. Here are our nine favorite jarred, boxed and bagged foods, plus superfast ways to use them.
1. Tuna in Olive Oil
Callipo solid light yellowfin tuna from Calabria, a region along the southern coast of Italy, is pleasantly firm and lightly briny ($14 for 7 oz; igourmet.com).
Pile on ciabatta bread, top with cheese and broil for Italian Tuna Melts.
2. Artisanal Pasta
Martelli pasta is dried slowly over about two days to develop its sweet, wheaty flavor and rustic texture ($6.50 for 1.1 lb; zingermans.com).
Dress simply with raw tomatoes, minced garlic, torn basil and fruity olive oil.
3. Chestnut Honey
Tuscan artisan Paolo Pescia produces his stellar honeys by hand, including this intense, slightly bitter chestnut variety ($14 for 17.6 oz; earthy.com).
Stir into softened vanilla ice cream or drizzle over mascarpone-filled crêpes.
4. Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread
Finely chopped hazelnut bits blended into Slitti’s luscious Nocciolata chocolate spread give it a slight crunch ($19 for 13.1 oz; chefshop.com).
Mix with whipped cream and crème fraîche for airy Gianduja Mousse.
5. Instant Polenta
Dal Raccolto’s polenta from Lombardy is appealingly smooth without seeming mushy and has true corn flavor ($2.50 for 13 oz; at specialty shops).
Slice cold cooked polenta, season with salt, then fry in butter until crisp for a side dish.
Masseria Maida’s Pomodori Secchi are packed in olive oil next to the farm where they’re grown ($19 for 6.4 oz; gustiamo.com).
Blend into Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato Soup.
7. Jarred Chickpeas
Radici of Tuscany’s creamy chickpeas, seasoned with salt, olive oil and sage, are delicious enough to serve straight from the jar ($8.50 for 10 oz; cheftools.com).
Mash with a fork to serve as a dip or spread, adding olive oil for a thinner consistency.
8. Porcini Mushrooms
A.G. Ferrari Foods’ fragrant dried porcini from Valtellina, Italy’s northern Alpine valley, taste earthy and buttery ($10 for 2 oz; agferrari.com).
Soak in warm water, then stir mushrooms and strained liquid into hot soups or stews.
9. Salted Capers
Grown on Pantelleria, a tiny volcanic island between Sicily and Tunisia, La Nicchia Capperi Salati are floral and fruity ($15 for 5.3 oz; amazon.com).
Fry and toss with pasta for Spaghettini with Eggplant.