If you’ve ever traveled to Rome you’ve probably made the stop in Campo dei Fiori to see the market there. It’s not the biggest and there’s discussion as to whether’s it’s the oldest and it’s used more by tourists than locals, but it is a special market and well worth the visit. The restaurants around it are good, especially the famous Forno Campo de’ Fiori and Antico Forno Roscioli. The flowers and vegetables are very fresh. And, the spice market booth continues to grow. It seems every visit Mauro and Marco Berardi have spread out a little more. Last month, they have about 25 per cent of the whole market. They have added olive oils, pastas, and even a meat stand, cutting porchetta and mortadella for sandwiches on the spot.
While much of their goods are geared toward the tourist, the spices are pretty much as their business is named “Spezie Famose nel Mondo” – Famous spices of the world. And, famous they are. The Berardi’s have been selling in this market for more than three generations and they are confident and Mauro has made some of the best spice mixes in the world.
Spice mixes are quite popular throughout Europe right now (as well as here in the U.S. However, you need to be pretty aware of what questions to ask, how to tell if they are worth what they cost and how thrilled you are likely to be with them.
You can usually tell if the mixes are fresh by the color of the components. If they are dull and dark, their flavor will be old and stale. If they are packed by a manufacturer, there is little guarantee of what exactly is in the mix. I love Mauro Berardi’s spice mixes because not only does he sell in quantities that pretty much guarantee their freshness, his mixes are freeze dried, cut into quite small components and, most importantly, they are hand mixed. No machines, no gigantic quantities being beat together by a machine which might have been used for almost any product before the mixes are put into their vats. Mauro claims his mixes will stay flavorful for at least two years if kept in the plastic bags he packs them. And, from my personal experience, they do retain full freshness for at least those two years.
People all over the world have looked for Mauro Beardi’s mixes and now they are available through Expressly Italian. Check out our Facebook page or send us an email and we’ll be happy to send you the mixes you’ve been looking for. Much less trouble or cost than flying to Rome to buy them. I agree though, that the trip to Rome is always exciting.
While Expressly Italian does not have all the mixes he offers, I do have the most popular ones. The Campo dei Fiori Mix, which is composed of basil, oregano, parsley, green onions, salt, red pepper flakes, and lots of black pepper. It can be cooked or used as is. This is a great go-to mix to use in almost anything. I often throw it into eggs if I’m cooking them for breakfast. It’s a fabulous addition to a salad; either mixed in the dressing or just a sprinkle over the salad greens before putting on olive oil. And, this mix is fabulous as a pasta sauce. All you need do is warm a little olive oil, a teaspoon or so (you’ll have to try a few times to learn how much spice you like) of the spice mix and heat only a minute or so, add cooked pasta, toss and add grated cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino) and serve. Or, just mix a tablespoon of spice mix into a cup of olive oil and keep it for dipping bread, drizzling on pizza or vegetables. It is really a mix you’ll use on almost everything. All the spice mixes are $4.50 an ounce.
There is Puttanesca Mix, Arrabiatta Mix, Mauro’s Mix (which he says is similar to Campo dei Fiori Mix, but without salt or black pepper); There is also his meat mix, you can use as a rub on almost any meat before grilling or roasting. The Fish Mix is composed of rosemary, sage, pepper and green onions. There is also a “Caccio e Pepe” mix, but it really is simply the finest, freshest, tastiest black pepper you’ll ever find. If you want to make Caccio e Pepe pasta. Cook spaghetti and when it’s nearly finished, heat some olive oil in a saute’ pan. Add a couple teaspoons of the black pepper, a little pasta water. Add the cooked spaghetti stir and quickly add grated pecorino cheese to make a sauce. If it’s a little too tight, add a little additional pasta water till it’s a creamy sauce. Serve it immediately. This is one of Rome’s premiere sauces and for good reason. You can make it any time without any planning or thought.
Need quantities to feel comfortable? Here’s a full recipe that is slightly different – it makes the pasta sauce directly into the serving bowl:
1 pound spaghetti, black pepper and 1 cup (100 grams or so) grated Pecorino cheese.
Bring a tall pot of water to a boil, then add a generous tablespoon of salt to it.
2.Throw the spaghetti pasta in, stir and gently push it under the water. stir the pasta occasionally and maintain a live boil in the water.
3.Cook the pasta about 1 minute less than the package time suggests.
4.Drain the spaghetti, reserving a little of the cooking water, toss immediately in a warm serving bowl and sprinkle the freshly ground black pepper and the grated Pecorino cheese. Mix quickly while adding a few spoonfuls of the reserved cooking water, just enough to moisten and melt the cheese, which will become slightly creamy. Drizzle fresh extra virgin olive oil sparingly over the top and serve.
The wonderful part of learning to cook simple Italian is that the ingredients are the most important part. If you’ve got great spices and a little confidence, you’re more than halfway there. Let the Famous Mauro Berardi’s spice mixes help begin your adventure in cooking with more excitement.