Three Top Chefs Dish on Their Favourite Italian Ingredients

“ ’Nduja, hands down! If you go to the specialty stores, you’ll find the proper stuff from Calabria," says Chef Basilio Pesce.

Top Toronto chefs Basilio Pesce, James Santon and Alida Solomon share a passion for Italian cuisine and authentic Italian products. We chatted with them to get the scoop on their go-to Italian ingredients.

All great chefs have those must-have ingredients that make their food special – whether cooking for others or themselves. And when you are passionate about Italian cuisine, it means sourcing authentic products that are Made in Italy. We asked three of Toronto’s hottest chefs ­– James Santon, Alida Solomon and Basilio Pesce ­– to list their top three Italian ingredients.

James Santon

Most versatile ingredient…

“Italian anchovies are the most underrated ingredient. Some people here turn their noses up at them, but chances are if you’re eating something with a certain umami or depth of flavour it’s got anchovies in it. It could be a braise like Osso Buco. Or something like orecchiette pasta and rapini. People are shocked how good it is. Adding anchovy just gives it an added earthiness and saltiness that makes the dish.”

Secret seasoning….

“Prosciutto di Parma PDO, Culatello di Zibello PDO and Speck Alto Adige PGI are three salumi that can be used to highlight the taste of pork without masking it with spices.”

Favourite grape…

“I love Falanghina [white] wine from Campania. It’s crisp and fruity. I like rich, fatty foods that need that kind of acidity to break it up.”

Learn more about Chef Santon and his approach to Italian cuisine.


Alida Solomon, Tutti Matti

Desert Island Ingredient…

“Finocchiona PGI – a fennel salumi from Tuscany – is one of my favourite foods in the world!

Ultimate Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil…

“There’s a leccino monovarietal from Castelnuovo Berardenga that we use at the restaurant. It’s fantastic. We go through two skids a year.

Go-to grape…

“Sangiovese, because it so different everywhere you go: Chianti, Montalcino, Montepulciano, or further north to Le Marche. Everywhere you find it, it’s totally different.”

Learn more about Chef Solomon and her approach to Italian cuisine.


Basilio Pesce

Ultimate ingredient…

“ ’Nduja, hands down! If you go to the specialty stores, you’ll find the proper stuff from Calabria.”

Greatest sensory experience…

“Parmigiano-Reggiano PDO. There’s nothing more intoxicating than the smell when you crack open a fresh wheel.”

Most nostalgic…

“Panettone. The classic one – it has to have raisins and candied fruit. It’s the thing I look forward to when the weather turns cold. One of my earliest memories is the smell of coffee and panettone in my mother’s kitchen.”

Learn more about Chef Pesce and his approach to Italian cuisine.

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